Paris (AFP) – Champions League semi-finalists Monaco return to the business of attempting to win their first French league title since 2000 with a tricky visit to Lyon on Sunday.
By that time Leonardo Jardim’s young stars may well have been knocked off top spot in Ligue 1 by reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain, who will be fully expected to overcome mid-table Montpellier at home 24 hours earlier.
Nice must beat Toulouse away if they are to stay in the mix in what is a three-way battle at the top.
Monaco, who have hit a staggering 141 goals in all competitions this season and have one of Europe’s brightest young talents in striker Kylian Mbappe, are top from PSG thanks only to a hugely superior goal difference.
They each have 77 points, with Nice on 73, but Monaco have one game in hand as the season enters the final stretch.
Mbappe, 18, scored again on Wednesday to set Monaco on their way to a 3-1 second-leg quarter-final victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
Their exploits in the Europe’s elite competition have put the likes of Mbappe and midfield talents Tiemoue Bakayoko and Thomas Lemar in the shop window, but Jardim is eager not to let that distract Monaco on the home front.
“It’s normal to prefer to win the Champions League,” he said after Monaco added Dortmund to a list of victims in Europe that includes Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
“But it’s more difficult than winning the (French) championship, we’re going to try to push to the limit in both competitions.”
Benjamin Mendy, the 22-year-old left-back who also has admirers across the continent, said that while Europe’s biggest clubs were circling over Monaco’s young assets, their collective spirit should not be underestimated.
“We are a very close group, we all want the same thing, we flourish together, and that’s reflected on the pitch,” the French international said.
It is hard to know what kind of Lyon — fourth in Ligue 1 with a game in hand — Monaco will travel to on Sunday.
Lyon’s Europa League clash last week at home to Besiktas was held up when fans poured onto the pitch and then their game at bottom side Bastia was abandoned at half time when home fans twice invaded the pitch and attacked Lyon players.
– PSG bounce back –
While much of the focus has rightly been on Monaco, PSG have quietly gone about their business in the league.
Their season threatened to unravel when they capitulated to Barcelona 6-1 in the Champions League to exit the European stage in humiliation.
But the league holders bounced back impressively, beating Monaco 4-1 in the League Cup final and France’s two outstanding teams do battle again in the French Cup semi-finals next week as PSG chase a third consecutive clean sweep of domestic honours.
Since the Barcelona nightmare Unai Emery’s side have steamrolled to seven wins on the trot and anything other than victory at the Parc des Princes on Saturday at home to Montpellier would be a shock.
The weekend action gets under way on Friday when Marseille, who are on the cusp of a European spot, visit relegation-threatened Nancy.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Nancy v Marseille (1845)
Paris SG v Montpellier (1500), Lorient v Metz, Dijon v Angers, Caen v Nantes, Bordeaux v Bastia, Lille v Guingamp (all 1800)
Toulouse v Nice (1300), Saint Etienne v Rennes (1500), Lyon v Monaco (1915)