Paris (AFP) – With one of the most prolific strike-rates in Europe and Radamel Falcao back fit and on form, Monaco are looking to close the gap on local rivals Nice at the top of Ligue 1.
The principality side are second in the table, six points adrift of their Cote d’Azur neighbours before hosting struggling Nancy at the Stade Louis II on Saturday.
They come into the game fresh from sweeping aside CSKA Moscow 3-0 in the Champions League in midweek as Falcao scored twice to take his tally for the season to six in nine matches — the goals were his first in the competition in close to seven years.
The Colombian is trying to relaunch a career that stalled during two years on loan in the English Premier League, although he has spent much of this campaign on the sidelines, first with a hamstring injury and then a bout of concussion.
Even in his absence Monaco have been banging in the goals — they are the most prolific side in Europe’s top five leagues alongside Barcelona with 30 goals, although the Catalans have played one game less.
“Falcao is our leader, on and off the pitch,” said Monaco’s Brazilian midfielder Fabinho after the CSKA match, highlighting the striker’s importance.
“I think he came back to Monaco to show that he still has that quality and can still be a world-class striker. He is demonstrating that and will keep making progress.”
Opponents Nancy, who are reportedly on the verge of being bought out by a Chinese consortium, travel to the Mediterranean in the relegation zone but Fabinho dismissed any threat of complacency setting in.
“We will be doing everything to avoid that. In football, the good things get forgotten quickly. We need to maintain the same dynamic,” said the 23-year-old.
Still unbeaten after 11 matches, Nice are enjoying the best start to a season in their history, inspired by the goals of Mario Balotelli and Alassane Plea.
Few would bet against them continuing their run on Sunday when they go to Caen, a side in the relegation zone with only one win in eight league outings.
They will have little time to prepare for the trip to Normandy, though, having hosted Salzburg in the Europa League on Thursday.
“We have two matches close together but that’s OK. We are not going to complain at having to play,” said coach Lucien Favre.
– Rabiot gets call-up –
If they do slip up, reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain will hope to take advantage as they entertain Rennes at the Parc des Princes.
Unai Emery’s side, who are third and level on points with Monaco, are on a seven-game unbeaten run and won 2-1 away to Basel in midweek to secure a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
It remains to be seen if skipper Thiago Silva will be fit after being KO’d in a collision with goalkeeper Alphonse Areola in Switzerland.
Meanwhile, midfielder Adrien Rabiot will hope to celebrate his debut call-up to the France squad with a start against the Bretons.
“For his age he has played a lot of matches in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. He is responding to the challenge, and every time he has to take a step up he does so,” said France coach Didier Deschamps of the 21-year-old.
In other action, eighth-placed Lyon host Bastia aiming to build on their draw at Juventus in the Champions League and start climbing the table.
Marseille, who have drawn 0-0 in both league games so far under new coach Rudi Garcia, are at Montpellier on Friday.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1900 GMT unless stated)
Montpellier v Marseille (1945 GMT)
Monaco v Nancy (1600 GMT), Angers v Lille, Bordeaux v Lorient, Dijon v Guingamp, Lyon v Bastia, Nantes v Toulouse
Caen v Nice (1400 GMT), Metz v Saint-Etienne (1600 GMT), Paris Saint-Germain v Rennes (1945 GMT)
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