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PSG look to bounce back as French fans’ behaviour under scrutiny


Paris (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain visit Saint-Etienne this weekend looking to end a week which saw a tame defeat by Manchester City on a high note, while ongoing trouble in the stands has put French football fans under added scrutiny.

PSG have endured a turbulent few days, with coach Mauricio Pochettino linked with a possible move to Manchester United at the end of the season.

The capital giants’ 2-1 loss to Man City at the Etihad on Wednesday has also left them at the mercy of the Champions League last-16 draw, with top spot in their group wrapped up by the Premier League champions.

Pochettino and PSG sporting director Leonardo have batted away rumours of the Argentinian coach being close to the exit door.

But the former Tottenham boss will be hoping to see a better performance from his star-studded side at Saint-Etienne after an underwhelming start to the campaign.

“We have to improve,” Pochettino said after the City defeat. “I am happy in the process. Things are better than one month ago and much better than two months ago. Little by little the team is going to improve.”

Pochettino arrived at the Parc des Princes in January tasked with finally delivering PSG a maiden Champions League title.

But they lost out to City in last season’s semi-finals and despite a raft of high-profile signings, including Lionel Messi, could now face the likes of Liverpool, holders Chelsea or Bayern Munich in the last 16 this term.

PSG are well on their way to reclaiming the Ligue 1 crown with an 11-point lead over Nice at the top of the French top flight.

Despite boasting a front three of Kylian Mbappe, Messi and Neymar, performances have been inconsistent, though, with many league wins courtesy of late goals.

The attacking trio have scored only 11 times in 28 league appearances between them, with seven of those goals coming from Mbappe.

Second-bottom Saint-Etienne should be more forgiving opponents than City, although Les Verts are on a four-game unbeaten run after back-to-back wins.

– Crowd violence in spotlight –

French football chiefs held crisis talks earlier this week with government ministers to identify ways to combat the wave of violence that has rocked Ligue 1.

Last weekend saw Marseille winger Dimitri Payet struck by a bottle thrown from the stands for the second time this season, with his team’s match at Lyon abandoned.

He was also hit by a bottle during a game at Nice, who were docked a point, in August.

Last week, Marseille were ordered to play their next home game behind closed doors after trouble against PSG.

“We can’t let players get attacked like that,” said French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu. “Such acts must at least result in the automatic stoppage of matches.”

Lyon have been ordered to play their next Ligue 1 home game behind closed doors, with authorities to decide on any further sanctions by December 8.

Player to watch: Jonathan David

Lille forward David leads the Ligue 1 scoring charts this season on 10 goals, well clear of PSG’s attacking trident and two ahead of Nice youngster Amine Gouiri and Rennes’ Gaetan Laborde.

The 21-year-old has scored six times in his last six games for Lille, including the winner in a crucial midweek Champions League victory over Salzburg.

But the reigning Ligue 1 champions are languishing down in 12th place ahead of Saturday’s home match against Nantes.

Key stats

416: Minutes played by Messi in Ligue 1 this season. He scored his first league goal for PSG last week.

31: Nice’s Gouiri is the first player born in the year 2000 or later to notch 30 goals or assists in Ligue 1.

12: Matches unbeaten in all competitions for third-placed Rennes.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Lens v Angers (2000)

Saturday

Lille v Nantes (1600), Nice v Metz (2000)

Sunday

Saint-Etienne v Paris Saint-Germain (1200), Bordeaux v Brest, Lorient v Rennes, Monaco v Strasbourg, Reims v Clermont (all 1400), Montpellier v Lyon (1600), Marseille v Troyes (1945)

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