Paris (AFP) – Atmosphere is guaranteed when Marseille travel to France’s industrial heartland to play traditional rivals Saint Etienne on Saturday with divergent ambitions for both sides in the Ligue 1 clash.
Second-placed Marseille make the trip north hoping to edge closer to table-toppers Paris Saint-Germain, who have a 12-point cushion, while ‘Les Verts’ (The Greens) are third from bottom of the league and battling relegation.
The match pitches together the nation’s traditionally best supported sides, who dominated French football in the 60’s and 70’s and which is generally a good spirited affair.
Saint Etienne have won Ligue 1 a record ten times, most recently 1981. Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain, have won nine each, and could match ‘Les Verts’ record this season.
Bouyant Marseille’s 21-year-old central defender William Saliba has shone during this push for a first league title since 2010 and played twice for France this week.
On loan from Arsenal, Saliba was described in glowing terms by France coach Didier Deschamps.
“He’s fast, good at one-on-one, heads well and gives off a calm vibe,” Deschamps said.
Just what they need on Saturday evening at what should be a packed and raucous Stade Geoffroy Guichard.
A single point behind Marseille, third-placed form side Rennes travel from Brittany down to the Riviera to meet fourth-placed Nice.
Bruno Genesio’s Rennes are on a roll of five straight Ligue 1 wins and are the side most likely to overtake Marseille for the second automatic Champions League spot.
“We have the quality and the talent to do it, we have the individual skills and the collective solidarity,” Genesio said on Friday.
“There really is a fabulous spirit in this group, one I’ve rarely seen before in football.”
Nice boss Christophe Galtier went further.
“They are the best side on current form, there’s something insolent about it, but deep in strength.”
The man to watch should be Rennes striker Martin Terrier, who has 16 Ligue 1 goals so far behind only Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder.
Defending champions Lille are sixth and play rock-bottom side Bordeaux, while Strasbourg, in fifth, host Lens.
Runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain take on lowly Lorient Sunday night in a bid to reboost morale after the shock of losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League was followed by a thrashing at Monaco.
Nice v Rennes (1500), Lille v Bordeaux (1700), Saint Etienne v Marseille (1900)
Strasbourg v Lens (1100), Metz v Monaco, Troyes v Reims, Montpellier v Brest, Clerment v Nantes (1300), Lyon v Angers (1505), PSG v Lorient (1845)
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