Bitter rivals Marseille out to end PSG run
Monaco may have emerged as Paris Saint-Germain's main rivals in the Ligue 1 title race this season, but the biggest game for the reigning champions is still against their bitter old foes Marseille.
The clubs meet at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday night in the fixture that the French have come to call the 'Classique'.
The mega-rich title-holders from the capital will be guaranteed their usual warm welcome in the Mediterranean port city, home to arguably the most passionate fans anywhere in France.
As it stands PSG trail Ligue 1 leaders Monaco on goal difference while Marseille are a point further back in third.
There is plenty of incentive, then, for Elie Baup's side to continue their impressive record at home to PSG down the years.
OM have lost just one of their last nine home meetings with the club from the capital, with that 4-2 reverse coming in October 2008.
However, Marseille's recent record has been rather patchy, with just two wins from seven games since the beginning of last month, and they come into the clash off the back of a chastening 3-0 defeat away to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.
"We know the importance of the game," said Baup. "We need to put the Champions League to one side and start focusing on our domestic league once again.
"We have been on a good run, like Paris, so I don't think the defeat (in Dortmund) will leave any traces."
PSG are unbeaten in 11 matches in all competitions this season and have not lost in 19 games in Ligue 1 since a 1-0 loss at Reims on March 2.
It is their longest unbeaten sequence since a record 27-game stretch during their title-winning 1993-94 campaign and their display in beating Benfica 3-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday would have made for ominous viewing for anyone with Marseille connections.
"We are eager for the Marseille game to come around but we need some time to savour this win first," said PSG coach, former OM defender, Blanc after the performance against Benfica.
"Marseille will be the last game of a long series (of seven games in 23 days) and we play football to be involved in matches like this," added PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.
One man who will not play in the game is captain Thiago Silva, who is still sidelined with a thigh injury, while Marseille are hoping striker Andre-Pierre Gignac -- scorer of a brace in a 2-2 draw between the clubs at the Velodrome last season -- can return after a toe problem.
Meanwhile, Monaco, who have already taken four points from trips to Marseille and Paris this season, will be hoping to extend their unbeaten start when they entertain Saint-Etienne in the principality on Saturday afternoon.
"Saint-Etienne are a direct rival for us. I think they will be competing at the top of the table right to the end of the season," said Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri, who has doubts over left-back Layvin Kurzawa and former Saint-Etienne striker Emmanuel Riviere and will be without Jeremy Toulalan for the game.
That could open the door to a starting berth for Colombian winger James Rodriguez, who has struggled to make an impact since his 45 million-euro ($61m) summer move from Porto.
"For James Rodriguez, it is a problem of mentality," explained Ranieri. "He thinks like a forward but must also defend."
The three sides tipped to fight it out at the top of the table before the season began have already opened up a gap on the rest, but Lille have lost just once in six games to climb up to fourth before hosting Fabrizio Ravanelli's Ajaccio.
Lyon have won just one of their last six games before travelling to Montpellier, who are traditionally strong at home, on Sunday.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1800 GMT unless stated)
Bastia v Lorient (1830 GMT)
Monaco v Saint-Etienne (1500 GMT), Guingamp v Rennes, Lille v Ajaccio, Nantes v Evian-Thonon-Gaillard, Toulouse v Nice, Valenciennes v Reims
Montpellier v Lyon (1200 GMT), Bordeaux v Sochaux (1500 GMT), Marseille v Paris Saint-Germain (1900 GMT)
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