Montpellier eye breaking Ligue 1 title duck
As a French season of general under-achievement by the country's biggest clubs enters its final furlong, leaders Montpellier are hoping further to rub the elite's noses in it by landing their first ever league title.
The southerners' strong showing, which has them two points clear of big spenders Paris Saint Germain with six games left, has been a high point of a campaign which has seen no shortage of lows.
Not only did the representatives of the country which instigated the European Cup fail once again to set the Champions League on fire - final survivors Marseille were soundly beaten by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals - but domestically too, fans of several of the big clubs have been served thin portions.
Marseille, still the only team ever to bring the European Cup back to France, did at least win the League Cup at the expense of Lyon.
But a dismal ongoing run of no wins in 11 league games means that OM are slumped in mid-table, 25 points off the summit and still theoretically fighting the drop.
Didier Deschamps' side are only eight points off third-bottom Sochaux ahead of Saturday's visit to Bordeaux, the 2009 champions who themselves are in mid-table.
It's all a far cry from the days of the likes of former Stade Velodrome heroes such as Jean-Pierre Papin, Chris Waddle and Deschamps himself.
As defender Cesar Azpilicueta admitted to sports daily l'Equipe, at the moment "Marseille just aren't a team to be feared," with 26 points dropped already at the Stade Velodrome after Wednesday's stalemate with Caen.
Reigning champions Lille, who travel to modest Dijon on Saturday, have also not hit last season's heights as they fight to hold off a Lyon side which has likewise rather lost its way since a seven-year title-winning streak ended in 2008.
Remi Garde's Lille are third, five points behind PSG and can take a Champions League qualifying round slot if they can keep at bay Lyon who trail them by six points and who host Lorient on Sunday.
Lyon, coming off a loss at Toulouse which sent the latter level on points with them, will not underestimate a Lorient side who shocked Montpellier last weekend though that process was slightly aided by PSG dropping points at rock bottom Auxerre.
Should Montpellier, who boast just one French Cup and one League Cup in their history, hang on to the end and win the title then PSG will only have themselves to blame.
Floating on a sea of Qatari cash they have blown hot and cold in recent weeks and defender Christophe Jallet said "we're all very keen to get back to work to take three points off Sochaux as we know we messed up at Auxerre".
"We lost two points stupidly and were very disappointed - we have to make amends."
The draw came hot on the heels of coach Carlos Ancelotti's first defeat since taking the reins mid-season at Nancy.
PSG fans will be keen to see how Ancelotti deals with off-colour 42 million euros summer signing Javier Pastore, who started the match at Auxerre on the bench with Kevin Gameiro up front alongside Jeremy Menez and Brazilian Nene.
This season's rivalry between the Parisians and Montpellier is double-edged in that the pair's respective women's teams do battle in a cup semi-final next month.
Evian v Toulouse, Brest v Rennes, Caen v St Etienne, Dijon v Lille, Montpellier v Valenciennes, Nice v Auxerre (1700 GMT), Bordeaux v Marseille (1900)
Ajaccio v Nancy, Paris SG v Sochaux (1500), Lyon v Lorient
Related Montpellier-Herault Sports Club News