5 things to know about the French League
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain is closing in on a second straight French league title with a 13-point lead over Monaco and just seven rounds left. PSG will look to extend its winning streak to 11 games in all competitions when it hosts Reims on Saturday. In the fight for second place, Monaco has seen its lead over Lille cut to six points. Monaco hosts lowly Nantes on Sunday while Lille travels to Toulouse on Saturday.
Here are five things to know about this weekend’s games:
Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore silenced some of his critics with a stunning last goal in PSG’s 3-1 win over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday.
“He seemed surprised when I waved at him to come off the bench,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “He’s a talented player, we know it. It’s a matter of making him feel confident to exploit that talent.”
Pastore has been much criticized since he joined from Palermo in the summer of 2011 for 42 million euros, a transfer record in the French league at that time.
He made a good impression in his first season at PSG, scoring 13 goals in 33 league matches. But his production nosedived afterward with four goals in 34 league games last season and only one goal in 22 league games in this campaign.
CHELSEA ON PSG’S MIND
Blanc will likely rest some of his stars against Reims to have a fresh team for the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday.
PSG is the only team still undefeated at home in the league. The obvious danger for the Parisian club would be to show complacency against a Reims side as it looks ahead to the crucial trip to London.
PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and midfielder Marco Verratti are doubtful after picking up injuries on Wednesday.
“He will probably be out for a while,” Blanc said about Ibrahimovic. “I hope he’ll be back as soon as possible because we need him, of course.”
Going through the qualifying round of the Champions League is not an attractive option for Monaco. The Mediterranean club wants a second-place finish to qualify directly for the group stage of the lucrative European competition next season.
“As long as it’s not done mathematically, we know we’ll still be under pressure,” Monaco midfielder Jeremy Toulalan said. “We’ve never panicked since the start of the season, even when we had a rough period.”
Monaco was still in the second division when Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev took over the club in December 2011. It gained promotion last summer and quickly became a contender in the league by signing Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal.
Lille needed a goal from Salomon Kalou in stoppage time to beat Guingamp 1-0 last Sunday. Some supporters were not happy with the players’ mediocre performance and taunted them with sarcastic chants.
“I understand why they are frustrated but they must realize that we don’t have the squad of PSG or Monaco,” Kalou said. “If we are in third place, it means that we have deserved it through our desire to pull for each other.”
Lille won the league title in 2011 but missed out on a European spot by finishing sixth last season.
ALMOST NOTHING TO PLAY FOR
Marseille dismissed coach Elie Baup in December and hired Albert Emon in January as an assistant to the new coach, Jose Anigo. Those moves have not proved enough to save Marseille from a lackluster season.
“There’s a lack of self-confidence,” Marseille midfielder Alaixys Romao told a news conference. “We have to play without this handbrake that is penalizing us.”
Marseille hosts Ajaccio on Friday. It is unlikely to secure a European spot as it trails fourth-place Saint-Etienne by nine points.