Monaco, Lyon and Marseille scrap for second behind PSG

Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim Source: Getty Images

With Paris Saint-Germain pulling clear at the top of Ligue 1, the chase for an automatic UEFA Champions League place is promising to be a scrap between Monaco, Lyon and Marseille.

The top three teams will qualify for Europe's biggest club competition next season and Monaco, Lyon and Marseille are even with 35 points, nine adrift of PSG.

Lyon are in second place on goal difference ahead of their home game against Marseille on Sunday evening (Monday morning AEDT), while defending champions Monaco visit St Etienne on Friday evening (Saturday morning AEDT).

Big-spending PSG make the short trip to Brittany to face Rennes on Saturday afternoon (Sunday morning AEDT) in the penultimate round before the winter break.

Marseille have not lost in the league since making a terrible start at home, losing 6-1 against Monaco and 3-1 against Rennes.

"According to a lot of people, we were in a real crisis after two losses," Marseille coach Rudi Garcia said. "But that wasn't the case inside the club."

Hired last season, Garcia seems to have given the club more stability.

Although Marseille's notoriously volatile supporters have fought among each other - two groups clashed during a recent match before each submitted written apologies to the club - they have united behind the squad more than in previous years.

A turning point could have been the team's excellent performance against PSG on October 22.

Marseille had to settle for a 2-2 draw after conceding a last-gasp equaliser, but the determination and belief the players showed struck a chord with the fans.

Lyon may hold sway over Marseille in attack on Sunday evening (Monday morning AEDT) with Mariano Diaz having scored 12 league goals this season, team-mate Nabil Fekir has 11 and Memphis Depay eight.

Marseille's top scorer is Florian Thauvin with eight goals, while centre-forwards Kostas Mitroglou and Valere Germain have two apiece.

Mitroglou scored on his debut in a 3-3 draw at Strasbourg but the Greece striker, who joined after two prolific seasons with Portuguese club Benfica, netted only once in his next six starts. He was dropped for last weekend's 3-0 win over St Etienne.

Germain, a former Monaco striker who has been vying for a place with Mitroglou, scored twice against St Etienne and is likely to start against Lyon.

Thauvin has eight assists this season, two more than PSG's world-record signing Neymar, and was voted the league's player of the month for November.

Playmaker Dimitri Payet has been disappointing for Marseille this season.

The France international, who joined from West Ham United midway through last season, has scored only one goal this campaign, although there were signs against St Etienne that he may be finding some form.

Monaco are searching for consistency after selling several key players and rebuilding the side that won the league last season.

Coach Leonardo Jardim's Monaco team have lost four times - already one more than last season - and went out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Top scorer Radamel Falcao is still in form, though, scoring 14 times in the league in as many games. The Colombia striker produced a contender for goal of the season in midweek with a superb lob from near the halfway line in a League Cup win over Caen.

Source AAP