Ligue 1 preview: Battle for European spots up for grabs
By Football News
Saint-Etienne host Nice in Ligue 1 on Saturday, as the chasing pack seek to apply pressure in the race for Champions League qualification.
All the focus so far this season has been on the heavyweight clubs scrapping it out at the very top of the Ligue 1 table.
Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain occupy top spot, three points clear of Lyon, with Marseille a further five points back in third spot.
Defeat to PSG last weekend saw Marseille's hopes of staying in the title race take a major hit, and Elie Baup's attention may now turn to consolidating third place and the prize of a route into UEFA's elite club competition.
A strong run of form - three wins from their past four matches - has seen fourth-placed Nice climb to within a point of Marseille, while Saint-Etienne in fifth are one point further back.
Those two clubs go head to head at the Stade Geoffrey Guichard this weekend, in a match which could go some way to deciding which club mounts the strongest challenge for a European berth.
Saint-Etienne will need strikers Brandao and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in top form if they are to overcome Nice.
Aubameyang had suffered a drop in standards before the winter break, but coach Christophe Galtier kept faith with the Gabon international, who has netted six times from his past five matches in all competitions.
"He never let his head drop," Galtier said.
"He did everything possible to try to get his form back as quickly as possible. I'd say that during that particular period he really showed a lot of mental strength."
Montpellier, sixth in the standings, kick off this week's round at home to seventh-placed Rennes on Friday.
PSG will be in the spotlight on Saturday as they look to extend their lead with a win away to struggling Reims.
On the same day, Valenciennes go to Lorient in a mid-table tussle, while Sochaux will fancy their chances at home to bottom side Nancy.
Ajaccio can continue their recent march away from danger with a win at Bastia, and Evian can escape the bottom three if they triumph on the road against Toulouse.
Some of the country's traditional heavyweights are in action on Sunday, with Lyon going to Brest, Marseille at home to second-bottom Troyes and Lille playing host to Bordeaux.