Ligue 1 preview: Top three ease back into action
By Football News
The main title contenders in Ligue 1 face fairly easy returns to action this weekend as France's top tier resumes after the mid-season break.
After a three-week interval over the festive season, pacesetters Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and Marseille - who are separated only by goal difference - will all ease back into competitive action with games against teams in the bottom five of French football's top division.
PSG's sporting director Leonardo believes his squad has both the ability and, crucially, the desire to break the capital club's 19-year wait for a league title.
"The desire of the players has been the key," Leonardo told Ligue1.com.
"They had a good look at themselves and now they are saying to each other that any defeat is a tragedy.
"That is the way things are now.
"A year and a half ago, people thought we were pretentious for saying such things. Not anymore.
"Nobody at PSG, from the team to those of us upstairs, accepts losing.
"To not win the league would be a failure, for sure. It is the same thing for the Coupe de France."
Ligue 1 returns on Friday with Saint-Etienne hosting Toulouse, while leaders PSG welcome 16th-placed Ajaccio to the capital.
Lyon will travel to second-bottom club Troyes on Saturday and Marseille are off to 18th-placed Sochaux on Sunday.
While all three title contenders will be expected to start the second half of the season with victory, any slip-ups could be crucial in deciding the championship.
PSG, Lyon and Marseille are tied on 38 points at the top of Ligue 1's standings with the capital club ahead on goal difference ahead of Round 20.
The match of the weekend could be fourth-placed Rennes hosting seventh-placed Bordeaux on Saturday.
Rennes won their last two matches before the winter break and sit in France's automatic Europa League qualification berth on 32 points, while Bordeaux are just three points behind and have not won at Stade de la Route de Lorient since 2009.
Bordeaux drew five games in a row before the break and head coach Francis Gillot will hope the three-week hiatus has refreshed his players so they can make a push up the table.
In other games on Saturday, Evian host Brest and Montpellier are set to play Lorient, while Nancy will welcome north-eastern rivals Lille to Stade Marcel Picot.
Nancy have not beaten Lille in 10 consecutive Ligue 1 matches.
On Sunday, Reims are up against Bastia and Valenciennes will travel to Nice.