PSG hope to lay down gauntlet
A look ahead to the weekend's action in the French Ligue 1, including Paris St Germain's clash with Bastia.
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Paris St Germain can lay down the gauntlet to their title rivals this weekend by beating Bastia on Friday night.
If, as expected, Carlo Ancelotti's men get the better of the Corsicans, they will be six points clear at the head of the table before anyone else has kicked a ball.
What was once a four-horse race is now in danger of turning into a two-team tussle, with Lyon the only side suggesting they can stay the course, although they were surprisingly beaten last time out.
They host Lille on Sunday, while third-placed Marseille, who will be nine adrift if PSG win on Friday, are at Evian.
This is an exciting time for PSG, who have a Champions League clash with Valencia ahead of them next week and still have David Beckham to join up with them in seven days' time.
"We are very comfortable out on the pitch, more and more confident because we are playing better, more solid football and are developing our own identity," said defender Maxwell of the current mood at the club.
"We work day-in, day-out to keep getting better. It's thanks to that that we're getting good results and are playing well in our matches. The most important thing is to keep picking up points and stay on top of the ladder."
St Etienne are at home to Montpellier after beating Bastia themselves last time out, and coach Christophe Galtier is pleased his side are back on track.
A horror December saw their title challenge go off the rails and they start this weekend in seventh place.
A clash with the defending champions is hardly appetising but Galtier said: "We are happy. We finished off a very good month of January as we're still in the cup competitions and still competing in the league despite a very bad December."
Marseille will go to the Parc des Sports without the suspended Joey Barton and know they need to get their challenge up and running again.
Barton was dismissed for the first time in France as OM were beaten 1-0 by lowly Nancy and, according to defender Souleymane Diawara, now is not the time for hiding.
"The players we have, old and new, know what to expect," he said.
"Football is a religion here and we need to earn the trust of the supporters. That is what we have to do from now on."
Like Marseille, Lyon have an abject defeat to recover from against mid-table Lille - they were beaten by Ajaccio last time out - while at the foot of the ladder, bottom-placed Troyes meet Sochaux in one of a number of games which could change the complexion of the relegation battle
Troyes currently have 17 points and Sochaux are five points better off in 17th, immediately above the drop zone and a win for Jean-Marc Furlan's men will bunch the bottom sides together even further.
Furlan will be investing a lot of hope into new signing Georges Gope-Fenepej, the New Caledonia international striker who has been brought in to score the goals to get Troyes out of trouble, and he is ready for the task.
"I have been told not to be afraid, even though this is a world away from the one I know," said the 24-year-old, who has 15 goals in 16 appearances for his country.
"It goes really fast here. I am ready to make an impact."
Nancy are second bottom despite their victory over Marseille and meet Reims on Saturday. They have 18 points and their opponents 20.
Brest are just on the fringes of danger and have a chance to pull away further when they head to Valenciennes, while Ajaccio, in a similar position to Brest, have a tricky encounter with fourth-place Bordeaux.
The other fixtures this weekend pit Nice against Lorient on Saturday and Rennes against Toulouse a day later.