PARIS: Runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain host third-placed Angers in Ligue 1 on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), with star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in towering form as a series of eight games in three weeks awaits the French champions.
Elsewhere, Marseille’s visit to Lyon is a clash of struggling giants on Sunday, and on Friday new Rennes boss Rolland Courbis hopes to give his new team a first home win since August.
A massive 21 points ahead of second-placed Monaco, PSG’s midweek French Cup win delivered by a late Ibrahimovic goal means Laurent Blanc will be rotating his line-up in their seven scheduled games before Chelsea’s visit in the Champions League on February 16.
“We have to get through this month of January, which is difficult with this crazy schedule,” Blanc said after the come-from-behind 2-1 home win over Toulouse.
On current form it is hard to imagine PSG allowing Ibrahimovic, whose contract expires in June, to leave at the end of the season. The Swede took his club goal tally in all competitions to 20 in midweek, but he is also the leader of the team, dictating matters on the pitch and also ruling the roost in the dressing room.
So the Swede will start at the weekend while Edinson Cavani, linked with a switch to Manchester United this week and increasingly isolated both on the pitch and off it, may make way for Brazilian forward Lucas.
“Rotating the team all the time is making PSG a little sluggish,” former France and Liverpool coach Gerard Houllier told sports daily L’Equipe this week, before praising the club’s fitness coaches as the reason why PSG were hurting rivals in the latter stages of games.
“They are aiming at being ready by March and they’ve got real experts in the fitness domain,” said Houllier. However, PSG have several stars in the sickbay in Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti.
Visitors Angers tumbled out of the Cup on Tuesday with a 2-1 home defeat to Bordeaux.
Struggling giants clash
Marseille and Lyon are in eighth and ninth respectively. Lyon, runners up last season, fired their coach at Christmas while Marseille’s incumbent Michel has been being booed by home fans lately.
The former Spain international will be looking for Belgian striker Mishy Batshuayi, second only to Ibrahimovic in the Ligue 1 scoring charts, to add to his 12 league goals.
Marseille can also build upon the momentum of a midweek home win in the Cup over Montpellier, following last Sunday’s 3-1 victory at Caen.
“It’s going to be a huge game in their brand new stadium, but it’s nice to travel up there on the back of a win,” Marseille midfielder Remy Cabella told regional paper La Provence.
Rennes sacked their coach Philippe Montanier on Wednesday, and his replacement Courbis immediately promised to target second place.
“First place is mathematically out of the question, so why not go for it and target second,” suggested the colorful 62-year-old journeyman, who has inherited a Rennes side just five points off second place but without a home win in their last ten attempts.
Courbis will get the chance to turn around the Brittany outfit’s fortunes with a home fixture against surprise package Gazelec Ajaccio, who are unbeaten in their last 11 league games.
Relegation-threatened Toulouse, who face PSG for the third time in 11 days next week, first turn their attentions to resurgent Monaco, who moved back ahead of Angers after stretching their unbeaten run in the league to eight games last time out.