Marseille aiming for top spot against Nice

Defending champion Marseille is halfway to repeating the domestic double it achieved last year but Didier Deschamps’ team is likely to be missing three key players in the final stretch of the season.

Marseille successfully defended the League Cup with a 1-0 win over Montpellier over the weekend and can knock faltering league leader Lille off its perch with a win against Nice on Wednesday in a rescheduled match.

But Marseille will be without the injured Stephane M’Bia and suspended striker Loic Remy for the match. M’Bia picked up a groin injury only minutes into the League Cup final while Remy still has two matches to serve after being handed a three-match ban following a red card.

Deschamps said M’Bia is likely to be sidelined until mid-May. Nigeria defender Taye Taiwo is available but is facing a lengthy suspension for an expletive-laced chant following the victory in the League Cup.

After the game, Taiwo took a microphone and joined fans in a chant aimed at archrival Paris Saint-Germain.

The French league will submit Taiwo’s case to the football federation’s ethics council, which will decide whether to suspend him.

Deschamps criticized Taiwo’s reaction but tried to downplay the importance of the player’s "mistake," hoping that the defender will escape a harsh penalty.

"He shouldn’t have done this," Deschamps said. "But he is not the first player to do this. I remember that Samuel Eto’o took a microphone to celebrate a title with Barcelona. At the time he spoke about Real and it was also a mistake. What Taiwo said was not good, he realized it and apologized."

Eto’o was fined ?12,000 by the Spanish federation for singing anti-Real Madrid songs during 2005 Spanish league title celebrations but was not suspended.

A win against Nice would give Marseille a one-point lead over Lille with six rounds remaining this season.

"Mathematically, if we win all our remaining matches, we will be champions," Deschamps said. "But we first need to take the three points on Wednesday, something that is yet to achieve."

Nice is only six points above the relegation zone, which should give the team extra motivation for the match. But the club has a terrible record at the Stade Velodrome, where it lost 15 of its last 16 matches.

Marseille is unbeaten in the league since a 2-1 home loss to Lille on March 6 and has lost only three games in all competitions in 2011. Last year, Deschamps’ team also used a strong second part of the season to secure the double.

Lille’s 1-1 draw at Orient was its third straight league match without a win, and coach Rudi Garcia is acknowledging that Marseille’s current pace will be difficult to keep up with.

"Marseille are picking up points faster than us in 2011 and Marseille are title favorites," Garcia said. "We’ve got seven finals to play, including the French Cup final, between now and the end of the season. We are leaders at least until Wednesday."

Third-place Lyon will be trying to cut the gap to Lille to four points with a win against Montpellier in Wednesday’s other match.

Lyon coach Claude Puel, whose future at the club remains uncertain following a topsy-turvy season, is convinced his players are still capable of winning the title.

"It’s in our hands," Puel said. "We’re going to have to show unwavering strength of character. If we manage to maintain that, then we can be champions. Coming into the final straight, our focus remains fixed on the title. I have not seen a better team than us in the league. Marseille is not playing all that well, but they get going when the going gets tough, unlike us."