With Paris Saint-Germain pulling clear at the top of the French league, the chase for an automatic Champions League place is promising to be a scrap between Monaco, Lyon and Marseille.
The leading three French teams will qualify for Europe’s biggest club competition next season and Monaco, Lyon and Marseille are even with 35 points, nine adrift of PSG.
Lyon is in second place on goal difference ahead of its home game against Marseille on Sunday, while defending champion Monaco visits Saint-Etienne on Friday.
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Big-spending PSG makes the short trip to Brittany to face Rennes on Saturday in the penultimate round before the winter break.
Marseille has not lost in the league since making a terrible start at home, losing 6-1 against Monaco and 3-1 against Rennes.
”According to a lot of people, we were in a real crisis after two losses,” Marseille coach Rudi Garcia said. ”But that wasn’t the case inside the club.”
Hired last season, Garcia seems to have given the club more stability.
Although Marseille’s notoriously volatile supporters have fought among each other – two groups clashed during a recent match before each submitted written apologies to the club – they have united behind the squad more than in previous years.
A turning point could have been the team’s excellent performance against PSG on Oct. 22.
Marseille had to settle for a 2-2 draw after conceding a last-gasp equalizer, but the determination and belief the players showed against PSG struck a chord with the fans.
Lyon may hold sway over Marseille in attack on Sunday with Mariano Diaz having scored 12 league goals this season, teammate Nabil Fekir has 11 and Dutch forward Memphis Depay has eight.
Marseille’s top scorer is Florian Thauvin with eight goals, while center forwards Kostas Mitroglou and Valere Germain have two apiece.
Mitroglou scored on his debut in a 3-3 draw at Strasbourg but the Greece striker, who joined after two prolific seasons with Portuguese club Benfica, netted only once in his next six starts. He was dropped for last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Saint-Etienne.
Germain, a former Monaco striker who has been vying for a place with Mitroglou, scored twice against Saint-Etienne and is likely to start against Lyon.
Thauvin has eight assists this season, two more than PSG’s world-record signing Neymar, and was voted the league’s player of the month for November.
Playmaker Dimitri Payet has been disappointing for Marseille this season.
The France international, who joined from West Ham midway through last season, has scored only one goal this campaign, although there were signs against Saint-Etienne that he may be finding some form.
Monaco is searching for consistency after selling several key players and rebuilding the side that won the league last season.
Coach Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco team has lost four times – already one more than last season – and went out of the Champions League at the group stage.
Top scorer Radamel Falcao is still in form, though, scoring 14 times in the league in as many games. On Tuesday, the Colombia striker produced a contender for goal of the season with a superb lob from near the halfway line in a League Cup win over Caen.