Lille still not talking about winning French title
Despite leading the French league by four points and fielding the leading scorer in the most prolific attack, Lille is reluctant to discuss winning a title it last captured 57 years ago.
Senegal striker Moussa Sow tops the league with 20 goals from Lille's total of 52 for the season, but with the 1955 French Cup being the last trophy the club has won - a year after its last league title - there is no suggestion of over confidence.
"We don't talk about the title," Lille defender Aurelien Chedjou said. "That would put some unnecessary pressure on us. Everybody gives his everything. That's the only way we can land a Champions League spot."
That's a strategy that has drawn criticism from Marseille midfielder Edouard Cisse.
"It's not cool to say, 'We don't target the title' while they lead by four points," Cisse said. "We don't buy it. Nobody buys it. They want the title but they are removing a bit of pressure off their shoulders.
"If I were in their shoes, objectively, I can't say that I'm not contending for the title."
With nine rounds to play, Lille visits Monaco on Saturday and second-place Marseille hosts Toulouse a day later.
Lille will face a team fighting for survival - Monaco is in the relegation zone, one point behind 17th-place Auxerre.
"We need to rack up points to be safe as quickly as possible," Monaco forward Daniel Niculae said. "We play against the leader, so we have nothing to lose. We'll play our game and, in the end - with a bit of luck, I hope we'll win."
Monaco officials had hoped that replacing coach Guy Lacombe with Laurent Banide in January would turn the team's form around, but results haven't improved for the seven-time champions.
While Lille has produced the most attractive football, Marseille has won its past three matches to remain in the title race despite the defending champions' poor style of play.
"As long as we win our matches, no matter how we play, that's all right," Cisse said. "Lille plays well but Lille is not safe from stumbling. There are nine matches left, anything can happen.
"We want the title. We haven't given up. It's not in our nature to give up at this moment."
Lyon needs a victory over Lens on Sunday to keep alive its slim title chances. The club with the largest budget in France threw away victory last week by conceding two injury-time goals to draw 2-2 with Nice and remain in fourth place, eight points behind Lille.
The disappointing performance led softly spoken goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to launch into an expletive-filled rant in the Lyon dressing room that was supported by defender Cris.
"It's logical to lose your temper after such a result and such a scenario," Lyon midfielder Honorato Ederson said. "At a certain point, we had to speak up and we did."
Lyon has often been criticized this season for a lack of character, and Ederson hopes Lloris' reaction will help the team bounce back.
"We took it positively," Ederson said of the rant. "(Lloris and Cris) are players who are important for this team. When they talk, everybody listens. We got the message. It will do us some good.
"Now the most important thing is to stay united. We can finish this season well only if we stay united."
Also on Saturday, it's: Auxerre vs. Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux vs. Arles-Avignon, Caen vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Lorient vs. Sochaux, Valenciennes vs. Nancy and Brest vs. Rennes.
Also Sunday, sixth-place Montpellier hosts Nice.