January is a notoriously hectic month in the footballing calendar, and the pace has taken its toll on several of France’s top sides.
While Paris Saint-Germain continue to successfully negotiate a period that will see them play 15 games in the course of 46 days, others are more ill-equipped to cope with the rigours of such an intense fixture list.
That was telling in the midweek Coupe de France action, which saw Montpellier and Lille both fall at the hands of fourth-tier opponents Belfort and Epinal respectively.
And the pace is unrelenting, with this week’s Ligue 1 action followed up by a midweek round of fixtures.
Ligue 1 Match of the Weekend: Bordeaux vs Marseille
All eyes will be on Stade Matmut-Atlantique on Sunday night, when one of the greatest rivalries in the French game is renewed as Bordeaux play host to Marseille.
It is a fixture that has been notoriously hostile to OM in the past, with the southern giants incredibly having gone winless since 1977, despite 36 visits.
Although Bordeaux defeated Nantes 1-0 last weekend, their form remains far from perfect and were wholly unimpressive in that success. With Aurelien Tchouameni confirmed as an AS Monaco player, they’ve now lost one of their top midfielders but otherwise have a squad in good shape to protect their astonishing record.
Meanwhile, Marseille bounced back from a scoreless draw against Angers last weekend by progressing to the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France with a 3-1 win over Strasbourg, highlighted by Bouna Sarr’s brilliant individual opener.
Sarr, along with Dimitri Payet and Boubacar Kamara, who were the other scorers on Wednesday, were all suspended from the Angers clash and their midweek display underscored their importance to Andre Villas-Boas’ side.
Rest of the Weekend
A Breton derby gets the weekend underway on Friday, with Rennes playing host to Nantes, having won the pick of the midweek Coupe de France fixtures by overcoming Angers 5-4 after extra-time.
Then comes PSG’s home match against Montpellier in Saturday’s early kick-off. Although Montpellier have proven dangerous opponents this season, they have failed to replicate strong home form on their travels, with their Coupe de France exit to Belfort emphasising their problems on the road.
Strasbourg’s home match with Lille and Nimes’ fixture with Monaco are the standout fixtures on Saturday evening’s card, on which Amiens will attempt to inflict more misery on a Toulouse side that has lost 13 straight. If they do not, it could be the end of head coach Luke Elsner.
Nice and Lyon will have a rematch of their Thursday Coupe de France last-16 encounter early on Sunday, while Metz and Saint-Etienne will do battle at Stade Saint-Symphorien in the middle kick-off, with the visitors boosted by their midweek win over Monaco and a number of players, including William Saliba, back fit.
Ligue 1 Player to Watch: Dimitri Payet – Marseille – £1.32
Linked with a move back to West Ham this month, Dimitri Payet is reckoned to be in the form of his career with Marseille currently.
He is creating more than twice as many chances per 90 minutes as any other member of his team, while he has scored six goals and laid on three more.
When Marseille played Angers last weekend, their lack of imagination owed much to the absence of Payet, as well as Sarr, who has been their other chief creative outlet. It was little surprise that OM were far better when they beat Strasbourg in midweek.
If Marseille’s Bordeaux curse is to be lifted this weekend – and form suggests there is a good chance that it could – Payet is likely to be the man who breaks it.