The most notable moments of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action were not goals but rather a yellow card and a substitution.
Although Paris Saint-Germain marched to a comfortable 5-0 win over nine-man Montpellier on Saturday, what caught the eye was Neymar being cautioned after a rainbow flick with the score still at 1-0, and Kylian Mbappe exchanging words with head coach Thomas Tuchel when he was replaced.
Both were out on Sunday to celebrated the Brazilian’s birthday in typically lavish style, but when PSG take to the field this midweek, only the World Cup winner will be present, with Neymar having officially suffered a rib injury on Saturday.
Regardless, PSG extended their lead at the top of the standings to 10 points – a welcome cushion with the approach of the Champions League.
Ligue 1 Match of the Round: Lille vs Rennes
It may not be in one of the showcase slots, but Lille’s home match against Rennes is perhaps the most important of the week given the bearing it is bound to have on the race for the third and final Champions League place – surely the only one now up for debate.
Only PSG have won in Lille this season, while Christophe Galtier’s side showed the type of mental resources that it was doubted they had when they came from behind to win in Strasbourg on Saturday, with Gabriel and Victor Osimhen on target.
Rennes, meanwhile, scored an impossibly dramatic derby victory over Nantes on Friday evening. Raphinha was again their star man as he scored twice, including a 97th-minute winner that was allowed by VAR after being flagged offside on the field. Only moments earlier, Benjamin Bourigeaud had drawn the home side level after playing catch up for much of the second half.
Julian Stephan’s side could go a long way to sealing third on Tuesday, as they could open up a nine-point chasm to Lille – and even if there are other sides, including Lyon, hovering, it would be a big psychological boost for the Breton team.
Rest of the Round
While Lille and battling Rennes on Tuesday, Monaco will try to get back to winning ways after a disastrous sequence when they play Angers, a side who lost 4-1 at the weekend.
Nantes, who are depleted in numbers due to injuries, will host Paris Saint-Germain in Tuesday’s late kick off.
The most important match in Wednesday’s early kick-offs comes in Lyon, where the home side are expected to step up their European challenge against Amiens. OL were surprisingly beaten by Nice at the weekend – their first loss of 2020.
Patrick Vieira’s side, meanwhile, have put together an unstylish undefeated run at the beginning of the year and on Wednesday travel to a Reims side who have found it difficult to regain the form they showed in the first half of the season.
Montpellier play host to in-form Metz, while Toulouse will attempt to build on their weekend point, which ended a club-record losing streak, at home to Strasbourg. Brest play host to Bordeaux in a mid-table battle and Nimes face a critical relegation showdown with Dijon at Stade des Costieres.
The late kick off sees Saint-Etienne tackle Marseille in what is sure to be a feisty fixture. OM were unable to end their jinx in Bordeaux, where they have not won since 1977, at the weekend, and face another tough away day hot on its heels.
Ligue 1 Player to Watch: Keita Balde – Monaco – £1.01
Anonymous at the beginning of the season, Keita Balde has enjoyed a resurgence under new Monaco head coach Robert Moreno.
The 24-year-old attacker has rapidly become a key man for the Stade Louis II side, scoring four times and setting up one more.
His importance over the coming weeks is only likely to increase. Gelson Martins was sent off for jostling a referee at the weekend and is liable to be handed a lengthy suspension, meaning the Ivorian will have more opportunity to take centre stage.
On Tuesday, Monaco go chasing their first league win under Moreno and given their strong record in the principality are favourites to get it against an opponent that was thumped 4-1 at home by Reims at the weekend.
Balde’s influence on the match, probably from the left wing, is one that could be telling.