New recruit Dimitar Berbatov says there is no better way to start his AS Monaco career than with the visit of Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain to a soldout Stade Louis II tomorrow.
All eyes will turn to the principality as second-placed Monaco, without the sidelined Radamel Falcao, attempt to give the French title race fresh impetus in front of a rare full house.
Claudio’s Ranieri’s men are five points adrift of PSG, and with Colombian star Falcao ruled out for the season with a knee injury, Monaco turned to former Manchester United striker Berbatov in last month’s transfer window to help fill the void.
Berbatov arrived on loan from Premier League strugglers Fulham, with the Bulgarian saying a recommendation from former teammate and former Monaco defender Patrice Evra convinced him to swap England for the Cote d’Azur.
Looking ahead to his first match in Monaco colors, Berbatov said: “It’s the best possible way [to start].”
“You play against one of the biggest clubs in football, one of the best players in football [Zlatan Ibrahimovic], so what else can a player want? It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for me,” Berbatov said.
“They are favorites, but they’re coming to ours so it will be difficult for them. It won’t be easy, but we can win Sunday,” added the 33-year-old, who could start on the bench should Ranieri elect to keep faith with in-form duo Emmanuel Riviere and Valere Germain up front.
PSG kept their hopes of a domestic double intact on Tuesday as two goals from Ibrahimovic saw the capital club edge past Nantes 2-1 to seal a place in the final of the Coupe de la Ligue.
With several key fixtures on the horizon, including the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie against Bayer 04 Leverkusen, PSG are entering what coach Laurent Blanc has dubbed “money-time” and he is counting on his side to perform.
Midfielder Yohan Cabaye, thrust into the midst of a title race after signing from Newcastle United last month, knows victory against Monaco would steer Laurent Blanc’s men ever closer to defending their crown.
“It won’t be over, there are still 14 matches to play, but a win would bring us closer to the title,” said the France international, who could be in line for his full debut.
Defender Gregory van der Wiel echoed the thoughts of his teammate.
“We want to win. We feel strong. It’s never over while there are still points to play for, but we would be even further ahead,” Van der Wiel said.
Meanwhile, LOSC Lille Metropole have picked up just a solitary point since the turn of the year, leaving their grip on the third and final Champions League berth under serious threat.
AS Saint-Etienne could climb above Lille yesterday should Les Verts avoid defeat at midtable Toulouse.
However, the visit of relegation candidates Sochaux-Montbeliard, who are seven points from safety, could provide the perfect tonic for Rene Girard’s stuttering side today.
A resurgent Olympique Lyonnais had their seven-match league unbeaten run ended by Stade Rennais last weekend, but Remi Garde’s team, who advanced to the final of the Coupe de la Ligue in midweek, will seek to continue their ascent up the table at Nantes tomorrow.
Olympique de Marseille entertain SC Bastia, while Girondins de Bordeaux, who still harbor European aspirations despite losing three of their past four matches, are in action at home to Lorient.