Fresh from securing their passage into the round-of-16 of the UEFA Champions League, AS Monaco will get the chance to prove their credentials when they entertain Ligue 1 leaders Olympique de Marseille tomorrow.
Few gave the principality club a chance of making progress in Europe following the departures of star duo James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao in the summer, but Monaco upset the odds to finish top of their Champions League group following a fine 2-0 win against Zenit Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
“The team gave a frank response to the critics, and especially to people in France who said at the start of the season that we weren’t up to the level needed to qualify,” said coach Leonardo Jardim, who has also come in for criticism for his side’s stuttering domestic form.
They will find out their opponents in the first knockout round of the Champions League on Monday, with Juventus, Arsenal and Manchester City all potentially lying in wait, but now Jardim’s team can focus on trying to climb the Ligue 1 table and close the seven-point gap currently separating them from the top three.
Marseille are a point clear of Paris Saint-Germain at the summit, although they have failed to win any of their past four away games in the league and cup.
“It will be difficult against Marseille, but the victory [against Zenit] has given us confidence and I hope we can produce another good performance on Sunday,” young forward Anthony Martial said.
He could feature at the Stade Louis II as Dimitar Berbatov is sidelined after coming off injured against Zenit. Layvin Kurzawa and Geoffrey Kondogbia are also ruled out.
Reigning champions PSG go to En Avant de Guingamp tomorrow with the intention of bouncing back after seeing their record as the last unbeaten team in any of Europe’s leading leagues this season ended in a 3-1 defeat in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.
“We have three matches left before the winter break, then we will try to recuperate during the holidays,” said PSG coach Laurent Blanc, whose side should be too strong for their struggling hosts in Brittany, especially as Guingamp will be feeling the effects of a trip to Greece for a decisive UEFA Europa League match against PAOK on Thursday.
Elsewhere, Olympique Lyonnais could strengthen their grip on third place with a win when they were due to entertain struggling Stade Malherbe Caen Calvados yesterday.
Hubert Fournier’s side have lost just one of their past 13 Ligue 1 games after a dreadful start to the campaign and were seeking an eighth consecutive home win when they met the men from Normandy.
“We have been extremely focused since the start of September because of what happened in August,” said Fournier, whose side have been led by 13-goal Alexandre Lacazette, Ligue 1’s leading scorer. “What we mustn’t do is think that the hardest part has been done, but I’ve not seen any signs to suggest that is the mood.”
Lyon’s great rivals AS Saint-Etienne, who are fourth, have not lost in eight league games, but go to OGC Nice tomorrow on the back of a long trip to Ukraine for a crucial Europa League tie against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Today, fifth-placed Girondins de Bordeaux travel up the west coast to meet Nantes in the Atlantic derby.
Nantes may boast home advantage, but they have lost momentum after suffering three consecutive defeats, including a 2-1 reverse at PSG last time out.
“This is an important match against a team who are in good form at the moment. They have great attacking potential and score a lot of goals, so if we are to get a result we will need to rediscover our strength at the back,” said Nantes coach Michel der Zakarian, although the visitors could be without Cheick Diabate.
The giant Malian striker, who has scored eight goals already this season, saw a specialist in Marseille this week about a persistent knee problem.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7