Sat, Dec 13, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Heroes Monaco face Marseille test

AFP, PARIS

AS Monaco defender Fabinho, center, celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during his side’s UEFA Champions League match against Zenit Saint Petersburg on Tuesday at the Stade Louis II in Monaco.

Photo: AFP

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.

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