Ligue 1 title race hots up

With the French league title race threatening to be the closest in recent memory no fewer than a dozen clubs are eying a push for the summit as top flight action returns this weekend.

No side has been dominant across the opening four months of the season, leaving unfancied Lille top of the heap by a point from PSG, whose last title win came in 1994 (to 1954 for Lille), Rennes and Lyon. Defending champions Marseille are two points further back after managing to win only seven of their 19 matches to date.

The top 13 sides are separated by a mere seven points, hence the pressure will be on Didier Deschamps' titleholders to see off 2009 champions Bordeaux in the Sunday match at the Stade Velodrome. Marseille's ninth title last May left them one win behind all-time record holders Saint Etienne, who themselves are only three points behind Lille going into a Saturday encounter at struggling Lens.

Great things had been expected of new striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, signed in the summer from Toulouse but who has blown hot and cold to date. The France international, top scorer in the 2008/09 league season with 24 goals, slammed in a hat-trick for Marseille in the biggest ever UEFA Champions League away win - a 7-0 thrashing of Slovakians Zilina.

But in the league it has been a different story and he has netted just once to date - with La Provence newspaper noting Wednesday that his goals to shots ratio currently stands at 1-49. "This club is made for me and in 2011 you will see a new Gignac," said Gignac. "I know my first six months here have not been great but I have analysed myself. I know what I have not been doing and I return with the best intentions. I am here to ensure that Marseille retain the title."

Inconsistent Bordeaux
Bordeaux have also been struggling to find their game. After winning the title under Laurent Blanc in 2009 the club missed out on a Champions League berth last season before their coach took over the French national side. But the five-point gap on Lille is not unbreachable and chairman Jean-Louis Triaud insists that Jean Tigana's men can compete for the crown. They are believed to be in negotiations for former Liverpool and Marseille forward Djibril Cisse, now with Panathinaikos in Greece.

Lille will try to stay out in front with three points Saturday at Nice, who need the points at the wrong end of the table. PSG and Rennes should collect home wins over mid-table Sochaux and tailenders Arles, who have managed just one win to date. Lyon, who won the league seven times in succession between 2002 and 2008, will similarly expect to see off midtable Lorient.

Saturday also sees a meeting of two sides hovering just above the drop zone who a decade ago would have each had designs on the title. Instead, 2000 champions Monaco could find themselves in the bottom three if they lose at 1996 winners Auxerre. Monaco sacked Guy Lacombe as coach and replaced him with former incumbent Laurent Banide after last weekend's humiliating Cup loss at fifth-tier Chambery. Korean striker Chu-young Park will be unable to help against Auxerre as he is set to miss out with knee trouble.