Lille and Lyon will be bidding to turn up the heat on leaders Paris Saint-Germain and re-ignite their own stuttering title campaigns when Ligue 1 resumes on Friday.
With both sides facing games they must win in the UEFA Champions League next week - Lille at CSKA Moscow, Lyon at home to Ajax - their league matches have been brought forward to give them extra time to prepare. Defending champions Lille, currently third in the top flight, visit sixth-placed Toulouse, while Lyon, fourth, host fifth-placed Rennes.
Victories on Friday would take Lille and Lyon to within three and four points of PSG respectively, but both sides hit disquieting patches of form in the days leading up to the international break. Lille are without a win in three games in all competitions and their last victory in Ligue 1 was a 3-1 success over Lyon on 23 October.
Since then, they have been held to draws at Valenciennes (1-1) and at home to Evian (1-1), as well as falling to a 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League. "In our last matches, we've certainly lost some of the joy in our play," admitted Lille coach Rudi Garcia.
"Against Lyon, for example, even when we were behind, we managed to produce some spontaneity and exuberance, which enabled us to emerge victorious. After that, a lack of psychological freshness made our performances a bit stale. But the players keep playing courageously, particularly against Evian."
Toulouse, beaten 2-0 at Auxerre in their last outing, have lost just once at home in Ligue 1 this season but will be missing first-choice midfielders Etienne Capoue (fractured elbow) and Antoine Devaux (suspension).
Lyon in free-fall
Ahead of Rennes' visit, Lyon have lost four of their last seven league games - all away from home - and have not registered back-to-back league wins since mid-September. Rennes also have problems, however, having won just two of their last six in the league, and saw defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila stretchered off with a back injury in France's 0-0 draw with Belgium on Tuesday.
Lyon have more positive injury news and are hoping to be able to call upon Argentine striker Lisandro Lopez (ankle) against Rennes for the first time since August. "He's progressing well," said Lyon coach Remi Garde. "I'm hoping to be able to use him for the series of matches starting at Rennes."
PSG go into the weekend with a three-point lead over second-placed Montpellier but their preparations for Sunday's visit of Nancy have been clouded by speculation about the future of coach Antoine Kombouare. Montpellier are unbeaten in their last five league encounters but their hopes of drawing level on points with PSG will be tested on Saturday by the visit of a Marseille team bidding for a fourth consecutive victory.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Nice host Saint-Etienne in what will be Rene Marsiglia's first game in charge of the 17th-placed Mediterranean club since he replaced Eric Roy as coach on Tuesday.