Having drawn to within a point of French league leaders Lille, Olympique Marseille will bid to retain their French League Cup title when they meet Montpellier in the final tomorrow.
Last season's success in the competition, a 3-1 defeat of then holders Bordeaux, ended Marseille's 17-year wait for major honours and proved the catalyst for the club's first league title since 1992. This year's finalists met just a week ago in Ligue 1, with Marseille coming from behind to win 2-1 and thereby close the gap on pace-setters Lille.
"The two games are very close together, but Saturday will be a completely different match," Marseille coach Didier Deschamps told the club's in-house television station, OMtv. "There'll be the context of the Stade de France, for a final. There'll be no points at stake, but a title to win."
The victory at Montpellier may have galvanised Marseille's league title defence, but it also came at a cost. French international forward Loic Remy was sent off for clashing with Montpellier's Abdelhamid El Kaoutari after winning the penalty from which Taye Taiwo completed Marseille's comeback. The former Nice and Lyon player is therefore suspended for tomorrow's game, along with El Kaoutari, who was also sent off for his role in the fracas.
"The closer the final gets, the more I'll bite my nails," Remy admitted in French sport daily L'Equipe on Thursday. "I'll be in the stands on Saturday. Of course it's a big disappointment, even though I've only got myself to blame."
Ghana winger Andre Ayew is likely to be promoted from the bench to deputise for Remy, with Andre-Pierre Gignac set to come infield from the left flank to adopt a central striking role. Nigerian forward John Utaka, a January signing from Portsmouth, is a doubt for Montpellier with an adductor muscle problem.
Montpellier coach Rene Girard faces a taxing decision over who to select in goal. Geoffrey Jourdren is the club's habitual first-choice goalkeepe,r but long-serving former captain Laurent Pionnier has appeared in the last three matches in the competition.
"I want what's best for the club," said a modest Pionnier, who has been at Montpellier since 1997. "My personal pride always comes second. The top of the table, the final - that's the most important thing, with or without me."
Thousands of Montpellier fans are expected to make the trip to Paris, to watch their team's attempt to win a first major trophy since the 1990 French Cup. "For the Marseille players, it would be almost normal to win," said Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud.
"But for us it would be a real exploit and it would be great for the club if we managed to lift this title. We'll do everything to win it and bring the cup back to Montpellier."