Lille, Marseille face early-season showdown
The Ligue 1 season may be only three matches old but both Marseille and defending champions Lille know that they can afford no more false starts ahead of their meeting on Sunday evening.
After three straight draws - six including matches at the end of last season - Marseille find themselves in midtable, six points behind early pace-setters Montpellier. While Lille may have recorded a first win of the campaign at Caen last weekend, they are just a point above OM due to a 1-1 draw at Nancy on the opening day and a 1-0 loss to Montpellier in their first home fixture.
Marseille's title challenge last season was fatally undermined by defeats in their first two matches, but despite Didier Deschamps' insistence on a strong start they find themselves with as many points as they had at the same stage 12 months ago. Lille, meanwhile, will need little reminding of the damage inflicted in the early days of the 2009/10 campaign, when three losses in their opening four matches effectively cost them a place in the UEFA Champions League.
An incredible denouement to the Champions Trophy - five goals in the last five minutes - saw Marseille come from 3-1 down to win 5-4 when the sides last met in Tangiers at the end of July. Sunday's match will be a much more taut affair, however, with Marseille centre-back Souleymane Diawara revealing that his side's struggles have made his defensive colleagues nervous about even carrying the ball forward.
"Personally, as a defender, I like taking the ball forward and looking for space but at the moment we're conceding so many goals that we don't even dare to take any risks," he said. "We don't want to cross the half-way line. We stick to our objectives. It's true that the coach doesn't really like us taking the ball forward, so we respect it. We have no choice."
Unsettling transfer speculation
Lille's 2-1 win at Caen lifted some of the pressure from their shoulders but they have endured a trying week, with general manager Frederic Paquet forced to dismiss speculation linking playmaker Eden Hazard and striker Moussa Sow with moves away from the club. A stunning 35-yard goal from Hazard paved the way for a 2-1 success at Marseille in March that proved the springboard for Lille's title triumph and a similar outcome on Sunday would help quell early-season anxieties.
"After the Champions Trophy, we have legitimate grounds for revenge," said Dimitri Payet, a pre-season recruit from Saint-Etienne, in an interview with the club's website. "We won't focus on that though, but rather on keeping calm so that we can play our game. We're at home, we'll have our fans behind us. It's up to us to put them in difficulty to secure victory."
Defenders Franck Beria (groin) and Marko Basa (foot) and captain Rio Mavuba (back) are all expected to be fit for the hosts. OM, meanwhile, will give a fitness test to striker Loic Remy, who injured his groin in the 0-0 draw with Saint-Etienne last Sunday.
Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain visit second-placed Toulouse on Sunday, having registered their first win of the campaign with a 2-1 defeat of Valenciennes last weekend. It was a timely success for coach Antoine Kombouare, who had reportedly been given just two games to save his job by new owners Qatar Sports Investments (QSI).
Having secured a place in the Champions League group phase for the 12th consecutive season with a 1-1 draw at Rubin Kazan on Wednesday, Remi Garde's Lyon welcome Montpellier to Stade Gerland on Saturday.