Monaco host Lille seeking to cement second
By I. Holyman
AS Monaco play host to LOSC Lille on Friday seeking to deepen the embattled northern club's woes with a win that will keep them at the head of the pack for a top-two finish.
AS Monaco - LOSC Lille
Paris Saint-Germain's rescheduled Week 31 game with Angers SCO in midweek ended in a 2-1 win for the Ligue 1 Conforama leaders, who are now 17 points clear at the top of the table and on course to reclaim the title Monaco took so spectacularly last term.
But though Leonardo Jardim's squad was cherry-picked extensively last summer, the Portuguese tactician has been able to reconstruct impressively, and his team have built themselves a four-point buffer over third-placed Olympique de Marseille.
With OM playing fourth-placed Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday, victory over struggling Lille, second-from-bottom with nine games remaining, would up the pressure on their rivals to claim France's second and final automatic UEFA Champions League group stage place to almost unbearable levels.
WATCH: Monaco see off Strasbourg in Week 29
"Marseille have a big game that you could say could be decisive, but we're just going to do all we can against Lille and let's see what they do on Sunday," said midfielder Thomas Lemar. "For the moment, we're just focussed on our objective, that's second place."
Lemar and full-back Djibril Sidibé were called up for France's friendlies with Colombia and 2018 FIFA World Cup hosts Russia this month, and they could face team-mate Radamel Falcao, who is fully fit again after the thigh injury sustained in the win over Lyon in early February.
Jardim: 'Lille have quality'
An unused substitute in last week's 3-1 triumph in Strasbourg, Monaco's leading scorer "could start the game", according to Jardim, who was keen to highlight the quality in the Lille squad and the ability of counterpart Christophe Galter that contrasts starkly with their lowly league position.
"Lille have good players, a great coach who knows Ligue 1 well, and because of that we'll have problems. We'll have to play to the limit of our possibilities to win it," said Jardim, whose men are on a 14-game unbeaten run.
"We need to respect this match and our opponents just like with every game. I don't really look at our opponents, I look at my team, see if they are doing things well, have a good attitude. That's the most important thing."
WATCH: Monaco pick Lille apart earlier this season
Galtier undoubtedly wishes he could do the same, but the former AS Saint-Étienne boss' focus has had to switch between the upcoming 90 minutes in the principality and events at last weekend's home match with Montpellier Hérault SC.
An ugly pitch invasion by some 200 fans has led the French Football League to order Lille to play their 1 April game at home to Amiens SC behind closed doors pending a final decision into the matter.
The supporters' ire has been provoked by a season that started with such promise under Marcelo Bielsa and is now in danger of seeing the club drop into Ligue 2 after a run of just two wins in their last 13 league games and no victories in their last six.
"Believe me, the players aren't proud of the situation. They're awkward and sad when they say hello to the people at the club every day," said Galtier, whose men are a point adrift of safety.
"It's good our next game is away from home. If you look at the odds, it's clear Monaco are favourites. It's also good there is the international break after the match. Let's try and get a positive atmosphere back."
Monaco: Subasic; D.Sidibé, Glik, Jemerson, Raggi; Moutinho, Fabinho; K.Baldé, Lemar, R.Lopes – Falcao (cap)
Lille: Maignan; Ié, Soumaoro, J.Alonso, Ballo-Touré; Benzia, Amadou (cap), T.Maia; Pépé, Mothiba, T.Mendes