Monaco out to tighten grip on second
By A. Scott
While all eyes this weekend are on the Classique, AS Monaco are hoping to strengthen their grip on second place as they go to Toulouse FC.
Toulouse FC - AS Monaco
Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille might have been getting most of the attention of late, but Leonardo Jardim's side are in irresistible form and firmly on course to secure a top-three berth along with a return to the UEFA Champions League next season.
The principality club are unbeaten in their last 11 Ligue 1 Conforama games, and nobody has taken more points than Monaco since the start of December. Their fine run continued last weekend as they swept aside Dijon FCO at the Stade Louis II, claiming a second consecutive 4-0 win. That ensured that they come into this weekend a point above Marseille and seven ahead of Olympique Lyonnais in fourth. Now Monaco are hoping to take advantage of the fact that OM go to Paris on Sunday.
"It is true that this weekend could be a key moment in the season for us. If we win at Toulouse and Paris beat Marseille, it would be very good for us, especially as Lyon are going through a bit of a difficult spell," said defensive stalwart Andrea Raggi.
Highlights: Monaco brush aside Dijon
"But we know that the fight for second place will be tough all the way to the end. The fact our rivals have other competitions to play in could be an advantage for us."
Indeed, while OM and OL were in Europa League action on Thursday, and play in the Coupe de France next midweek, Monaco's focus is entirely on the league for now. This is the first of four league matches they have left before the March international break, after which they face Paris in the Coupe de la Ligue final.
Monaco have lost just once in 15 in all competitions, but Jardim is wary of the trip to Le Stadium, where his team went down to a 3-1 defeat last season.
"Toulouse are always very difficult opponents for us. We lost there last season. They are very strong defensively, very well organised and quick in the transitions. We are playing well but we need to go out and show that in every match," said Jardim.
No Falcao? No problem
Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic has been back training after pulling out of the Dijon game with an injury in the warm-up last weekend, but Diego Benaglio is still out and top scorer Radamel Falcao is not yet ready to return from the thigh injury he suffered against Lyon three weeks ago.
"We have always had lots of different players scoring goals in recent years, not just one. That is the case again this year," insisted Jardim, who could start Keita Baldé through the middle of the attack.
Highlights: Toulouse held at 10-man Amiens
Toulouse might be just one point above the bottom three, but their form has improved since Mickaël Debève was promoted to the role of coach following the departure of Pascal Dupraz.
In four Ligue 1 Conforama games, Debève has seen his side lose just once and concede only one goal - in the 1-0 home loss to PSG. Last weekend, they ground out a 0-0 draw away to fellow strugglers Amiens SC.
Debève's success has come from tweaking the formation and changing personnel. That has included moving France under-21 international Kelvin Amian from right-back to central defence, and installing Yannick Cahuzac in midfield.
"It is going to be tight all the way to the end. That is why we absolutely need to keep gathering points to avoid getting ourselves into difficulty," said Debève, who must do without suspended leading scorer Max-Alain Gradel this weekend.
"I think with 42 points we'll be fine, so we are missing 15. That means five wins, or four wins and three draws, from the last 12 games. There is no time to lose. We need to capitalise every weekend, and I think the teams who stay up will be the ones who best control their nerves, who don't panic, who are not inhibited by the pressure," added the coach.
Toulouse: (To follow)
Monaco: (To follow)