Monaco seek Bastia boost
By A. Scott
AS Monaco are looking for a boost ahead of their Champions League return against Arsenal when they entertain in-form SC Bastia at the Stade Louis II on Friday evening.
AS Monaco - SC Bastia (kick-off 20:30CET)
This game has been brought forward to help Leonardo Jardim's side in their preparations for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against the English Premier League side. Monaco won 3-1 in the first leg in London last month so are in a good position to go on and reach the quarter-finals. However, on Friday their focus will be on trying to get into next season's competition.
Monaco have not been in the top three in Ligue 1 all season but a win on Friday will leave them just three points behind third-placed Olympique de Marseille ahead of the rest of the weekend's games. The principality club also have a game in hand still to play against Montpellier next month, and recent form suggests they stand a great chance of claiming one of the coveted Champions League qualifying berths come the end of the campaign.
They have lost just once, and conceded a miserly two goals, in 12 Ligue 1 outings since the start of December. Last weekend, they triumphed 3-1 against Evian-Thonon-Gaillard FC in Annecy, with Anthony Martial and Dimitar Berbatov both on target before youngster Almamy Touré netted his first top-flight goal.
Monaco won 3-1 in Bastia earlier this season, but here Jardim and his men will be looking for revenge after their defeat to the Corsicans on penalties at the Stade Louis II in the semi-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue last month.
"We know Bastia well from having played them twice already this season. We can't afford to go easy against them," said the Portuguese. "We need to put in a good performance to build confidence before playing Arsenal and to get points to get closer to the podium. The next match is always the most important. I have been saying that ever since I came to the club."
Bastia in form
Through to a Coupe de la Ligue final against Paris Saint-Germain next month, Bastia have also been in excellent form in Ligue 1 ever since Ghislain Printant took over the first team in the wake of Claude Makelele's departure.
The Corsicans came from behind to beat bitter rivals OGC Nice 2-1 last time out with Guillaume Gillet and Giovanni Sio getting their goals as they climbed into the top half, seven points clear of the relegation zone. They have won four of their last five Ligue 1 games and have lost just one of their last 11, with that loss coming at Lorient in their last away outing. Only leaders Lyon have taken more points over the same period.
Nevertheless, they have managed just two wins on their travels all season and travel across the water to Monaco without skipper Yannick Cahuzac and top scorer Ryad Boudebouz. They are both injured along with experienced former Monaco defender Sébastien Squillaci, while El-Hadji Ba and Brandão are also ruled out.
"We are coming into a difficult period with quite a lot of players missing," admitted Printant. "Monaco will be looking for revenge. We need to be capable of reproducing the same level of performance as in the semi-final, although that will be difficult. A result in Monaco would embellish the good things we have already done. Losing in Monaco would be logical, but I will not accept a repeat of our performance at Lorient."
He added: "We mustn't think about the final, although the games we have between now and then provide a chance for the players to stake a claim for a place in the team in the final."
Monaco have fitness worries of their own, with Andrea Raggi and Tiemoué Bakayoko on the sidelines. However, Ricardo Carvalho could return after being sidelined since early last month with a calf injury while Yannick Ferreira Carrasco was stretchered off at Evian last week but his ankle injury is not serious.