FC Nantes coach Christian Gourcuff welcomes former club Stade Rennais FC to the Stade de la Beaujoire on Wednesday with Brittany bragging rights, as well as points in the European chase, on the line.
FC Nantes - Stade Rennais FC
The last time Rennes made the short one-hour journey south to their Breton neighbours was the final day of the 2017/18 Ligue 1 Conforama campaign. It finished 1-1 that day; Les Rouge et Noir ended the season two points better off than Les Canaris in mid-table, and Gourcuff was less than six months on from leaving the Rennes dugout for the second time in 15 years.
Bretons on form
Gourcuff will be on the home bench for Wednesday's clash; Rennes and Nantes will both head into weekend clashes - away to Olympiques Lyonnais and de Marseille respectively - in the European places should they win, and neither will be playing for anything less, especially given recent form.
Nantes begin the day in seventh, three places but just a single point worse off than their fourth-place visitors. Gourcuff has made a quick impact since replacing Vahid Halilhodzic in August, the fans treated to something approaching the jeu à la nantaise that ran through the club in 1990s and earlier.
Watch: Highlights of Nantes' 2-1 loss Strasbourg
That was, at least, until last Friday, when a run of three consecutive wins was brought to a juddering halt at RC Strasbourg Alsace, Ludovic Ajorque's 89th-minute penalty seeing Le Racing snatch all three points at the Stade de la Meinau in a game which could have seen Nantes go top. Gourcuff isn't ready to see his team come off the rails, though.
"It's a derby, we know what it means for the club and the fans, and it's a match that follows a defeat that was difficult for us to digest," he said at his pre-match press conference. "Revenge? It's a football match. I'm the Nantes coach and I do everything I can to make things as good as possible here. I'm not going to talk about Rennes. I'll talk about Nantes if you want…"
Nantes' are without Charles Traoré, the left-back taking a knock to the hip before making way for Dennis Appiah just past the hour against Strasbourg. He joins Marcus Coco, the winger signed from EA Guingamp in July only to rupture his ACL ligament in the opening day 2-1 reverse at LOSC, on the sidelines for Nantes, who will otherwise be at full-strength.
Rennes could also have gone top last weekend, but they were held to a 1-1 draw by Lille on Sunday with Jonathan Ikoné and Adrien Hunou exchanging goals at Roazhon Park. Tired legs could be forgiven, given that Julien Stéphan's men held Celtic to a 1-1 draw in their UEFA Europa League Group E opener the previous Thursday with only three different starters.
Watch: Highlights of Rennes' 1-1 draw with Lille
Paris Saint-Germain's closest pursuers until the LOSC result, Rennes could nonetheless reclaim second place on Wednesday, provided they better OGC Nice's and Angers SCO's results against AS Monaco and Toulouse FC respectively.
Da Silva concussion
Clément Grenier and Jonas Martin are among those pushing to come back into the side, but there will be no place for Damien Da Silva after the centre-back and club captain lost consciousness in the final minute against Celtic. He is out of hospital, but the Nantes game comes too soon for him.
"We got this draw through a combination of courage and quality," said Stéphan of the Lille match. "We gradually got the upper hand against this really good team who play in the Champions League, and who had two more days' recovery time than us. We played better than against Celtic. The players did their best but they were very tired."
M'Baye Niang will wear the captain's armband in Da Silva's absence, should he lead the line as expected. Tired legs aside, Rennes' bill of health is nearly as clean as Nantes', with Gerzino Nyamsi (hand) and Metehan Guclu (hip) the only other confirmed absentees.
Nantes: Lafont; Fabio, Girotto, Pallois, Lima; Touré, Abeid; Louza, Rongier, Simon; Coulibaly
Rennes: Mendy; H. Traoré, Gelin, Gnagnon, Morel, Maouassa; Bourigeaud, Camavinga, Grenier; Del Castillo, Niang