Olympique de Marseille boss Andre Villas-Boas will hope his side can avoid a slip-up against another struggling top-flight side and consolidate second place as they host Nîmes Olympique in the final game of the 2019.
Olympique de Marseille - Nîmes Olympique
Villas-Boas has driven his side into the spot behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain with a breathtaking run of form over the last seven games. But an impressive streak of six successive wins was ended at FC Metz last weekend as OM were held to a draw in Lorraine.
The evening could have been worse with Steve Mandanda forced off after just 31 minutes with an ankle injury and his stand-in, Yohann Pelé, producing a penalty save to prevent his team succumbing to what would have been a shock defeat.
"It was difficult, there was a contrast of emotions. After the match, you think — given the circumstances of the match — a point wasn't too bad at Metz, but we made a real mess of the first half. But in the second half, it was good to get a draw. Now, we have an opportunity to start a new run," said Villas-Boas, whose side have picked up more points than any L1 side over the last seven matches.
"It's dangerous just before Christmas, everyone is thinking about being with their families. We're going to remind the players to be alert as much as we can."
Pelé may be called upon again with Mandanda struggling to shake off his ankle problem, while Dario Benedetto's thigh injury means the Argentine forward wil not be seen again in an OM shirt before 2020 as Marseille seek to at least maintain their four-point lead over third-placed LOSC Lille against a Nîmes side that is winless in 11 top-flight outings.
"I hope we can take advantage of their lack of confidence, but I think Nîmes will play like Metz did against us: they've got nothing to lose," said Villas-Boas, who has seen his team win their last five home games.
"You come to the Vélodrome and you play, you try to impress. We want to use the strength of the Vélodrome for this last game, to create an atmosphere of pressure for our opponents, but not of anxiety for us. We absolutely have to win."
Nîmes come into the came second-from-bottom, and are only ahead of Toulouse FC by virtue of their 1-0 win over the south-westerners earlier in the campaign. Bernard Blaquart saw his side lose a fourth competitive game in a row with a 2-1 home loss to AS Saint-Étienne in Wednesday's Last 16 Coupe de la Ligue tie.
His side have conceded a whopping 13 goals in that run, including 6-0 and 4-0 defeats to Girondins Bordeaux and Olympique Lyonnais, turning a solid back line that had let in just 12 in their opening 11 league games into a defence that affords goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni little protection.
That should all play into the hands of Marseille as they seek to spend a happy Christmas by continuing to dream of a return to the UEFA Champions League next season by finishing in the top two.
"I want us to keep second place to qualify for the Champions League," said Mandanda. "The Champions League is a clear objective. We have had a really good first half of the season. I think few people expected that, but the coach has been able to get the best out of everyone."
Olympique de Marseille: S. Mandanda (c); Sakai, A. Gonzalez, Caleta-Car, Amavi; Rongier, Bo. Kamara, M. Sanson; B. Sarr, Benedetto, Payet
Nîmes Olympique: Bernardoni; Alakouch, Briançon (c), Martinez, Miguel; S. Sarr, T. Valls; Ripart, Ferhat, Philippoteaux; Denkey