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Lille look to consolidate second as Mendes stays

Publish on 31/01/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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After winning every game in January, LOSC are looking for more of the same when they begin February at home to OGC Nice as they aim to consolidate their grip on second place in the table.

LOSC  -  OGC Nice

Christophe Galtier's side have enjoyed a perfect start to 2019, with five wins out of five in January. That sequence includes three wins on the bounce in Ligue 1 Conforama, the most recent a 2-1 success away at Olympique de Marseille a week ago. With just one defeat in their last eight league outings, LOSC remain three points clear of Olympique Lyonnais in third.

"I am obviously satisfied at having won all our games in January and with the mood in the squad just now," Galtier said at a press conference ahead of Friday's match. "I have all my players available too, which shows how good a job our physical trainers and medical staff are doing. February begins with a difficult match, as Nice are a difficult team to play against and have lots of quality."

A win for LOSC would also effectively end any chance of Les Aiglons catching Lille, although Galtier insisted it was "far too early" to suggest that it was now a straight fight between his team and Lyon for second and automatic qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League.

Not perturbed by speculation

Lille's next two games are in Brittany, with a trip to Stade Rennais FC in the Coupe de France next midweek being followed by a league meeting with EA Guingamp. And Galtier's main concern at this busy period in the season has been making sure no more key players left in the January transfer window.

Left-back Fodé Ballo-Touré joined AS Monaco earlier in the window while Edgar Ié has moved to FC Nantes on loan, and on Thursday night Lille fans were keeping their fingers crossed that Brazilian midfielder Thiago Mendes did not depart too - he had been linked with Paris Saint-Germain.

"There is all that is being said and written, and then there is the reality - this week he doesn't seem to have been perturbed by the transfer speculation," claimed Galtier, who will also be delighted to see 15-goal leading scorer Nicolas Pépé stay put for the business end of the campaign.

Test of mettle for Nice

Nice enjoyed a decent January too, bouncing back from a 4-1 loss away at Toulouse FC in the Coupe de France to win two and draw two of four Ligue 1 Conforama outings. Last weekend they beat Nîmes Olympique 2-0 with Youcef Atal and Allan Saint-Maximin getting their goals.

Patrick Vieira's side are currently just outside the European places, sitting just three points adrift of AS Saint-Etienne in fourth spot. However, their next two games will be a test of their mettle as their trip to Lille is followed by a home meeting with Lyon - two teams they defeated in the first half of the campaign.

"I think this game will give us a clearer idea of what we can aspire to in this league. After this we'll have Lyon at home. In the first half of the season we had good results against these two teams so let's see if we can repeat those performance levels," said Vieira, who has named an unchanged squad.

The roof will be closed at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy to protect the pitch from the bitter weather conditions in northern France. Lille have also called on fans to rise from their seats and sing the name of Emiliano Sala when the scoreboard strikes nine minutes, replicating the moving tributes paid by Nantes fans during their game against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday.

Probable teams

Lille: Maignan; Celik, J. Fonte, Soumaoro (c), Koné; Mendes, Xeka; Pépé, Ikoné, Bamba; Leao

Nice: Benítez; Atal, Hérelle, Dante (c), Sarr; Tameze, Cyprien, Danilo Barbosa; Maolida, Ganago, Saint-Maximin