Claude Puel's unbeaten record as coach of AS Saint-Etienne will be put to the test on Sunday as his former club AS Monaco arrive at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in fine form.
AS Saint-Etienne - AS Monaco
In different circumstances, Puel might have been in the away dugout at Le Chaudron for this game. Just a few weeks ago he was being linked with a possible return to Monaco when Leonardo Jardim was under serious pressure in the principality. However, Jardim remains in position and instead the 58-year-old accepted the offer to become coach and general manager of Saint-Etienne, returning to the French game after more than three years away.
A meeting with Monaco will always be special for Puel, who spent his entire playing career in the principality, making 601 appearances in a remarkable spell spanning almost two decades. Only Jean-Luc Ettori has played more games for the club than Puel, who won two league titles as a player and then led Monaco to another title in his first full season as a coach in 2000.
Much has happened since then of course, and Puel has come up against his old side on many other occasions while coach of LOSC, Olympique Lyonnais and their Côte d’Azur rivals OGC Nice. And now his focus is firmly on Saint-Etienne.
This week, in keeping with club tradition, Puel received a miner's lamp along with all of Saint-Etienne's other new signings in a ceremony at a pétanque venue. The club's website described the lamp as an "object symbolising the history of the city of Saint-Etienne" and carrying the values of "hard work and bravery".
Highlights: Saint-Etienne held at home by Amiens
Those are surely values that Puel sees in himself, and he has already been putting in the hours working to revive the club's fortunes. Les Verts are unbeaten in four matches since his arrival, and in six matches in all competitions. They have taken seven points from a possible nine in Ligue 1 Conforama since Puel replaced Ghislain Printant in the dugout, although after last-gasp wins against Lyon and Girondins de Bordeaux in his first two games at the helm, they needed a late Bakaye Dibassy own goal to snatch a 2-2 draw at home to Amiens SC last weekend.
"In terms of how we used the ball, it was definitely our best performance," Puel said of that game. "We have a young team. I am satisfied with our performance and a bit disappointed at only getting a draw at home."
He added: "It is difficult for the youngsters who are playing every three days. There is the physical and mental aspect to it. They are very much learning on the job so we need to accept that they will make mistakes from time to time."
The Saint-Etienne starting line-up against Amiens featured four players aged between 18 and 20. One of those, the forward Charles Abi, is now out until December with a foot injury, while skipper Loïc Perrin, considerably more experienced at 34, misses this weekend's match as he serves a suspension.
Slimani to return for Monaco?
Monaco head to the Forez as one of Ligue 1 Conforama's form teams. The 2017 champions had the best record in the division over the last five matchdays along with leaders Paris Saint-Germain and have won five of their last six games in all competitions.
Both teams are in mid-table and are level on points, but Monaco are above Saint-Etienne on goal difference. Coming into the weekend they had the best attack in the league behind PSG with 19 goals scored, but the worst defence with 21 conceded.
Highlights: Ben Yedder scores again in win at Nantes
In midweek, Monaco won through to the last 16 of the Coupe de la Ligue by beating Olympique de Marseille 2-1 at the Stade Louis II thanks to first-half goals by Jean-Kévin Augustin and Rubén Aguilar, with both players grabbing their first goals for the club as Jardim rotated his squad.
"In football you have to make decisions. There are starters and substitutes, but then you also get injuries and suspensions, so you need everybody," said Jardim.
Wissam Ben Yedder will return to the starting line-up here as he looks to continue his remarkable record in front of goal. The France striker has scored nine times in nine Ligue 1 Conforama appearances this season and has found the net in each of his last six league games.
However, it remains to be seen if his strike partner Islam Slimani will play after sitting out the Marseille tie due to a slight injury. Augustin and Keita Baldé are standing by to fill in, while the likes of Kamil Glik and Tiémoué Bakayoko should return but Cesc Fàbregas came off with a hamstring strain early on in midweek.
Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Debuchy, Saliba, Kolodziecjczak, Gabriel Silva; Youssouf, Cabaye; Hamouma, Boudebouz, Bouanga; Beric
Monaco: Lecomte; Jemerson, Glik, Badiashile; Martins, Henrichs, Silva, Golovin, Dias; Ben Yedder, Augustin