After missing an opportunity to close on the top three, AS Saint-Étienne must now defend fourth place with red-hot RC Strasbourg Alsace their guests on Sunday.
AS Saint-Étienne - RC Strasbourg Alsace
While Strasbourg have won their last four league games and also secured a place in the Coupe de la Ligue BKT final in midweek, Saint-Etienne have stumbled into the start of the new year.
Beaten in the derby by Olympique Lyonnais, they crashed out of the Coupe de France with a devastating 6-3 defeat to Dijon FCO, and then let the lead slip at FC Nantes on Wednesday to draw 1-1 in a game that was overtaken by the emotion of the disappearance of former Nantes striker, Emiliano Sala.
"There are more important things than football, there are some very difficult things in life," said Saint-Étienne captain Loïc Perrin, who saw Rémy Cabella's second-half opener cancelled out by Majeed Waris to leave his team three points behind third-placed Lyon.
"It must have been very tough for the Nantes players to motivate themselves for the game, because it was also difficult for us. We did what we could, Nantes too. It's still a good result away from home, we strengthen our hold on fourth place. We had to get that spirit back after being knocked out of the Coupe de France."
Jean-Louis Gasset's men, who —with 33 goals this term — have their most strikes at this stage of a season since 2006/07, will need that spirit and their passionate fans as they seek to improve a run of just two wins from their last six league games and keep a sky-high Strasbourg side at bay.
The Alsatian outfit are flying, and come into Week 23 just two points and one place behind their opponents. Their tally of 35 points represents the most they have had at this stage of a top-flight campaign since they won their one and only Ligue 1 Conforama title in 1978/79, while they have lost just twice in 15 top-flight encounters.
Kenny Lala's added-time winner at home to Girondins de Bordeaux last weekend maintained their momentum, while South Africa international forward Lebo Mothiba was the hero with two goals in their Coupe de la Ligue BKT 3-2 semi-final win over the same opponents on Wednesday.
"We dominated the first half, even if there were a lot of mistakes," Laurey explained after his team scored three times in 11 minutes after the break to give themselves an opportunity to win the competition for a third time when they face En Avant Guingamp on 30 March.
"It was very harsh to be behind at the break. They boys applied themselves and it paid off. Overall, it's deserved. The whole team got involved. We created a lot of possibilities, and in our intentions, the preparation of the game, everything was good."
The hosts will be without Yann M'Vila after he was sent off against Nantes, though Mathieu Debuchy could make his return to the starting XI after injury. New Strasbourg signing Sanjin Prcic could make his top-flight debut for the club after coming off the bench against Bordeaux in midweek.
Saint-Étienne: to follow
Strasbourg: to follow