LOSC Lille face a stern examination of their credentials as potential top-three finishers when they travel to RC Strasbourg-Alsace on Friday.
RC Strasbourg-Alsace - LOSC Lille
After struggling badly last season, Lille have enjoyed a stunning renaissance with Christophe Galtier guiding them into second place ahead of Week 26 with a points tally that is 12 better than at the same stage last season, and is equal to their club record.
With third-placed Olympique Lyonnais four points behind, Lille can ill afford to see their six-game unbeaten run end in Alsace, but with his team having failed to beat Strasbourg twice already this season — losing in the Coupe de la Ligue before a goalless draw in their Ligue 1 Conforama encounter in November — Galtier knows the scale of the task facing his men.
"We come into this one on the back of some poor performances against Strasbourg," said the Lille boss, who will join suspended duo Xeka and Adama Soumaoro in the stands as he serves a touchline ban.
"It's a stadium where there is a passionate football atmosphere. The team is driven on by their supporters. They're the third best attack in the league. Strasbourg play to score goals with a very direct style, it's complete football."
He added: "When we played Strasbourg at home, they defended well, we couldn't break them down. They are in a comfortable position in the table, and can have ambitions of qualifying for Europe, and they have the Coupe de la Ligue final to look forward to. They won't have any pressure on them, so it'll be an open game."
Dip in form
The Lille boss will make a late decision on the fitness of right-back Mehmet Celik, but does have new signing Reinildo Mandava available to play on the left side of defence as he seeks to blunt a Strasbourg side that has scored 40 times this season, more than any of their predecessors since the title-winning campaign of 1978/79.
But after clinching their place in the Coupe de la Ligue final against En Avant Guingamp, Thierry Laurey's men have seen their league form stagnate. Four successive wins have been followed by a winless run of three games that has seen them drop from fifth to ninth in the table.
"We're going to think about the strategy that we'll put in place and we'll try to cause them some problems, but we know it won't be easy," explained Laurey, whose side are just four points off fourth place.
"They don't need 50 chances to score, but we don't create 25 chances a game, so if we have one of the best attacks, it means that we are clinical too. Lille have different kinds of players to us, but they also have a ruthless streak."
The good news for Laurey as he looks to arrest his team's slump is that Stefan Mitrovic is the only notable absentee as the Serbian centre-back serves a suspension.
"We are having a little spell now when we're a bit tired. I hope things will change in the matches to come and that that starts against Lille. But all teams have a dip in a season. If you look, there are a few teams that aren't taking a lot of points right now."
Strasbourg: to follow
Lille: to follow