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LOSC and Montpellier set for European six-pointer

Publish on 14/02/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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The league's second-best attack takes on its second-strongest defence when Paris Saint-Germain's nearest challengers LOSC welcome fifth-place Montpellier Hérault to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Sunday.

 LOSC - Montpellier Hérault SC 

Lille have arguably been this season's biggest surprise package, with the spine of a squad that avoided the relegation play-off by a single point last year racing to the front of PSG's chasing pack, albeit with ten points to make up on the Ligue 1 Conforama leaders and defending champions.

Sniffing around Pépé

Nicolas Pépé has been leading the charge, with 16 goals and eight assist to his name in an already superlative season, but the Côte d'Ivoire attacker has been ably assisted by a supporting cast of Jonathans Bamba and Ikoné, as well as Rafel Leao, who opened the scoring in the 2-0 win at EA Guingamp last Sunday.

"You have to appreciate wins and this one wasn't easy," said a delighted Christophe Galtier after the game. "Guingamp deserved a goal for 15 or 20 minutes in the second half. Mike Maignan was very good in goal and we had luck on our side. We managed to come through our difficulties and since the winter break we've managed five straight away wins. We've pulled away from our rivals for Europe and that's good."

Soumaoro returns

Galtier is able to name a close to full-strength side against Montpellier. LOSC have so far fended off Chinese interest in Brazilian midfielder Thiago Mendes, while captain Adama Soumaoro is available again after suspension. Mozambique left-back Reinaldo Mandava is still awaiting his work permit after completing his loan transfer from Belenenses, however.

LOSC may have scored some 42 goals this season, but Montpellier have only conceded 19, while Sunday's 2-2 draw with the recovering AS Monaco - in which they twice came from behind to snatch a share of spoils - suggests that La Paillade will prove tricky opponents.

Galtier's opposite number Michel Der Zakarian, whilst being pleased with his side's determination, expects to see better in the north of France this weekend.

'Showed character'

"We showed the character to come back twice from being led," he said. "But we wanted the three points and we only took one. We defended badly for the two goals and we lacked concentration at the start of the game just as we had against Nîmes last week. Monaco caused us a lot of problems. They don't have the same team as before Christmas."

Uruguay defender Mathias Suarez - who signed for Montpellier from Defensor Sporting in January - has a fractured rib, but Der Zakarian, like Galtier, has a near full-strength team to call upon. Midfielders Florent Mollet and Keagan Dolly resumed first-team training this week following a thigh strain and broken leg respectively, and the former is at least expected to make the bench on Sunday.



Possible teams

LOSC: Maignan; Celik, Fonte, Dabila, Koné; Thiago Mendes, Xeka; Pépé, Ikoné, Bamba, Leao

Montpellier: Lecomte; Congré, Mendes, Hilton, Oyongo; Skhiri, Le Tallec; Laborde, Mollet, Ristic; Skuletic