Olympique de Marseille are aiming to continue their recent revival as they host AS Saint-Etienne at the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday, looking to leapfrog Les Verts in the table.
Olympique de Marseille - AS Saint-Etienne
The crisis is over at Marseille, for now at least. After a run of 12 defeats - including one on penalties in the Coupe de la Ligue - and just three wins in 18 games in all competitions between late October and the start of February, Rudi Garcia's side have got themselves back on track again.
OM have taken 10 points from the last 12 available in Ligue 1 Conforama, following three straight victories against Girondins de Bordeaux, Dijon FCO and Amiens SC with a creditable 1-1 draw away to Stade Rennais FC last weekend. Marseille fell behind early on in Brittany, but came back to claim a point thanks to Valère Germain's second-half equaliser. Marseille now have the chance to move above Saint-Etienne, who ended last weekend in fourth place in the table.
Garcia has been rewarded for the changes he has made to his team. Mario Balotelli has, of course, had an influence, with three goals in his first five appearances for the club since signing from OGC Nice, but that is far from all.
New defensive pairing
Neither Dimitri Payet nor Luiz Gustavo have featured much in recent weeks, while World Cup-winning defender Adil Rami has not played at all in 2019. Instead, OM's return to winning ways has coincided with the coach's decision to install Boubacar Kamara and Duje Ćaleta-Car as his central defensive pairing.
At just 19, Kamara is one of the most exciting prospects to emerge from the club's youth system in a long time. Meanwhile, Croatian international Ćaleta-Car is now finally starting to show why Marseille paid €19 million to RB Salzburg for him last summer, earning comparisons to Sergio Ramos from club legend Basile Boli.
"Without going overboard, he is a monster," Maxime Lopez told sports daily L'Equipe of his teammate Kamara. "To play for Marseille you need character and personality, and he has that. It is impressive how calm he is. He still has work to do but he is only 19."
Marseille are also hoping to tie Kamara down to a new contract with his existing deal due to expire at the end of next season, but in the meantime their main priority is catching Saint-Etienne, who won 2-1 when the clubs met at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in mid-January.
Silva suffers ruptured achilles
This will be the 54th top-flight meeting at the Vélodrome of these two historic clubs. Paris Saint-Germain may be the dominant force today, but OM and Les Verts remain France's two most successful clubs. They have 19 league titles between them, with Saint-Etienne still leading by 10 to nine. However, Saint-Etienne's last title triumph was 38 years ago, while OM have won the league just once in the last 26 seasons.
However, Saint-Etienne are still dreaming of pipping their bitter rivals Olympique Lyonnais to a top-three finish - something they have not managed since 1982 - as they hope to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League.
Having been slowed down by a run of just one win in five league games, they got back on track with a 1-0 victory at struggling Dijon last weekend, when Neven Subotic got the game's only goal. This fixture, and next week's home clash with LOSC, will go a long way to determing if Jean-Louis Gasset's side are indeed heading back into Europe next season. "We don't have a specific objective, but we don't want to lose ground," said midfielder Yann M'Vila after last week's game.
The visitors are without Kévin Monnet-Paquet long-term with a knee injury, while Brazilian full-back Gabriel Silva has undergone an operation on a ruptured achilles tendon suffered against Dijon. They have been hoping to recover French international right-back Mathieu Debuchy here, though. Marseille are without left-back Jordan Amavi due to suspension after his red card in Rennes.
Marseille: To follow
Saint-Etienne: To follow