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Monaco on rebound with Nantes in town

Publish on 06/04/2018 at 00h00 - S. WILLIS

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AS Monaco will seek to rebound from a difficult week and claim all three points at home to FC Nantes on Saturday to keep a firm hold on second place.

 AS Monaco - FC Nantes 

Monaco escaped with a point from their rescheduled Week 31 game at Stade Rennais FC on Wednesday with in-form Rony Lopes salvaging a 1-1 draw in a game the reigning Ligue 1 Conforama champions should really have lost.

It extended their unbeaten run to 16 league outings, and more significantly pushed them five points clear of third-placed Olympique de Marseille and seven ahead of Olympique Lyonnais in fourth with seven games left as the trio duel it out for France's second automatic UEFA Champions League group stage qualifying place behind champions-elect Paris Saint-Germain.

It was an unusually low-key performance from Monaco in Brittany, perhaps the legacy of their efforts in their Coupe de la Ligue final defeat to PSG only four days earlier.

But coach Leonardo Jardim, who had seen his side well beaten 3-0 by a Kylian Mbappé-inspired PSG in Bordeaux at the weekend, noted his players had simply not played to their strengths.

"It's important to keep our lead because the end of the season is always difficult," explained Jardim, whose team go away to PSG in Week 33 and face a number of the clubs battling relegation in a potential banana skin-filled run-in.

"The players are professional, they are used to playing tired. I prefer to talk about a bad game rather than tiredness, because the players weren't tired in the first 30 minutes and that was Monaco's worst period of the match."

PSG title clincher?

The weight of history is heavily on the hosts' side with 29 wins over Nantes in top-flight encounters in the principality with just seven victories for the visitors in 45 trips to the Mediterranean coast.

A rare victory would mean if PSG pick up three points from Friday's trip to AS Saint-Etienne, the capital club will be champions, but the three points will be all the more welcome for Nantes as their own ambitions of European football next season are fading.

Six points clear of their nearest challenger for fifth place at the halfway stage, Claudio Ranieri's men have seen their rivals race up on them since the turn of the year.

Nantes had been 13 points ahead of AS Saint-Étienne at Christmas with Les Verts looking far more likely to be focussing on a survival fight than a top-five challenge, but following last week's 3-0 loss to Les Verts, Nantes are just two points ahead of Jean-Louis Gasset's hard-charging men and have dropped to eighth with Rennes, Montpellier Hérault SC and OGC Nice now all ahead of them.

"Perhaps. There are a lot of teams ahead of us now," Ranieri admitted when asked whether his team's chances of playing in Europe next season have gone. "I want to see how my team is going to react after the match against Saint-Etienne. I want to see the character of my players, the strength. I think it'll be a great game.

"Yes, we played badly, we lost. I now want to see what we do now. That's the most important thing for me. Anyone can play badly, anyone can make a mistake, but afterwards, you have to react."

Probable teams

Monaco: Subasic; Touré, Glik, Jemerson, Jorge; Tielemans, Fabinho; Diakhaby, Lemar, Lopes; Falcao (c)

Nantes: Tatarusanu; Dubois (c), Diego Carlos, Pallois, Lima; Krhin, Girotto; Iloki, Rongier, Thomasson; Sala