Olympique de Marseille will seek to add to LOSC Lille's troubles and pick up three points in Saturday's Week 34 encounter at the Stade Orange Vélodrome to ensure they remain in the hunt for a top-three finish.
Olympique de Marseille - LOSC Lille
Olympique Lyonnais' 5-2 win at Dijon FCO on Friday means OM trail their third-placed rivals by three points with five games left, and OL's superior goal difference means the seven-time Ligue 1 Conforama champions have an added advantage in the chase to join Paris Saint-Germain on the French top-flight's podium.
The pair are also chasing AS Monaco in second, the berth that affords automatic entry into next season's UEFA Champions League group stage, while third means only a place in the third qualifying round. The team that finishes fourth will have to settle for a UEFA Europa League campaign.
Marseille have the first leg of this season's Europa League semi-final coming up against Red Bull Salzburg on Thursday, but with next season's ambitions at stake in the league, OM boss Rudi Garcia is convinced his team will not be distracted.
"For Saturday, there is no risk. Dimitri [Payet] said it after the match at Troyes: preparing well for a European game means winning in the league," said Garcia, who will have Bouna Sarr and Rolando back from injury meaning goalkeeper Steve Mandanda is the only major absentee.
"By beating Lille on Saturday, we'll go into it with momentum, with continuity in terms of results and confidence."
Garcia: 'I'll be Lille's worst enemy'
The game will be a special one for Garcia, whose reputation as a premier coach was made in five years in charge of Lille. He led the northerners to a domestic double in 2010/11 with a team that featured the likes of Eden Hazard and Adil Rami, who has joined him at Marseille.
Payet, who is the leading goalmaker in Europe's top five leagues in 2018 with eight assists, also comes up against the side he played for between 2011 and 2013, but Garcia insisted there would be no room for sentiment.
"You know how much I'm attached to Lille, but I'm only interested in a win for OM," he said. "Frankly, I don't know many people at the club any more, but it's the club where I forged my reputation, the club where I won trophies. It's a club that will remain forever in my heart. But I will certainly be their worst enemy on Saturday before putting on my number one supporter's badge again later."
Lille might not be expecting any favours from their former boss, but they certainly could have used one or two with victory just as important for them, though for very different reasons. The northerners come into the weekend third-from-bottom, just a point adrift of outright safety and only clinging onto the promotion/relegation play-off spot by the slenderest of goal difference margins.
Christophe Galtier's men should have picked up their first win since late January in last weekend's home game with En Avant Guingamp. Instead, they were left to scratch their heads at how the managed to come away with just a point having led 2-0 going into added time.
"For the games to come, we must look to hold onto a lead," acknowledged defender Kevin Malcuit after seeing a Junior Alonso own-goal and Jimmy Briand's 93rd-minute leveller leave his club mired in the relegation battle. "It's up to us to stay focused right until the end because a match can last 95 minutes."
In addition to their worrying recent form, Lille have picked up just two points in six trips to the Stade Orange Vélodrome since their double-winning season of 2010/11. They have failed to score on four of those occasions, but Galter, who was assistant coach at OM around the turn of the millenium, still has faith his squad can produce the performances to save themselves from the drop.
"I still believe, even if it's tough. I believe, and we have to believe," explained the former AS Saint-Etienne boss, who only took over in December. "To get out of this, though, we need to stop making these errors."
Marseille: Y. Pelé – Sakai, Rami, Rolando, Amavi – M. Sanson, Luiz Gustavo – Thauvin, Payet (cap.), Ocampos – Mitroglou
Lille: Koffi – Malcuit, Ié, Soumaoro, Mendyl – Thiago Mendes, Thiago Maia, Benzia (cap.) – Pépé, Mothiba, L. Araujo