Fabinho has warned AS Monaco they are facing a rejuvenated AS Saint-Etienne as the European hopefuls go head-to-head at the Stade Louis II on Saturday.
AS Monaco - AS Saint-Etienne
Monaco picked up only their second win in their last six league outings with a last-gasp victory at SM Caen last weekend to cling on to their place in the top-three and maintain hopes of playing in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Olympique de Marseille in fourth are just a point behind though, which means Leonardo Jardim's men can ill afford not to win both their remaining league matches this season.
All three points against Saint-Etienne would have looked a formality in the first half of the campaign, and Monaco won 4-0 at the Stade Geoffory-Guichard just before Christmas.
The festive period changed things dramatically for Les Verts though with a raft of new signings — Mathieu Debuchy, Neven Subotic Paul-Georges Ntep and Yann M'Vila — and the recall of Robert Beric from a loan spell at Anderlecht sparking a season-saving transformation.
"Even though they were beaten last weekend, they're still battling for a European place," said Fabinho, who will return after suspension. "Saint-Etienne changed at the winter break. The team became aware of the situation, and they're now challenging for a European place. It'll be a good game, but we're at home."
Falcao still out?
Jardim will also have Jemerson back from a ban while right-back Djibril Sidibé may make a cameo appearance despite having not been expected to play again this season after sustaining a knee injury last month. Radamel Falcao, who missed the win over Caen, is still a doubt with a thigh problem picked up in Monaco's goalless draw with Amiens SC in their last home game.
Saint-Etienne will hope to be in next season's UEFA Europa League after streaking up the table from three points above the bottom three and into sixth place, picking up more points in the second half of the season than any other clubs than the runaway top four.
"Saint-Etienne have had two different parts to their season with a change in coach and players too. They weren't playing well and weren't scoring a lot of points," Jardim explained. "Today, they have improved. Why? Because they bought five players who are now making the difference. Today, they are a better team, more effective."
Saint-Etienne coach Jean-Louis Gasset saw his side's 13-game unbeaten run ended by Girondins de Bordeaux last weekend as the visitors claimed a 3-1 win in Le Chaudron.
With a home game with struggling LOSC Lille to come, and Jonathan Bamba and Gabriel Silva having overcome calf and knee problems to give Gasset a full squad, the former France and Paris Saint-Germain assistant coach remains optimistic.
"It's just one defeat after 13 good results. This game against Bordeaux isn't going to wipe out all the good that we have done up to now. We have two extraordinary matches to come," explained the Saint-Etienne boss, whose side are in sixth place, good enough for Europa League qualification after PSG's Coupe de France win in midweek.
"We have two matches left. We're preparing for them with the greatest professionalism to take the points that are at stake. According to how results go, we could finish between fifth and ninth, but three months ago, we would have taken that. A lot of renonwned specialists didn't see us finishing there. We're going to try and pick up a European place, because that's in the DNA of the club."
Monaco: Subasic; Touré, Glik, Jemerson, Serrano; Fabinho, Moutinho; Lopes, Tielemans, Lemar; Sylla
Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Debuchy, Perrin (c), Subotic, Gabriel Silva; M'Vila, Selnaes; Bamba, Cabella, Monnet-Paquet; Hamouma