Michel Der Zakarian will be back on the touchline for Montpellier Hérault SC's visit to AS Saint-Etienne, but string-pulling midfielder Téji Savanier leads a laundry list of absentees for a side looking to arrest a worrying slide.
AS Saint-Etienne - Montpellier Hérault SC
- Kick-off at 12:00 GMT
Montpellier were as high as third one short month ago, but last Sunday's 4-0 loss at home to Stade de Reims made it four games in a row without victory for la Paillade, leaving them 11th in the table heading into their Round 9 meeting with Saint-Etienne at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Saturday.
To make matters worse, both captain Hilton and fellow defender Damien Le Tallec were sent off against Reims, meaning they join a Savanier serving the second of a two-game suspension on the sidelines. Coach Der Zakarian will be back in the dugout having watched that game from the stands in light of his recent positive coronavirus test, but he has a ravaged squad to contend with.
"It was a complete wreck," lamented assistant coach Pascal Baills, who was on the touchline in Der Zakarian's stead. "We conceded an early penalty, conceded a second very quickly, and then the game was over. We expected anything but that. We'll have to pick ourselves up, but we'll prepare for the match against Saint-Etienne without three suspended players."
Watch: Highlights of Montpellier's 4-0 loss to Reims
As if those absences weren't enough, Pedro Mendes also tested positive for coronavirus in midweek, meaning he hasn't travelled with the squad. Twenty-year-old Clément Vidal could be in line for his first start since December should Der Zakarian wish to stick to his preferred 3-4-1-2 system. Behind him, goalkeeper Dimitry Bertaud should once again deputise for Jonas Omlin after the Swiss pulled his hamstring against Reims.
Greens feeling blue
If Montpellier are stuttering of late, Saint-Etienne are in freefall having lost each of their last four games. They begin the day one point and two places worse off than their visitors, whom they haven't beaten since April 2018 - five meetings ago - when Romain Hamouma got the only goal of the game at the Stade de la Mosson.
Hamouma, previously a winger or attacking midfielder, has been leading the line so far this season, but Sainté's three-goal top scorer is without a league strike since his brace in the Round 2 2-0 victory over promoted FC Lorient - a result which must feel like a lifetime ago to ASSE fans who saw their side lose by the same scoreline to FC Metz last Sunday.
Watch: Highlights of Saint-Etienne's 2-0 loss to Metz
Saliba staying put
"We gave them a gift early on, it's hard to recover from that," coach Claude Puel said, before turning to the ultimately fruitless pursuit of former centre-back William Saliba on loan from Arsenal. "A superb player like William, whom I wish the best, hasn't even made it into Arsenal's Europa League squad. Where's the logic in that? He had a great desire to join us. The club are a bit like family to him. His adaptation would have been instant."
With Saliba still in London when the most recent transfer window closed, Puel will have to patch up a defence which is also missing first-choice full-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Yvann Maçon. The former has a thigh complaint; the latter is out for the season with a torn cruciate ligament. Alpha Sissoko will no doubt be forgiven his own-goal against Metz, if only because Sainté are, like Montpellier, running out of options.
Saint-Etienne: Moulin; Sissoko, Moukoudi, Kolodziejczak, Moueffek; Camara, Neyou; Bouanga, Aouchiche, Monnet-Paquet - Hamouma
Montpellier: Bertaud; Vidal, Congré, Cozza; Sambia, Ferri, Chotard, Oyongo; Mollet; Laborde, Delort