Saint-Etienne may boast the best form of any Ligue 1 Uber Eats side over the last four games, but coach Claude Puel has warned his young squad they are still in the thick of a relegation battle ahead of Saturday's game with Reims (kick-off 12pm GMT).
No team in the French top flight has picked up more than the 10 points Saint-Etienne have garnered from their last four league outings. It has given the record 10-time French champions a seven-point cushion over the bottom three, but Puel is aware his side are far from out of the woods yet.
"We're still fighting against relegation. Even if we've had a good week, all the teams are digging in and the league is tough. We have to get it into our heads that we still have 14 points to get. Fighting against relegation is just as important for us as it is for the teams around us. We have to battle and stay focussed on every game," said the ex-Lyon and Lille coach, whose team won 2-0 at Rennes last weekend.
"We are coming off a good performance with a good attitude, an irreproachable team spirit and some good counter-attacking phases. We were very clinical. It's good when you score when you're on top or from situations that you have developed well, but it requires confirmation, because we'd lacked that clinical edge in previous games."
WATCH: What happened when the sides met earlier this season
Yvann Maçon and Romain Hamouma are the only absentees from Puel's squad, who were beaten 3-1 by Reims barely a month ago. Boulaye Dia scored twice in his side's win on 9 January, and Puel feels he has learned the lessons of that reverse in Champagne country.
"I don't want to talk too much about the first game. There were a lot of things that went against us and that were outside of our control. Reims have a solid defensive unit, excel on the counter-attack and have a prolific forward who loves to run into space. They'll be very different to the sort of opponents that Rennes were, but we have been warned."
Saint-Etienne have not lost any of their last 19 home games against Reims in Ligue 1 — the visitors have, in fact, not triumphed at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard since 1959, the same season they reached their second European Cup/Champions League final — and David Guion's men are winless in four competitive outings this season.
"They've won their last two matches which is due to the return of their experienced players," explained Guion, who is without Yunis Abdelhamid (ankle) and Xavier Chavalerin (suspended). "We're going to set ourselves a goal over the next five matches and will see where we are in early March. We've been consistent in terms of points but not in our performances. It could be better, I'm aware of that."
Guion will be hoping for a return to form for Dia. The powerful forward has scored four L1 goals against Saint-Etienne in his career — more than against any other side — but has failed to find the net in his last six top-flight outings. He has, however, never gone seven Ligue 1 games without scoring. Puel and his man have indeed been warned…
Saint-Etienne: Moulin - Trauco, Cissé, Moukoudi, Debuchy - Gourna-Douath, Neyou, Camara - Aouchiche, Bouanga, Khazri.
Reims: Rajkovic - Foket, Faes, Munetsi (or Abdelhamid), Konan - Cafaro, Cassama, Berisha - Zeneli, Mbuku, Dia.