Marseille and Bordeaux set for podium six-pointer
Olympique de Marseille welcome Girondins de Bordeaux to the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday night, with both teams in intimidating form.
Olympique de Marseille - Girondins de Bordeaux
Marseille and Bordeaux have won 16 Ligue 1 Conforama titles between them - OM's last one coming in 2010; Les Girondins' the previous season - and although Paris Saint Germain are favourites to seal their third consecutive French crown, Sunday's encounter could go a long way towards shaping who their nearest challengers will be.
No more Dakar?
Things have been clicking into gear for André Villas-Boas this season. After false starts at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, five consecutive wins on the Mediterranean coast are starting to make the Portuguese's spell in England look like just that.
Les Phocéens beat third-place Angers SCO 2-0 on Tuesday, knocking Stéphane Moulin's surprise package below Bordeaux, who thrashed Nîmes Olympique 6-0, in the standings. Marseille pulled to within a provisional two points of PSG with the victory, although the capital club have played fewer games.
Payet (r.) has scored all three of his penalties for Marseille this season.
Villas Boas has had to build his side without last season's 16-goal, eight-assist hero Florian Thauvin due to the winger's ongoing ankle injury, which will require surgery. Others have stepped up to the plate, though. Morgan Sanson and Dimitri Payet were on target at the Stade Raymond Kopa. Payet now has five goals and two assists, making him Marseille's most productive attacking player.
'Payet intelligent and creative'
"Dario [Benedetto] was a bit lonely pressing from the front so we put Sanson at No.10 and it worked," explained Villas Boas. "It's good to have a group of players who follow the coached and accept what we're trying to do. If we can beat Bordeaux on Sunday we can create a little gap to the others before Christmas.
"Payet brings us a lot of intelligence and creativity, and he's also on a fine run of scoring penalties. PSG's position doesn't occupy or thoughts, Our goal is to finish second at the end of the season. That'd be a very good result."
Watch: Highlights of Bordeaux's 2-0 win over Marseille in April
Bordeaux don't figure to go down easily. Les Girondins had gone seven games without beating Marseille - stretching back to April 2015 - before their 2-0 victory over Sunday's hosts in April, while they have put together a six-match undefeated run of their own under Villas Boas's countryman, Paulo Sousa.
François Kamano and Nicolas de Préville got the goals against OM in April, and while the former has been used sparingly by Sousa this season, de Préville is Bordeaux's most potent attacking force with five goals and three assists in the current campaign.
Young London-born Nigeria international Josh Maja was the star of the show on Tuesday, though, bagging a hat-trick at the Matmut Atlantique before assisting de Préville's fifth of the season in a 6-0 rout.
The chances of Maja returning to the bench would appear to be slim, despite the quick turnaround of games, with Sousa reserving special praise for the former Sunderland play at his post-match press conference.
Maja (l.) has scored every 84 minutes he has played in the league this term.
"It was a great match," he said. "We began to really hurt our opponents when we started playing directly. We got more confident after the second goal and began to stretch them, playing good passes between the lines. Josh [Maja] is one of our best finishers. He doesn't need a lot of space to find the finish.
"We're on the right path and have a good mentality. There are still a lot of challenges ahead and we must keep improving. Our next game at Marseille is very exciting. They're strong and motivated and have a good squad. But we arrive there with motivation and trust."
Sousa has a full-strength squad to call upon but for the suspended Younousse Sankharé. Youssouf Sabaly - also Sankharé's international teammate with Senegal - could deputise for the left-back once again, although Loris Benito is also pushing for a start.
Marseille: Mandanda; Sakai, Kamara, Caleta-Car, Amavi; Rongier, STrootman, Sanson; Sarr Benedetto, Payet
Bordeaux: Costil; Jovanovic, Koscielny, Pablo; Kamano, Otavio, Tchouaméni, Benito; De Préville, Adli; Maja