No Falcao for Monaco as they take on Pepe and Lille
By I. Holyman
AS Monaco will be without suspended captain Radamel Falcao when they attempt to slow the momentum built by Nicolas Pepe and LOSC Lille on Friday.
LOSC Lille - AS Monaco
Monaco finished second last season — the position Lille occupy coming into the game — but a turbulent few months in the principality has left them with their worst points tally since 1975/76, and with worries of losing their top-flight status.
The return of Leonardo Jardim to the head of the team after having lost his job to Thierry Henry for three-and-a-half months has eased fears of relegation with the Portuguese coach orchestrating a six-game unbeaten run that has left them just a place but six points clear of the bottom three.
Falcao has played a major role in his team's renaissance with four goals in his last six outings to take his tally to 12 for the season and up his share of his team's strikes to 41.4 per cent, the highest ratio of any Ligue 1 Conforama player. He will be sorely missed at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
WATCH: Falcao strikes again but Bordeaux strike back
The Colombia international forward was hero and villain on his 100th top-flight outing in France last weekend as he opened the scoring at home to Girondins de Bordeaux but then was adjudged to have handled the ball to gift the visitors the penalty that earned them a 1-1 draw.
"We are in the relegation battle," said Jardim. "We are still in danger. It won't be easy. The aim is to get as many points as possible. We worked all week to get three points, but we didn't get them. The players are sad. Our opponents didn't do anything special, even if [Benoît] Costil played very well."
Jardim: 'Focus on ourselves'
The Bordeaux goalkeeper denied Monaco on a number of occasions as they pressed for the win that would have lifted them above fellow strugglers Amiens SC, who won 2-1 at home to Nîmes Olympique on the same evening to move a point clear of the 2016/17 French champions.
"We have taken 12 points in six games when the team previously was averaging a point per match," said Jardim. "The aim is to ensure our top-flight safety as soon as possible. We have to stay far away from the drop zone. Amiens' victory isn't important. We're just focussing on ourselves."
Stevan Jovetic could make his first appearance since October after recovering from a thigh and a knee injury, while Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and Jordi Mboula are also in contention having returned to full training this week.
Jérémy Pied's adductor problem means he is the only absentee from a Lille side that already has 19 points more than the whole of last season, boasts their club's best return at this stage of a campaign since 1947/48, and are in firm command of second place in the table.
Pepe: 'Shame to miss out'
Nicolas Pepe's late winner at AS Saint-Étienne last weekend means Christophe Galtier's men are seven points clear of Olympique Lyonnais in the race to claim one of the two automatic qualifying places for next season's UEFA Champions League group stage.
"It would perhaps be a shame to miss out," said Pepe, who has now scored 17 times this season, and is just three shy of the 20 strikes Eden Hazard supplied in 2011/12, Lille's most prolific scorer of recent seasons.
"We're going to try and keep winning our matches. We have to say it clearly: our destiny is between our feet."
WATCH: Pepe the hero as Lille leave it late at Saint-Étienne
Lille secured a goalless draw with Monaco earlier in the season, but Galtier acknowledged that his team will face a very different side with Falcao and Gelson Martins, in particular, significant threats.
"In the first part of the season, they got 14 points from 19 games. Now, they have 13 points from nine. Monaco aren't the same team at all, they are on a good run. You can see the traits of Leonardo Jardim in their play again. They'll be a tough opponent, who have strong points going forward and have a certain composure in their play. We'll have to put in a big performance to win it."
Lille: to follow
Monaco: to follow