Surprises in store in second tier?
There is still one round of games to go before the Ligue 2 season reaches its halfway point, but heading into the winter break Clermont are the surprise leaders, while Reims and Bastia are both on course for a return to the élite.
Clermont may be better known for rugby than football, but the team coached by Michel Der Zakarian are on course for a first-ever promotion to the top flight. Despite taking just one point from their last two matches of the calendar year, after 18 games they have 34 points and lie a point ahead of Reims at the summit. Veteran striker Jean-François Rivière - who helped Ajaccio win promotion last season - has been the star of the show for Clermont with ten league goals, but a mean defence has been the bedrock of their success so far.
Twice European Cup finalists in the 1950s, Reims are one of French football's most famous names. They have not appeared in the top division since 1979, but Hubert Fournier's side have been a permanent fixture in the promotion places this season so a return to the top table in 2012 is a distinct possibility.
Bastia last played in Ligue 1 in 2004-05, but having won the third division title last season the Corsicans are well-placed to emulate rivals Ajaccio and return to Ligue 1. Unbeaten at home, much of Bastia's success so far can be contributed to the presence of experienced top-level campaigners such as Jérôme Rothen and Toifilou Maoulida.
It is incredibly tight beneath the top three, though, with Sedan, Guingamp, Le Havre, Laval and Metz all within three points of third spot.
Big names struggling
Meanwhile, some of the French game's biggest clubs are struggling in the second tier. Eight-times champions Nantes have been inconsistent and are 11th, although they are still very much within touching distance of the top. Lens' hopes of an immediate return to Ligue 1 are hanging by a thread - they are 15th having won just six games to date. And Monaco are in real danger of a second straight relegation - the principality club, now coached by Italian Marco Simone, have won just once all season and prop up the table with 13 points.