The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
5 things to know about the French league ahead of this week's matches
PARIS - Five years ago, Lyon and Bordeaux were title contenders. This season, they are far behind in the race for a European berth. On Sunday, Bordeaux meets Lyon in a match that will put the losing coach in a tough spot.
Meanwhile, Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain are still undefeated this season and sit top of the French league with a four-point lead over Lille and Marseille. PSG hosts mid-table Bastia on Saturday while Monaco visits lowly Sochaux on Sunday.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's games:
ON A TIGHTROPE
Lyon has finished in the top four every year since 1999. But after nine rounds, Lyon is in 14th place with 11 points, trailing leader Monaco by 10 points.
Three years ago, Lyon was in the same spot with the same number of points. At that time, Lyon supporters were loudly calling for the resignation of then-coach Claude Puel. Despite an eventual third-place finish, the rift between Puel and the supporters led club president Jean-Michel Aulas to dismiss the coach a year before the end of his contract.
Current Lyon coach Remi Garde remains popular with the supporters and still has his president's backing.
"Our trust in the coaching staff is absolutely not eroded," Aulas said. "I know that Remi is more capable than others to find solutions."
However, time may be running out for Lyon, which has won only one of its last 11 matches in all competitions.
FRIEND AND FOE?
Portugal playmaker Joao Moutinho and France defender Eric Abidal are teammates at Monaco but they could become opponents in the World Cup playoffs next month if their countries are drawn against each other.
"I think Portugal vs. France would not be good for football," Moutinho said. "Those two countries should both qualify for the World Cup. It would be a real pity if we meet in the playoffs."
Portugal and France finished second in their respective groups after Portugal beat Luxembourg 3-0 on Tuesday while France thrashed Finland 3-0.
Moutinho left Porto in the off-season and the midfielder has adapted quickly to the French league by making three assists and scoring a goal for Monaco.
The draw for the World Cup playoffs will be held Monday in Switzerland.
TOUGH CHALLENGE FOR A NEW COACH
Herve Renard was appointed Sochaux coach last week to replace Eric Hely who had resigned in September.
Sochaux is second to last in the league and the match against Monaco may not come at the right time for Renard. Monaco has the most potent attack in the league while Sochaux has the most porous defence.
"It's a difficult situation, we know it," Renard said. "But it's a fantastic challenge and I enjoy challenges."
Sochaux finished 15th last season, avoiding relegation only in the last round.
"With people saying that Sochaux does not have the level to play in the league, I think that proving them wrong is a good motivation," Renard said.
Renard led Zambia to the title in the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Lille's offence was weakened by the summer departures of forwards Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin for Marseille. Somehow, Lille has found a way to remain competitive and climb to third place in the standings.
Lille boasts the tightest defence in the league, keeping a clean sheet in seven of its nine games. Coach Rene Girard, who succeeded Rudi Garcia in the off-season, is no stranger to such success. He led Montpellier to its only league title in 2012 by having the best defence in the league.
Girard will face his former club on Saturday. "That will be an emotional moment," Girard told his club's website. "I believe I left on great terms with the supporters and there was a lot of respect between us."
Filip Djordjevic has proved instrumental in Nantes' rise to fifth place in the standings by scoring six goals this season. He is the second most prolific scorer in the league behind Monaco striker Radamel Falcao.
Djordjevic's contract ends next year. The Serbian forward's performance has drawn the attention of a few Italian clubs, but Nantes wants to negotiate a contract extension with Djordjevic, who is looking for a pay raise.
Nantes travels to Ajaccio on Saturday.
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