The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
5 things to know about the French league before this weekend's matches
PARIS - As the French league resumes following its winter break, defending champion Paris Saint-Germain travels to Corsica to play Ajaccio on Saturday.
PSG is three points ahead of second-place Monaco, which plays at struggling Montpellier on Friday, and four ahead of Lille, which hosts Reims on Sunday.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's games:
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier is exasperated by the state of the playing surface at the club's home stadium.
Even though a lucky rebound — precisely due to the bumpy surface — gifted Saint-Etienne a goal in Wednesday's 1-0 win against Evian, he demands a major improvement.
"All I'm asking for is a real football pitch," he said. "I'm worried about some players. We may have one or two injuries related to the state of the pitch."
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne's home stadium, is nicknamed "The Cauldron" because of its intense atmosphere.
"When we walk out onto the pitch there's a sign that reads 'This is the Cauldron,'" Galtier added, then offered an alternative slogan: "'This is the vegetable garden.'
"You have to know what you want," he said. "I know it's not easy, but there's a minimum. It's even dangerous."
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's scoring touch did not desert him over the winter break — and neither did his dry sense of humour.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker started the new year with a hat trick in a 5-2 win at Brest in the early rounds of the French Cup on Wednesday and left the field to a standing ovation from the home fans.
"It was easy," Ibrahimovic quipped. "There were only 500 of them in the stands. But yes, I'm happy."
The 32-year-old Swede has three hat tricks for PSG this season and another for Sweden.
"I've started 2014 well," he said. "I need to keep playing like this and keep getting better. It's the same for the team. We have to be even better and win trophies."
PSG won the league title last season but went out in the quarterfinals of both domestic Cup competitions and the Champions League.
NOT FOR SALE
Lille president Michel Seydoux said forward Salomon Kalou is not for sale.
The Ivory Coast forward took time to settle when he joined from English Premier League club Chelsea last season, and expressed a desire to leave. But this term he has been one of the best players for third-place Lille.
With injury-plagued Arsenal desperately needing a striker and linked with several players, Seydoux joked on RMC radio that Kalou was available only for "87 million euros ($118 million), and then some."
More seriously, he said: "He's in our plans. We need him. I don't want him to leave and he wants to stay."
HAPPY OR NOT
After turning down an offer of 17 million euros ($23 million) from Napoli for midfielder Maxime Gonalons, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas insisted the club captain was happy to stay.
That may not quite be the case.
"(Napoli coach) Rafael Benitez absolutely wanted the player," Frederic Guerra, his agent, told RTL radio. "I thought it was a very interesting offer. Max told me he would be flattered to go to Napoli and I'd sorted out the wages for him, so everything was in place."
With half of the season played, Lyon is in 10th place and already 15 points behind third-place Lille, making it unlikely Lyon will qualify for next season's Champions League.
"Napoli is third in the Italian league and, in principle, should play in the Champions League next season, which doesn't seem to be Lyon's case," Guerra said. "So at the same time there was a sporting project and better wages."
Much-travelled striker Djibril Cisse has not given up hope of playing in the World Cup for France.
The 32-year-old Cisse recently joined Bastia after an unhappy spell with Russian side Kuban Krasnodar.
Bastia is his 10th club and, even though he has not played for France since October 2011, he thinks a flurry of goals could persuade national team coach Didier Deschamps to give him another chance.
"The France team has always been important for me. I will give everything, even if I know I'm starting from a long way back," Cisse said. "There's a lot of competition, but that's good. You have to fight."
Cisse has scored nine goals in 41 games for France.
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