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5 things to know about the French league before this weekend's matches
PARIS - Defending champion Paris Saint-Germain hosts Nantes on Sunday night in a dress rehearsal for their League Cup semifinal next month. PSG is on course to win its second straight title and leads second-place Monaco by five points and third-place Lille by seven.
Lille has a tough game away to fourth-place Saint-Etienne on Friday night and Monaco is away to mid-table Toulouse on Sunday.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's games:
Javier Pastore is starting to recapture some of the form he showed when he became PSG's first marquee signing.
Pastore joined in August, 2011, for €43 million ($61.1 million) and enjoyed a fruitful first season, scoring 13 league goals.
But the Argentina midfielder started to drift in and out of games last season, scoring only four goals, and was regularly jeered by home fans at Parc des Princes.
He fared little better at first this campaign under new coach Laurent Blanc, who said publicly that Pastore lacked self-confidence.
But in recent games, Pastore has made a significant impact.
He came off the bench to help create PSG's winning goal away to Ajaccio last weekend with a remarkable piece of skill, and then scored one goal and set up another as PSG won 3-1 at Bordeaux on Tuesday to reach the League Cup semifinals.
"It's the kind of match I needed," Pastore said. "I felt very good and I hope it continues."
Veteran midfielder Benoit Cheyrou believes Marseille can still finish in third place and qualify for next season's Champions League qualifying round.
Marseille is in fifth place and trails third-place Lille by eight points with 18 games remaining.
"Third place? I think we can do it," the 32-year-old Cheyrou said.
Marseille sacked coach Elie Baup last month after a string of poor results, but is unbeaten in the league since Jose Anigo took over as interim coach.
Anigo is known as a strict disciplinarian and has instilled a more rigid code of conduct.
"Any player who doesn't show the right attitude will be punished straight away," Cheyrou said.
Gael Danic is wondering why Lyon bought him, after starting just one league game this season.
The 32-year-old Danic joined in the off-season on a three-year contract after an impressive season with Valenciennes, but the left midfielder has only five further substitute appearances.
"I ask myself why (Lyon coach) Remi Garde signed me," Danic told sports daily L'Equipe on Thursday. "I've put up with it since the start of the season and have always been professional, but there comes a time when enough is enough."
With a new stadium to fund, Lyon's hands are tied in the transfer market unless it can offload some of its top earners, and Danic could be one player to leave.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc has not given up hope of winning four trophies this season.
Defending champion PSG leads the French league by five points, is through to the League Cup semifinals, is still involved in the French Cup and faces Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Champions League next month.
"At the start of the season we said that we have high expectations. We know that and it's a good thing," Blanc said. "We need to avoid injuries and cards (suspensions). That's very difficult."
Lyon's form has picked up and Remi Garde's team is unbeaten in nine matches ahead of Sunday's trip to Reims.
Things looked bleak for Lyon when it lost four consecutive games in August, including two sound beatings by Real Sociedad in their Champions League qualifying match.
There were well-publicized rifts as president Jean-Michel Aulas tried to sell some players — such as striker Bafetimbi Gomis and winger Jimmy Briand — even though they did not want to leave. Gomis was even banished to the reserves, but he is now in top form and has scored eight goals in his past eight games.
"The team spirit has improved better little by little," Garde said after Lyon beat Marseille 2-1 on Wednesday night to reach the League Cup semifinals. "The understanding has got better on the pitch and the players want to do much better in the second part of the season."
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