Of Ligue 1’s troika of unbeaten teams, Lens appear to have the easiest assignment during this weekend’s eighth round of games. Frank Haise’s men – untroubled by Champions League fixtures like Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille – travel to a Nantes side hovering just above the relegation zone and grappling to cope with the rigours of Europa League football and the domestic campaign.
Haise’s work at Lens has made him one of the favourites to take over at the Premier League outfit Brighton following the departure nearly two weeks ago of the coach Graham Potter for Chelsea.
Lens, who finished seventh last term, have won five and drawn two of their seven games of this year’s Ligue 1 to sit – with 17 points – two points behind the dual pacesetters.
PSG’s better goal difference give them the edge over their eternal rivals Marseille.
And the duo will go into their clashes against Lyon and Rennes respectively with Champions League performances hovering in their minds.
On Tuesday night at the Vélodrome, Marseille fluffed their lines in their second game in Group D. They lost 1-0 to Eintracht Frankfurt to compound the misery of their opening day defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
“We have four games left to turn things around in the competition,” said midfielder Jordan Veretout after the setback against a side that had hardly set the Bundesliga alight.
Frankfurt went into the clash on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Wolfsburg but they matched Marseille for verve and commitment.
“I think we played really well in the second-half,” said Marseille boss Igor Tudor.
“We were maybe a little slow playing the ball out in the first-half. I think 1-1 would have been a fairer result. We’re not happy, we gave everything, but this is the top level.”
Rennes – who squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 on Thursday night in the Europa League against Fenerbahce – have begun the Ligue 1 season competently.
Victory on Sunday would take them to within five points of their opponents. It would also signal the first real stutter of Tudor’s reign at Marseille.
The defeat – Marseille’s 15th in 16 Champions League ties – highlights the quiddities of the competition: Ligue 1 pacesetters faltering against Bundesliga makeweights. And Bruno Genesio’s Rennes will provide another stern test.
“We’re learning,” said Genesio after the Fenerbahce comeback. “We’ve paid heavily for our errors but it’s the kind of match that will toughen us up and help us to grow for other big matches in the future. I’m certainly not angry with my players because they had the right attitude.”
In their Champions League adventure PSG made no mistake against Maccabi Haifa.
Boasting the tricksy trident of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi, they came from behind to beat Maccabi Haifa 3-1 to follow up their 2-1 opening day win over Juventus.
The success will leave the side in confident mood ahead of Sunday night’s game at the Groupama Stadium.
John Textor, Lyon’s new backer, says he wants to see the club competing with PSG for the title and a place in the Champions League rather than grubbing around for a berth in the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.
Following last season’s travails when they finished eighth, Lyon – who won seven consecutive titles between 2002 and 2008 – cannot even scrap around with the also-rans in those competitions this year. And it has been made clear to the coach Peter Bosz that a similar league position at the end of this season will not be tolerated.
“Peter has goals to meet before the break in November for the World Cup,” said Lyon’s sporting director Vincent Ponsot.
“There are other goals set for the midway point of the season too. These objectives will remain between Peter and us,” Ponsot added.
After five games, Lyon had 13 points following four wins and a draw.
But losses to Lorient and Monaco have allowed PSG, Marseille and Lens to pull away. A third consecutive setback would heap further pressure on Bosz while a victory would at least show that the side has the heft to wrestle with the big boys.
“I’ve been told that we’ve got to finish in the top three,” said Bosz bluntly before the PSG clash.
“It’s not a huge surprise because that’s where Lyon should be at the end of the season. The pressure is on because the stakes are higher.”
Bosz could equally be speaking for his PSG counterpart Christophe Galtier.
The 55-year-old Frenchman took over from Mauricio Pochettino who delivered the 2022 Ligue 1 title but failed to furnish the Champions League – the one title that PSG’s wealthy Qatari backers crave.
Galtier led Lille to the 2021 Ligue 1 crown before departing for Nice where he enjoyed varying fortunes during his one season on the French Riviera.
Now in the capital, his PSG top the table. “PSG have good players but that doesn’t mean a good team,” Bosz said in an interview with broadcaster Prime Video.
“Galtier has managed to put the players in a system and now they do the work together. When you have good players who work together … it’s hard to beat.”
Pre-emptive excuses? State of the nation reality? Whichever. Lyon v PSG will be an insight into the ambitions and trajectories of a former titan keen to fashion modern relevance and the current glorious lord.
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