OUR man in France is Julien Laurens and he's looking at Rennes v Marseille and Monaco's trip to Montpellier.

Julien is a London-based sports correspondent for Le Parisien and a veritable French football expert. He writes in French and English for a number of esteemed publications and is a regular on BT Sport as well as contributing to Unibet.

Rennes v Marseille (Sat 4pm)

Rennes host Marseille on Saturday afternoon in a clash between ninth and fourth. It will be very interesting to see if Rennes and new manager Sabri Lamouchi can get a famous win against l’OM.

The home side just got battered twice by Paris SG, in the league (4-1) and in the French Cup (6-1), twice at home but they beat Toulouse in midweek in the league cup (4-2) after a good performance.

Rennes are still trying to sign a striker as Lamouchi has been playing Khazri as a false number nine since taking over. At least the manager has Ismaila Sarr while Yoann Gourcuff is also fit to play. Lamouchi has all his key players available and will be able to field a very strong team. Defensively, Rennes will have to be stronger than in recent matches though.

They are conceding too many goals at the moment. The stadium will be packed and the support from the fans will be huge. This is a prestigious game against a good Marseille team and Rennes will want to start 2018 with a great league victory.

Their home form so far has not been great with four wins and as many defeats plus one draw. They don’t have a great record at home against l’OM though with just three wins in their last ten encounters in all competitions!

For Marseille, this is a very important game. They lost their last match in the league, away at Lyon just before Christmas and struggled to beat Ligue 2 Valenciennes in the French Cup last weekend (1-0). In the table, they are now fourth, three point behind Lyon and Monaco and they can’t afford more mistakes if they want to stay in the running for second place.

Manager Rudi Garcia has a full squad available pretty much. Gregory Sertic has been out for a while and is not a starter anyway. Morgan Sanson was ill but should be back for this game. Marseille should line up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

The big question is who will play up front. Kostas Mitroglou has been very disappointing and Valère Germain seems to be the number one choice as striker now. I think it will be a tough game for Marseille and it will finish as a draw.

Julien's Tips

Montpellier v Monaco (Sat 7pm)

Monaco travel to Montpellier on Saturday evening to play their first league game of 2018. It is another interesting game between Monaco, second in the table, and Montpellier, seventh. Monaco are nine points behind the league leaders so they could put some pressure on them with a win as Paris only play on the Sunday evening.

The current French champions still think they can challenge Paris for the title. This is a tricky trip for them considering that this season Paris and Marseille could only manage a point at the Louis Nicollin stadium while Nice were beaten (2-0) over there in the league and Lyon in the league cup (4-1).

Manager Leonardo Jardim revealed on Thursday that Radamel Falcao and Guido Carrillo are huge doubts for this game. It would change the way the French champions play without their two strikers. Falcao has been fantastic and Carrillo is a great super sub. However, they have now won six games in a row in all competitions now.

They beat Nice away in the derby in the League Cup in midweek (2-1) and the squad is full of confidence at the moment. Monaco have Lyon and Marseille just behind them as well so they can’t afford many mistakes until the end of the season if they want to come back at Paris, or at least make sure they finish second. They have an amazing record at Montpellier where they have not lost in the league since 1990.

However, Montpellier have been excellent against the top teams in the first half of the season. They got a deserved draw at Monaco and at Lyon for example and neither Paris, Nice or Marseille could win in their stadium. They are the best defence in the league with only 13 goals conceded, two less than PSG, and their back five is very solid. They will defend very well against Monaco and will frustrate them.

Julien's Tips

  • Montpellier 0, Monaco 1 (6-1, Unibet)
  • Balde to score first (13-2, Unibet)
  • Under 1.5 goals (23-10, Unibet)

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