OUR man in France is Julien Laurens and he's looking at three big Sunday games.
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.
Bordeaux v Nice (Sun 2pm)
Both teams need to bounce back after their last defeat. Bordeaux were defeated in Marseille after a disappointing performance last weekend while Nice have now lost their last three league matches. They were also knocked out by Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League last 32 in midweek after losing 1-0.
So the visitors will want to bounce back on Sunday in Bordeaux and keep their hopes of finishing 5th alive. They are currently 9th in the table but only four points behind Nantes in 5th. Nice have defenders Marlon, Jallet, Souquet and Le Marchand all still out injured. Mario Balotelli will lead the line up front in the traditional 4-3-3 formation fielded by manager Lucien Favre. Cyprien, Seri and Lees-Melou are all available in midfield like Plea and Saint-Maximin up front.
The home side Bordeaux are currently 8th in the table but level on points with Sunday’s opponents. They too can hope to finish 5th this season. The Girondins have changed manager with Gus Poyet coming in and they are doing well under him, despite last weekend’s loss in Marseille. Poyet will be without Malcom, his best player, who is suspended for this match.
Without him, Bordeaux will struggle to create cut clear chances. His absence is a huge blow. Bordeaux should line up in a 4-3-3 formation as well, even without their Brazilian star. This is a crucial game for both teams. Nice’s recent record away at Bordeaux is not bad at all with just one defeat in their last seven visits. However, they only won twice in this time, with four draws. I think this time it will be another draw as well.
Lyon v St Etienne (Sun 4pm)
Before Le Classique between Paris SG and Marseille on Sunday evening, this is the Rhone Derby when Lyon host their enemy St Etienne at the Groupama Stadium on Sunday afternoon. It is the 116th derby between the two clubs and it is a very important one.
Lyon have drawn one and lost three of their last four league matches. They are the worst team in Ligue 1 over the last four weeks or so since beating Paris SG. They are now fourth in the table, eight points behind Monaco and six behind Marseille. They can’t afford any more slip ups and the pressure is huge on them before this game.
They hammered St Etienne 5-0 away back in November in the reverse fixture and they want to make the double over their arch rivals. They qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday by beating Villarreal away (1-0) with a very strong team. Manager Bruno Genesio will field a very strong side on Sunday, with not many changes from midweek.
Nabil Fekir is still the key player in this team. He set up Bertrand Traoré’s goal on Thursday. Fekir had a superb performance in the reverse fixture. Lyon have all their squad available and Genesio should keep his 4-2-3-1 formation with Houssem Aouar possibly replacing Memphis Depay on the left. Lyon won the last two home derbies in Ligue 1 but prior to that had only one win in seven.
St Etienne want their revenge after the humiliating defeat in the reverse fixture. Since Jean-Louis Gasset came in as manager, they have done a bit better. They are 11th in the table but not safe yet either. They have built a bit of confidence and momentum with a run of four league games without defeat.
Their January signings Subotic, Ntep, Mvila and Debuchy are looking fitter and stronger now and they are ready to take on Lyon. They have the advantage of not having to play in midweek unlike Lyon and will first set up quite defensively to hit them on the counter. However, I still think that Lyon will be too strong eventually at home.
- Lyon 2, St Etienne 1 (7-1, Unibet)
- Fekir to score first (18-5, Unibet)
- Lyon win and btts (17-10, Unibet)
PSG v Marseille (Sun 8pm)
This is the big game of the weekend in Ligue 1, Le Classique between Paris SG and Marseille. The Parisians host their arch rivals on Sunday evening at the Parc des Princes. They have not lost at home against them since 2010 and overall since 2012, a run of 15 games unbeaten (12 wins and 3 draws).
Paris are top of the league and unbeaten in their last 34 home games in Ligue 1. They have been excellent this season at the Parc des Princes in Europe and in the league. It looks like they have moved on from the defeat at Madrid in the Champions League ten days ago.
Now they are focused on this huge game. Kylian Mbappé is back in the squad after his suspension and Unai Emery has a full squad available. He will field his strongest starting eleven, probably with Thiago Motta in the holding role in midfield with Adrien Rabiot and Marco Verratti on each side of him.
The MCN with Neymar, Cavani and Mbappé should lead the line up front as well for Paris. It is a massive game for the Parisians and for the fans. They need to restore their confidence and gather momentum before the second leg against Real.
For the visitors, it is also a big game in their race for second place. They are fighting for it with Monaco and Lyon. They are third in the table but just a point behind Monaco. They are on a good run of form as well, having only lost one in the league since mid-December.
They qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday despite a loss in Portugal against Braga. Rudi Garcia fielded a strong team and fitness and freshness could be an issue when it comes to Sunday. Garcia has all his squad available as well. Luiz Gustavo, who has been outstanding this season, will be the team’s key player in midfield.
Florian Thauvin will have a huge role to play too. He is on fire at the moment with 15 goals and 10 assists so far in Ligue 1. Paris SG will keep a close eye on him. Marseille’s away record in Paris is terrible but the players have momentum and confidence. They drew there last season (0-0) but this time, I think the hosts will win.