Since the domestic season was rudely interrupted by the winter World Cup, the middle of Ligue 1 2022/23. it was only reached in January, meaning a condensed fixture list for the rest of the campaign.
And there are certainly no foregone conclusions, with reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain just six points ahead of Lens after 18 games and Christophe Galtier’s men facing a tough test away to Champions League-chasing Rennes on Sunday night.
For a recap of that game, plus the rest of the league’s top stories and the weekend’s TV schedule, read on.
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PSG are trying to avoid the troubles of Roazhon
Despite the fact that 2021/22 was a relative procession for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 as they reclaimed their title in dominant fashion, Mauricio Pochettino’s side saw their eight-game winning streak at the start of the season snapped by Rennes, who went on to clinch a place in the Europa League.
On that day in October 2021, the hosts stunned their mega-rich opponents with two goals within minutes either side of half-time thanks to Gaetano Laborde and Flavien Tait.
Laborde has since moved to Nice, but Tait remains a regular for the Reds, who were second top scorers in the French league behind PSG last season and are beginning to find their shooting boots again after an inconsistent start to the campaign. .
However, Bruno Genesi’s men will be looking to respond in front of their passionate home fans after a disappointing 2-1 defeat at central Clermont in midweek.
Warmed Omari’s attempted cross saw the centre-back deflect the ball into the path of Grejohn Kyei as the visitors trailed in the encounter, and while Armand Kalimuendo coolly headed home to equalize in the 74th minute, Rennes then saw two players sent off for assists. creator Benjamin Bourigeaud received a second yellow before Omari was given his marching orders to pull down Komnen Andrić.
That numerical disadvantage eventually came to the fore in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Johan Gastien, son of Clermont boss Pascal, headed home, and Rennes are now missing Bourigeaud and Omari for the weekend, although Kalimuendo will be looking to show PSG what they are missing out on by leaving them permanently last summer.
Genesio have to deal with multiple key absentees, including central midfielders Xeka and Benjamin Santamaria and long-term loser Martin Terrier, the team’s star player last term who unfortunately suffered a torn ACL earlier this month that will rule him out for the rest of 2022 /23 and the beginning of the next season.
Although PSG have injury problems, their squad and starting 11 are still undeniably impressive with Nuno Mendes, Presnel Kimpembe and Marco Verratti currently sidelined, but Christophe Galtier hopes Renato Sanches could return to action and the Portugal international has yet to play since the resumption of the league due to a muscle injury.
Lionel Messi made a goal-scoring return against Angers on Wednesday and although Hugo Ekitike has scored four times in his last five games in all competitions – including against the league’s bottom club – he is likely to make way for Kylian Mbappe, who was rested last time out, which means that the trio Messi-Mbappe-Neymar will form for the first time after the World Cup. There could be fireworks.
Lionel Messi marked his return to club action with a cool finish to round off a 2-0 win over Angers
Barkley and Pepe play in Digard’s era
After an embarrassing 1-0 defeat by third-tier Le Puy Foot 63 Auvergne in the Coupe de France, Nice made the decision on Monday to sack manager Lucien Favre and bring in keeper, former Nice and Middlesbrough midfielder Didier Digard.
The 36-year-old’s reign got off to a spectacular start on Wednesday as the Eagles soared to new heights, thrashing Montpellier 6-1 at the Riviera.
Arsenal renegade Nicolas Pepe opened the scoring with his sixth league goal of the season, before Kephren Thuram slotted in after a fine exchange of passes with centre-back Dante.
The hosts kept their foot on the gas after the break when Pepe got his second, collecting Aaron Ramsey’s pass before finding the back of the net with a deflection after Ross Barkley and Andy Delort had been introduced.
Delort made it four in comical fashion when his miskick fell right back into his path and Barkley joined the fun after Teji Savanier’s consolation free-kick, producing a fine turn and left-foot finish before scoring Nice’s sixth as second substitute Delort down went the Liverpool man, who headed home after running into the box.
Barkley scored a stunning curling effort at Rennes in the previous meeting with Nice as he enjoys a renaissance abroad, but he and his team-mates will face a tough test on Sunday afternoon against Reims, who are 11th – just below their upcoming rivals on goal -differences – and are currently on an incredible streak of 10 games without defeat in the league, which started back in early October.
Eight of those 10 games came under new Belgian-British manager William Still, who was appointed permanent boss in mid-November after his brilliant start in charge.
One of the key men in that streak was Folarin Balogun, who this season in Ligue 1 was surpassed only by Terem Moffi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Balogun credited fellow Gunners striker Pepe with convincing him to move to France. Maybe the White-haired man will regret those words of advice after this weekend.
Ross Barkley is enjoying a new life in the south of France after being sacked by Chelsea
Third against sixth at the Stade Velodrome
Marseille’s five consecutive wins have moved them to within two points of second-placed Lens, and a further performance by Franck Haise against Auxerre could see L’OM leapfrog their title rivals.
Marseille’s latest win came at Troyes in midweek thanks to former Newcastle centre-back Chancel Mbemba and former Aston Villa midfielder Jordan Veretout, despite the absences of Dimitri Payet, Jonathan Clauss, Nuno Tavares and Eric Bailly (the latter two through suspension).
Bailly is the only one of the four who looks set to return after serving a one-match ban for his red card in the Coupe de France win over Hyeres, and Igor Tudor will appreciate his presence against a resurgent and pushing Lorient side to Europe after a streak of six games without a win.
A New Year’s Day comeback win at Angers was followed by an entertaining midweek draw against fifth-placed Monaco, although Les Merlus came agonizingly close to victory before Wissam Ben Yedder broke the hosts’ hearts in the 93rd minute.
Dango Ouattara shone again for Regis Le Bris’ side, making it 1-1 against the principality before turning the game on its head two minutes later with an inch-perfect pass for the team’s top scorer Terem Moffi to score.
Last term, Marseille beat their upcoming opponents 4-1 and 3-0, but Lorient are now much better. This match should be convincing.
Igor Tudor can call up Eric Bailly again as the surprise package that Lorient travel to the Stade Velodrome
Strasbourg is looking to reject a new manager
Julien Stephan’s 18-month spell at Strasbourg came to an end on January 3 after a 3-2 home defeat to Troyes, with his assistant Mathieu Le Scornet temporarily named in charge and his managerial debut a positive one as the Alsace side are on Stade de la Meinau drew 2-2 with title contenders Lens.
Although Alexis Claude-Maurice was given too much space to bury the opener, the hosts hit back thanks to Sanjin Prcic’s powerful drive and Kevin Gameiro’s close-range finish after Brice Samba spilled Ludovico Ajorque’s effort.
Le Racing could not hold on as Lois Openda’s header rounded off an entertaining first half, but Strasbourg will still be hoping that only their second win of the season is around the corner.
Le Scornet will know the scale of the task they face, however, with the team in 19th place, three points behind 16th-placed Ajaccio.
Things don’t get any easier as they travel to the Groupama Stadium to face Lyon, who despite a poor start to 2023 – defeat to Clermont and a 0-0 draw at Nantes – have some formidable attacking options, including Karl Toko Ekambi.
The Cameroon international has nine career goals against Strasbourg – more than against any other team – most recently scoring a 90th-minute equalizer against them in April.
Le Scornet will need all the help they can get to contain the striker, so the return of centre-back Alexander Djiku is much needed after he missed the draw against Lens with cramp.
Managerial rookie Mathieu Le Scornet was given the tough job of pulling Strasbourg out of the last four
A dream start to 2023 for Toulouse
Although 2022 ended in miserable fashion for Toulouse with a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Marseille, 2023 brought with it a reversal of fortunes for Philippe Montanier’s men.
After seeing off relegation-threatened Ajaccio and then hammering fifth-tier Lannion 7-0 in the Coupe de France, Le Tefece continued their fine start to the year with a 5-0 demolition of Auxerre.
It will be a big boost for former Nottingham Forest boss Montaniero that five different players got on the scoresheet in their last win.
The goals came from Fares Chaibi, who fired into the roof of Benoit Costil’s net to open the scoring, and Zakaria Aboukhlal, who scored after Mousse Diarra’s penetrating cross to make it 4-0.
Aboukhlal also assisted the final goal of the night for Thijs Dallinga and the Moroccan, who scored against Belgium at the World Cup, will be a key ingredient in his side’s bid for survival.
Toulouse’s opponents on Sunday afternoon are Brest, who are in 17th place and, unlike their hosts, have yet to score a goal in the league so far this year.
However, they held a dangerous Lille side to a goalless draw in midweek and are just one point short of safety, although star striker Romain Del Castillo remains sidelined with a calf injury that has kept him out of the last two matches.
Toulouse fly into 2023 – they have scored 14 times in all competitions without conceding a goal
Your Ligue 1 weekend on BT Sport
Marseilles in regards to Lorient (6pm on BT Sport 4)
Lyon in regards to Strasbourg (8pm on BT Sport 4)
Lille in regards to Troyes (12 noon on BT Sport 7)
Reims in regards to Nice (2pm on BT Sport 7)
Monaco in regards to Ajaccio (4pm on BT Sport 2)
Rennes in regards to Paris Saint-Germain (19.45 on BT Sport 3)