PARIS: Monaco could land a decisive blow in the Ligue 1 title race this weekend with a helping hand from their Cote d’Azur rivals Nice, who host reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Leonardo Jardim effectively wrote off his side’s chances of lifting the French Cup, fielding a team full of youngsters that was demolished 5-0 by PSG in Wednesday’s semi-final.
But the Monaco coach hopes the gamble will pay off with his club hunting a first league crown since 2000, as well as bidding to topple Europe’s elite in the Champions League.
“There was no good or bad choice. We’ve got matches coming one after another, we’re playing every three days,” Jardim said after the PSG defeat, with Monaco at home to Juventus next Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie.
“This match we therefore decided to play the younger players so the others could rest. Our core of 12 or 13 players can’t play 13 matches in a row in such a short space of time.
“Now we’re focused on hosting Toulouse on Saturday. Our goal is to win a trophy at the end of the season and we’re going to give it our all.”
Monaco lead PSG on goal difference at the top of Ligue 1 but have a game in hand on Unai Emery’s side, who are targeting a third successive sweep of the domestic trophies after setting up a May 27 cup final against outsiders Angers.
However, PSG must navigate a tricky trip to Nice — who have lost just twice and are unbeaten at home this season — to stay in the running for a fifth league title in a row.
– ‘Anything can happen’ –
Nice are guaranteed a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds next season but must beat PSG to realistically stand a chance of finishing in the top two and earning direct entrance into the group stage.
“We’re expecting a big crowd. I’m looking forward to seeing the passion of the Nice fans and playing this team,” said Nice midfielder Vincent Koziello.
“We’ll have to lift our game if we want to get a result. We’ll see if we can do that.
“It’s going to be pretty difficult to do better than third between now and the end of the season, but anything can happen in football.”
PSG go into the game having been fined 100,000 euros for damage caused by their fans at Lyon where they defeated Monaco 4-1 to win the League Cup final earlier this month.
They were also told to play two home games behind closed doors although that sanction was suspended.
Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette will miss Friday’s visit to Angers and the France striker is a doubt for next week’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Ajax.
“For now, we don’t have a timeframe for his recovery and we’ll see how things progress from day to day,” said Lyon coach Bruno Genesio of Lacazette, who has scored 31 goals in all competitions this term.
“He’s out for Angers and we’ll see whether he can play against Ajax. I hope so but we won’t take any risk.”
Bordeaux continue their European push away to 18th-placed Dijon on Sunday, while Marseille — undefeated in seven matches — will look to pounce on any slip-up when they travel to Caen.
Rock-bottom Bastia face Rennes behind closed doors at a neutral ground as punishment for the crowd violence that forced their home match with Lyon on April 16 to be abandoned.
Four wins in five have propelled Lorient out of the danger zone and they’ll look to pull further clear of the drop on Saturday against Nantes.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Angers v Lyon (1845)
Monaco v Toulouse (1500), Bastia v Rennes, Guingamp v Saint-Etienne, Metz v Nancy, Montpellier v Lille, Nantes v Lorient (1800)
Caen v Marseille (1300), Dijon v Bordeaux (1500), Nice v Paris Saint-Germain (1900)