Paris: Monaco’s challenge at the top of Ligue 1 faces a stiff examination on Saturday when they cross the Mediterranean to take on SC Bastia in Corsica.
The principality club came from behind to hold leaders Paris Saint-Germain to a 1-1 draw last weekend and stay within five points of top spot, with coach Claudio Ranieri later promising: “If PSG lose games and lose the title then we’ll be there.”
The Italian then saw his side triumph 1-0 after extra-time away to Cote d’Azur rivals Nice in the French Cup last 16 on Wednesday as recent signing Dimitar Berbatov got his first goal for the club.
That success was achieved despite Ranieri making sweeping changes to his line-up, but now the likes of Eric Abidal, Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez are set to return to the side.
“I rotated the squad a lot at Nice because Monaco have to play three big games this week,” said Ranieri, before lauding the contribution of his Bulgarian recruit, who appeared as a second-half substitute.
“Berbatov got the goal,” Ranieri said. “I asked him to play in between the lines and he did that well.”
Bastia, meanwhile, have had a great week. After failed to register an away win all season, they ran out 3-1 victors at Toulouse in a rearranged game on Tuesday that was notable for Djibril Cisse’s first goal since returning to French football last month.
“Djibril put in a courageous performance,” said Bastia coach Frederic Hantz, who is hoping the 32-year-old former Marseille striker can score enough goals to stake a late claim for a place in France’s World Cup squad. “It was important for him to score.
“We need to be careful with him and not go too quickly, so that he is in top form by March, April, May. If we do that we can help him achieve his [World Cup] objective.”
Bastia then claimed another away win on Wednesday when the French League (LFP) confirmed that their 2-0 opening-day defeat at Nantes had been overturned because Les Canaris fielded an ineligible player.
Hantz’s side therefore now have European qualification in their sights, and they will be hopeful of claiming another positive result at Furiani, where only Lyon have taken three points this season.
They are without goalkeeper Mickael Landreau due to a calf injury, though, and Monaco are defending an unbeaten record in 2014.
Nevertheless, they have managed just two wins in their last six league games and could find themselves eight points off top spot come kick-off.
Before facing Bayer Leverkusen in Germany in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie next Tuesday, PSG entertain struggling Valenciennes at the Parc des Princes on Friday.
The capital club, who are still without the injured Edinson Cavani, have not been at their best since hammering Nantes 5-0 last month and could do with a boost in a game that may see January signing Yohan Cabaye make his first start for the club.
Third-placed Lille travel to face Evian on Sunday before fourth and fifth face off at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard as Saint-Etienne meet Marseille.
Les Verts have lost just once in eight league games and have won their last five home matches, all without conceding a goal.
Marseille, meanwhile, are enduring a season of ups and downs but head to Le Chaudron having taken seven points from a possible nine.
“We are on a good run at home and we are fourth in the table,” midfielder Benjamin Corgnet told Saint-Etienne’s website. “That gives us reason to be ambitious.”
Lyon have also revived their hopes of European qualification via the league in recent weeks, and Remi Garde’s side will expect to register three points when they host bottom side Ajaccio.