Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain resume their relentless drive towards the French Ligue 1 title after the traditional three-week winter break at fifth-placed Nantes this weekend.
PSG head to the Loire on the back of a 6-1 rout of Ligue 1 rivals Rennes in the French Cup and a 2-0 midweek defeat of Amiens to reach the League Cup semi-finals.
Neymar was on target in both of those victories but the league’s leading scorer Edinson Cavani was absent after returning late from his Christmas and New Year break back home in Uruguay.
Argentine Javier Pastore was also overlooked for Wednesday’s outing after returning late from his holiday with both players talked to about their tardiness by coach Unai Emery.
PSG captain Thiago Silva raised doubts about Pastore’s future at the club when he said: “I believe Pastore told the club he wanted to leave but in the end they couldn’t reach a deal.”
Pastore for his part strongly denied in an interview with Yahoo Sports from Argentina at the weekend that he wanted out.
“I love Paris and I love PSG,” said Pastore, whose arrival in 2011 opened the floodgates to a host of talent that followed him into the club.
“Believe me I’ll always be loyal to this club.”
With next month’s heavyweight Champions League date with Real Madrid looming Emery’s side visit Nantes enjoying a nine-point lead over defending Ligue 1 title-holders Monaco and Lyon.
And given that Nantes haven’t managed to better PSG in Ligue 1 since 2005, the Qatari-backed visitors are on target to add another three points to the 50 they have already banked.
– Falcao concern –
PSG are not playing until Sunday night which gives Monaco the opportunity to reduce that gap for 24 hours at least with victory at Montpellier on Saturday.
Leonardo Jardim’s team resume league duties also having secured their ticket to the League Cup last four as goals from Thomas Lemar and Adama Diakhaby lifted them to a 2-1 defeat of Cote d’Azur rivals Nice on Tuesday.
But they look set to be without their captain, Radamel Falcao, who is recovering from a thigh injury.
“You have to be careful with a thigh because this sort of injury can quickly lead to six weeks off,” cautioned Jardim who may also be without Guido Carrillo.
Multiple former champions Lyon host second from bottom Angers.
Under performing Bordeaux meanwhile approach their trip to Troyes boosted by an unusual show of support.
Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side, precariously placed one point above the relegation zone, trained on Friday watched by the club’s workforce who left their desks to give the team a much needed boost.
Midfielder Jeremy Toulalan said: “It gave us pleasure because at the moment we aren’t getting a great deal of support.
“I’ve been at quite a few clubs but this is the first time I’ve seen anything like that, it warms the heart.”
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Strasbourg v Guingamp (1945)
Rennes v Marseille (1600), Caen v Lille, Dijon v Metz, Montpellier v Monaco, Nice v Amiens, Troyes v Bordeaux (all 1900)
Saint-Etienne v Toulouse (1400), Lyon v Angers (1600), Nantes v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)
– Agence France-Presse