Marseille will look to put the disappointment of their shock French Cup exit behind them and extend their lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table when they go to Montpellier on Friday.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side endured a disastrous start to 2015, losing on penalties to fourth-tier Grenoble in the last-64 of the French Cup after throwing away the lead three times.
It was bitterly disappointing for Bielsa, who took Athletic Bilbao to the Copa del Rey final in 2012 in his first season in Spain, and the Argentine accepted the blame for the exit.
“I have more responsibility than my players for the defeat,” he said. “I was in charge of a team that had all the assets needed to win. There is no explanation for such a defeat.”
Nevertheless, their Cup exit and the fact they are not involved in European competition this season mean Marseille can now focus all their attention on their quest to win a first Ligue 1 title since 2010.
OM took the symbolic title of autumn champions after ending 2014 two points clear of Lyon and three ahead of reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain.
An outstanding run of home form, featuring nine consecutive wins since a 2-0 loss to Montpellier in August, has been behind their rise, while their away form has been rather more patchy.
Marseille have now gone six away games without a win in all competitions before facing Montpellier at the Stade de la Mosson, which has not hosted a match since the end of September, when it was put out of action by serious floods.
Since then, Montpellier have hosted games at the home of the city’s Top 14 rugby club, where they were beaten 3-0 by PSG in the French Cup on Monday.
“We are delighted to not have to play on that pitch anymore although we do thank them for helping us at a difficult time after the floods,” said Montpellier coach Rolland Courbis, who played for Marseille and later coached his hometown team.
With Africa Cup of Nations-bound Andre Ayew and Nicolas Nkoulou both absent, Marseille could be vulnerable, and their challengers will be hoping they slip up ahead of the bulk of the weekend slate.
– PSG’s ‘new momentum’ –
After a turbulent week overshadowed by the late return from Christmas holidays of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, PSG got back on track by beating Montpellier in the Cup and now go to Bastia on Saturday.
Neither Cavani nor Lavezzi, who missed a training camp in Morocco while in South America, played against Montpellier and both will again be left out against Bastia.
However, coach Laurent Blanc will be looking for a repeat of the Cup display, in which the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Clement Chantome came in and impressed.
“Since our training camp in Marrakech I have noticed a new momentum. I was satisfied with the way we played against Montpellier but we will need to repeat that performance against Bastia, where it will be just as difficult to play football,” said Blanc.
Propelled by 17-goal top scorer Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon are targeting a ninth straight home win when they face Toulouse on Sunday, while fourth-placed Saint-Etienne will attempt to extend a 10-game unbeaten run in the league as they face Reims away.
Fifth plays sixth at the Stade Louis II on Sunday night when Monaco entertain Bordeaux in a match which will see visiting coach Willy Sagnol return to the ground where he played between 1997 and 2000.
Monaco will be looking for revenge for a 4-1 defeat at Bordeaux back in August and, fresh from winning their last seven games, should be an entirely different proposition this time.
Meanwhile, a minute’s silence will be held at all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 matches this weekend in honour of the 12 people who died when armed gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly on Wednesday.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1900 GMT unless stated)
Montpellier v Marseille (1930 GMT)
SC Bastia v Paris Saint-Germain (1600 GMT), Evian v Rennes, Guingamp v Lens, Lille v Caen, Nice v Lorient, Reims v Saint-Etienne
Lyon v Toulouse (1300 GMT), Nantes v Metz (1600 GMT), Monaco v Bordeaux (2000 GMT)
– Agence France-Presse