After beating their fiercest rivals and then one of European football’s biggest names in the space of a week, Marseille are now eyeing the French first division summit.
The Mediterranean side moved to within a point of faltering leaders Lyon by beating Paris Saint Germain 3-1 at the Parc des Princes here on Sunday, and followed up with a 2-2 draw at Dutch giants Ajax that saw them into the last eight of the UEFA Cup.
“My players have a ferocious appetite,” coach Eric Gerets said after an extra-time goal from English loanee Tyrone Mears sealed a 4-3 aggregate victory in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
“We did everything possible to eliminate Ajax because a run in the UEFA Cup could have a positive effect on our bid for the championship.”
With Lyon not hosting Sochaux until Sunday, a victory for Gerets’s men at home to relegation-threatened Nantes on Saturday will take them to the top of the table for the first time since the end of August.
France’s best-supported club have not tasted major success since the glory days of the early 1990s – when they won four successive league titles and the 1993 Champions League – but Gerets says he can cope with the weight of expectation.
“The anticipation is enormous at Stade Velodrome, where we haven’t celebrated a title for 15 years,” the Belgian said.
“Now that we are getting a bit closer to our targets, the expectation will reach a crescendo. The players must be capable of handling this pressure.”
St Etienne enjoyed markedly different fortunes in the mid-week UEFA Cup action, scraping a 2-2 draw at home to Germany’s Werder Bremen that brought about a 3-2 aggregate defeat.
Les Verts slipped back into the Ligue 1 relegation zone after conceding an injury-time winner at Grenoble last weekend, leading coach Alain Perrin to announce that European competition was no longer his priority.
“From now on it’s all about staying up,” echoed midfielder Geoffrey Dernis.
“We really need all our energy to finish the season well and save ourselves as quickly as possible.”
On Sunday, St Etienne travel to 12th-placed Lorient, who haven’t won since mid-December, with second-bottom Caen visiting Nice on Saturday.
PSG will look to bounce back from their painful home defeat against Marseille when they visit a Toulouse side who have lost just once at home this season and who are only four points off the lead themselves.
Fourth-placed Bordeaux, runners-up last season, visit rock-bottom Le Havre on Saturday looking to re-ignite their title charge.
Laurent Blanc’s side play seven of the league’s bottom 10 teams in a relatively gentle run-in and they will go level on points with Lyon if they win at Le Havre.
Lyon are now without a win in three matches and must improve a record of just one win in their last seven home games when they meet Sochaux if they are to prove that they are still the force of old.
Saturday (1800GMT unless otherwise stated)
Nancy v Monaco, Auxerre v Le Mans, Le Havre v Bordeaux, Lille v Grenoble, Nice v Caen, Rennes v Valenciennes, Marseille v Nantes (2000GMT)
Sunday (1600GMT unless otherwise stated)
Lorient v St Etienne, Lyon v Sochaux, Toulouse v PSG (2000GMT)
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