Radamel Falcao is back from injury as defending champions Monaco host struggling Lille on Friday aiming for a 15th Ligue 1 game without defeat as they target an immediate return to the Champions League.
With Paris Saint-Germain almost certain to win the French title this year, Monaco’s two rivals for second place and an automatic berth in the Champions League are Marseille and Lyon, who face off on Sunday.
Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco, who were forced to rebuild after selling a handful of last season’s title-winning stars, have 63 points while Marseille are on 59 and Lyon 54.
The return of Colombia striker Falcao after six weeks out with a thigh problem is a welcome sight. The Monaco captain is his team’s leading scorer with 17 league goals in just 20 appearances.
“Falcao has been training with the group for a week. He may start the match. He could play with (Stevan) Jovetic, or not, we’ll see. It’s not a problem,” said Jardim, who left Falcao on the bench for last week’s 3-1 win at Strasbourg as a precautionary measure.
The emergence of Rony Lopes, who spent the 2016-17 campaign on loan at Lille, since the turn of the year has helped Monaco overcome Falcao’s absence, while Thomas Lemar is rounding into form after an injury-hit first half of the season.
“Lemar is a versatile player who can play on the wings or in the centre. He really likes to get on the ball. We play him where the team needs him most,” Jardim explained.
Lemar and full-back Djibril Sidibe were both called up into the France coach by Didier Deschamps on Thursday for upcoming friendlies against Colombia and World Cup hosts Russia.
“For the moment I’m concentrating on my club form and our domestic objectives, and if that means I play for France too, even better,” Lemar said last week.
When Monaco sold Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva to Manchester City, Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea and saw Kylian Mbappe leave for PSG, few people thought the principality club could match last season’s results.
But Jardim has masterminded a 14-match unbeaten run and Monaco are also through to the League Cup final, where they will meet holders PSG in Bordeaux on March 31.
Lille are still reeling from their experiment with fiery Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, with the northerners stuck in 19th and facing a relegation fight.
The club’s 1-1 home draw against Montpellier was marred by a full-time pitch invasion by angry Lille supporters, some of whom shouted insults and even aimed kicks at players.
The trouble prompted Lille to lodge police complaints about “aggravated violence, criminal damage and death threats”, while club president Gerard Lopez told AFP there would be “zero tolerance” in dealing with the perpetrators of the incidents.