Five things to watch during Ligue 1 Matchday 20Jan 26 | 6 min read
Five things to watch Ligue 1 Matchday 20 as Paris Saint-Germain look to respond to Rennes setback - live on BT Sport!
The defending champions suffered a surprise 1-0 loss last time out at Roazhon Park, and a shock defeat at home to in-form Reims on Sunday evening would see Lens finish the weekend level with Christophe Galtier's men on points if they beat Troyes on Saturday.
Rennes' victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the latest round of Ligue 1 fixtures certainly shook up the title race, with the star-studded defending champions now only three points clear of Lens at the top and five points clear of Marseille, who have won their last seven games in all competitions.
Christophe Galtier's men next face Reims as they attempt to get back to winning ways in the league, but their upcoming opponents boast Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun in their ranks and are on an incredible 13-match unbeaten domestic run.
For the lowdown on that game, plus the rest of the league's major storylines and the weekend's packed TV schedule, read on.
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Lorient target memorable derby double
Lorient have been one of the biggest overachievers in European football this season, defying doom-laden predictions of impending relegation to mount the unlikeliest of title charges at the beginning of the campaign.
Their form has dipped of late - and the departure of young star Dango Ouattara to Bournemouth earlier this month was a blow - but the team are still seventh, just five points off the European places, and go into the Breton derby against Rennes on Friday with fond memories of the reverse fixture in August as a searching Gedeon Kalulu cross was put through his own net by Arthur Theate for what proved to be the winner.
The only time Lorient have done the double over their more illustrious rivals was in 2010/11 however, and repeating that feat will be no easy task.
Les Rennais' 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain, courtesy of Hamari Traore's smart finish, means they are now only behind fourth-placed Monaco on goals scored, but they will need to cope for the rest of the season without star attacker Martin Terrier due to an ACL rupture earlier this month, while central midfielder Xeka seems set to miss a few more weeks due to an ankle injury.
Lorient boss Regis Le Bris will be praying that he can hang on to prize assets Terem Moffi and Enzo Le Fee until the January window slams shut, but for now, his focus is on Friday night and local bragging rights.
Lens have PSG in their sights
Lens have been one of the great success stories in recent years under Franck Haise, gaining promotion back to Ligue 1 before recording consecutive seventh-placed finishes in the last two seasons.
However, the Blood and Gold have continued to push on, and amazingly find themselves second, just three points behind Paris Saint-Germain after the reigning champions' slip-up at Rennes.
The team are brimming with confidence at the moment, having won seven of their last nine league games - drawing the other two - and have already strengthened in January with the addition of winger Adrien Thomasson from Strasbourg, the 29-year-old scoring in his first start in last weekend's Coupe de France win at Brest.
Next on the agenda are Troyes, who were hammered by Lille last time out but have made an encouraging start under Patrick Kisnorbo since the former Leeds and Leicester centre-back took charge two months ago.
L'ESTAC are still 14th though - just three points above the bottom four - and an unexpected win in front of their home fans would help them breathe a little easier ahead of what could be a tense run-in, although they will have to play the remainder of the campaign without creative spark Florian Tardieu, who has suffered an Achilles tendon issue, while fellow outlet Renaud Ripart is serving a one-match ban.
Can Marseille mount title challenge?
Five straight Ligue 1 victories for Marseille have them on Lens' tail following an awful October which looked to have spelled the end for their title charge.
However, coupled with Paris Saint-Germain's inconsistency, L'OM's resurgence has given them renewed hope of a first league crown for 13 years, while Igor Tudor's men are also in the last 16 of the Coupe de France thanks to Matteo Guendouzi's classy guided winner against Rennes.
The fact that 16 different Marseille players have scored in the league this season speaks volumes about why they have thrived, while Jonathan Clauss only trails Neymar and Kylian Mbappe when it comes to Ligue 1 assists in 2022/23.
Upcoming opponents Monaco are in a rich vein of form themselves though, currently occupying fourth spot, which would see them qualify for the 2023/24 Europa League.
A 7-1 demolition of Ajaccio last week let the rest of the division know that they are in business, with Wissam Ben Yedder grabbing a 14-minute first-half hat-trick and substitute Breel Embolo bagging a brace after the break in a game that saw Monaco lead 2-0 inside six minutes thanks to Axel Disasi and Krepin Diatta.
Despite the positives, it remains to be seen how the departure of Benoit Badiashile to Chelsea will affect the principality club.
Disasi and Guillermo Maripan isn't a familiar centre-back pairing and this will be their biggest test so far without the protection afforded by defensive midfielder Mohamed Camara, who is suspended for this game.
Miserly Nantes slowly climbing table
After heading into the World Cup break 16th and only out of the relegation zone on goal difference, a new version of Nantes has returned for the resumption.
The Yellow House haven't conceded a goal in six games across all competitions, including a 3-0 win at nine-man Montpellier, a 1-0 victory against Auxerre and a goalless draw against Lyon.
Antoine Kombouare's men are still only six points clear of the bottom four, but 13th place gives them a bit more of a buffer than they might have expected at this stage of the campaign given their start.
The Coupe de France holders are also now into the last 16 of this year's competition - where they will face Ligue 1 bottom side Angers - and have strengthened in the transfer window, bringing in experienced midfielder Florent Mollet and centre-back Joao Victor on loan from Benfica.
This weekend, they travel to Clermont, who like Lorient are greatly outperforming everyone's expectations and currently sit eighth, despite losing several influential players, including top scorer Mohamed Bayo to Lille last summer.
Along with Marseille, the Lancers, as they're known, are the only other side to have won their last three games in France's top flight.
A European challenge seems off the table - they're nine points adrift of fifth - but that is unlikely to matter to head coach Pascal Gastien, who could hardly have expected his team to be where they are at this stage.
PSG glad to be back at home
Paris Saint-Germain's last two league away trips have ended in defeat - albeit at high-flying Lens and Rennes - so the leaders will welcome a return to the Parc des Princes to face Reims, with the gap at the top now down to just three points.
This could also be the first competitive game since the World Cup when we see Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe all starting together after the trio competed against a Riyadh XI in a friendly last week that saw Les Parisiens emerge 5-4 winners, with both Messi and Mbappe getting on the scoresheet.
Mbappe then went on to bag five at sixth-tier Pays de Cassel in a 7-0 Coupe de France win, becoming the first PSG player to score that many in a single match.
Back in Ligue 1, they next face a Reims side who have not lost in the league since mid-September, going on to register four wins and seven draws since then, including a 0-0 at home to Christophe Galtier's men in October as Sergio Ramos was sent off on 41 minutes for dissent.
That result actually got then-Reims head coach Oscar Garcia the sack, but his Belgian-British replacement William Still has come in and done a sterling job since.
Having been in the relegation zone near the start of the campaign, Les Rouges et Blancs are now 11th, and could go as high as eighth should they claim a shock win in the capital and other results go their way.
A significant reason for that relatively lofty league position by their standards is the goals of Folarin Balogun, who has scored 10 of the team's 21, while winger Alexis Flips, defensive midfielder Marshall Munetsi and Japan international Junya Ito have also impressed. This match will be far from easy for the hosts.
Your Ligue 1 weekend on BT Sport
Lorient vs Rennes (8pm on BT Sport 2)
Marseille vs Monaco (7.45pm on BT Sport 3)
Nice vs Lille (12pm on BT Sport 3)
Auxerre vs Montpellier (2pm on BT Sport 3)
Ajaccio vs Lyon (4pm on BT Sport 3)
Paris Saint-Germain vs Reims (7.30pm on BT Sport 2)