Football: PSG set for crunch Monaco clash in Ligue 1

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Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani (2nd L) celebrates with Marco Verratti, Neymar (2nd R) and Adrien Rabiot after scoring a goal during their French Ligue 1 match against Nantes, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, on November 18, 2017

Paris Saint-Germain will bid to open up
a nine-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 when they face reigning French
champions Monaco on Sunday, brimming with confidence after their
Neymar-inspired thrashing of Celtic. Unai Emery’s men head to the principality looking for a
fourth straight win over their nearest title rivals, who will be
smarting from being dumped out of Europe by a 4-1 home loss to RB
Leipzig.

PSG saw a run of four consecutive titles ended by Monaco
last season but, boosted by the signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe,
have been rejuvenated this season.

Few expect anything other than a cruise in the league for
the capital club, and even coach Emery claimed their final Champions
League group game at Bayern Munich will be more important than this
top-of-the-table showdown.

PSG take on Bayern on December 5, needing only to avoid a
four-goal defeat to wrap up top spot in Group B, after their stunning
7-1 victory over Celtic on Wednesday saw them smash the previous
group-stage goals record with 24 in just five games.

“Sunday’s game away at Monaco, whom we respect, will be a great test as well but Bayern is the big match,” Emery said.

Monaco's Stevan Jovetic (L) celebrates with Youri Tielemans after scoring a goal during their French Ligue 1 match against Amiens, at the Licorne Stadium in Amiens, on October 17, 2017

Monaco’s
Stevan Jovetic (L) celebrates with Youri Tielemans after scoring a goal
during their French Ligue 1 match against Amiens, at the Licorne
Stadium in Amiens, on October 17, 2017

(AFP/File)

Belgian right-back Thomas Meunier was not so confident,
though, insisting that there is still a long way to go before PSG can
feel comfortable in the league.

When asked if victory on Sunday would all but end the title race, he told AFP: “No, far from it, not after 15 league games.

“There will be a nine-point gap if we win over there, but we
know that at any moment things can happen. For me, it would be
pretentious to say that we can win the championship on Sunday.”

After reports of a rift between Spaniard Emery and
world-record signing Neymar, the Brazilian was in sparkling form on
Wednesday, scoring a brace to take his tally for the club to 13 goals.

“He was extraordinary,” gushed Emery.

“There were a few matches where he stopped playing for
different reasons but when he is in form physically and his mentality is
right, he can play.”

Monaco look to hit back

Monaco have struggled to match the achievements of last
season, when they also reached the Champions League semi-finals, after
seeing their title-winning side decimated in the transfer market.

After the departures of left-back Benjamin Mendy,
midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva, and teenage sensation
Mbappe, among others, they failed to find a win in five Champions League
group-stage outings.

But victory at the Stade Louis II on Sunday would drag them
back to within three points of PSG, as Radamel Falcao’s 13 goals in just
10 Ligue 1 games have helped Leonardo Jardim’s side keep fighting at
the summit.

“We have to recover from this defeat on Sunday,” Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev said after Tuesday’s loss to Leipzig.

“The goal is to be stronger next year in the European Cup,
it takes time for a team to work well. I know that the players will show
their quality, the season is still long.”

Elsewhere in the French top flight this weekend,
relegation-threatened Lille visit Montpellier on Saturday in their first
match since suspending Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Captain Nabil Fekir will return from suspension for
third-placed Lyon at lowly Nice on Sunday, as Bruno Genesio’s men look
to close the gap on the top two and extend a 11-match unbeaten run in
all competitions.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Saint-Etienne v Strasbourg (1945)

Saturday

Rennes v Nantes (1600), Caen v Bordeaux, Dijon v Toulouse, Metz v Amiens, Montpellier v Lille, Troyes v Angers (all 1900)

Sunday

Nice v Lyon (1400), Marseille v Guingamp (1600), Monaco v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)

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