PSG host Nantes looking to extend lead at top

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Javier Pastore celebrates after putting PSG two up at ValenciaGettyImagesJavier Pastore has improved recently on a poor season.

Paris Saint-Germain host FC Nantes on Sunday with the chance to potentially stretch their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to eight points, with second-placed AS Monaco taking on Toulouse just hours before. Should the champions beat Les Canaris at the Parc des Princes, they will move 10 points clear of third-placed Lille OSC, who lost to Saint-Etienne on Friday night. Laurent Blanc was able to give his players a rare day of rest following the 3-1 win over Girondins de Bordeaux, with more to cram in before the end of a busy January schedule.

PSG will travel to face Nantes again in just three weeks time, following their Coupe de la Ligue semifinal draw, in what has been a busy start to 2014 for the capital club. But first, they need to overcome Michel der Zakarian's side who have been the surprise package of the season so far and sit in sixth place coming into the weekend.

Last time the pair met, it took a late Ezequiel Lavezzi winner to settle a narrow encounter at the Stade de la Beaujoire back in August. Since then, PSG have vastly improved, but so too have Nantes.

With a full house expected on Sunday, away fans included, Blanc's side will need to put in a more energetic performance than in their last two outings. They may have got the win away at Ajaccio last week, but the performance was far from impressive overall, while the dull showing against Bordeaux was masked only by the brilliance of Javier Pastore and the 3-1 score line.

Whether or not the Argentine should start against the team from western France is a point of debate.

El Flaco played extremely well against Les Girondins and also had a telling impact in the clash in Corsica just days before. However, those two improved showings perhaps should not paper over the cracks in what has otherwise been a poor season for the 24-year-old. With all three first-choice midfielders fit for the game, Pastore may have to settle for a place on the bench behind Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti.

However, Adrien Rabiot's knee injury means that the Albiceleste star will be Blanc's only other alternative for the Nantes match and the next few weeks. Rabiot's injury is believed to be ligament damage, which will surely keep him out at least until the end of January, perhaps even prompting Blanc to move for one of his midfield targets before the end of the month. It is a blow for the 18-year-old sensation as, in general, his performances have generally been going from strength to strength this season.

Regardless of Rabiot's absence though, there will once again be a battle to see who starts up front alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Lucas Moura and Jeremy Menez featured against Bordeaux, with the former impressing with his assists for Pastore's opener, but Lavezzi has continued to feature as a member of Blanc's strongest XI and will likely do so again.

Both Ibrahimovic and Cavani are on rare dry spells, with the Swede not having scored in his last two games and El Matador without a goal yet in 2014. However, both go into Sunday's match looking to defend an impressive record that has seen either of the pair score in every home league encounter this season. Perhaps the creativity and unselfishness of Moura would be more beneficial to the pair against a tough Nantes defence, with Lavezzi neither adept at scoring prolifically nor providing passes for his teammates this season.

It is the first home game of 2014 for PSG and a win would ensue that the team can give Wednesday's Coupe de France round of 32 clash with Montpellier HSC their undivided attention. Victory and Blanc's men will at least maintain the current five-point gap between the top two, but a defeat could see it narrowed back to just two and would apply some gentle pressure on the team.

While dropping a point or two between now and the end of the season should not worry the side from the capital, relinquishing their current cushion atop Le Championnat arguably impairs their bid for success on four fronts. As long as the winning momentum continues, PSG will be a seemingly unstoppable force in each competition come February and the return of the UEFA Champions League.

Finishing on a poignant note, Sunday will also mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of PSG's Head of Performance Nick Broad. The Englishman, whose passing deeply affected his close friend and then coach Carlo Ancelotti, was killed in a car crash and the club are planning a tribute to him prior to the match.

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