PARIS, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The battle for top spot in Ligue 1 hots up this weekend when surprise packages Caen and Nancy meet while Girondins Bordeaux host old rivals AJ Auxerre.
Caen, who host Saturday's game, and Nancy ended the first half of the season in fourth and second place respectively on 31 and 35 points with Bordeaux between them on 33. They are all chasing Olympique Lyon who are top with 39 points.
Nancy, who clawed their way back to the top-flight in 2006 after five years in the Ligue 2 wilderness, nearly committed a crime of lese majesty in their last game of 2007 when they held six-times champions Lyon to a 1-1 draw.
They will, however, travel to Nancy without four of their first team regulars -- Morocco midfielder Monsef Zerka, central defender Michael Chretien and striker Youssouf Hadji and Cameroon midfielder Landy Nguemo -- who have all joined their national teams ahead of the African Nations Cup.
'Of course it will be a handicap but what can we do?' coach Pablo Correa said after nancy reached the last 32 of the French Cup with a 2-1 win over second division Reims last weekend.
Caen, along with Toulouse and Racing Lens, were the Ligue 1 clubs to fall prey to lower league opposition when they lost 3-2 to second division Sedan.
'It was a good lesson. Maybe our players were too full of themselves after our good first half of the season,' said Franck Dumas, coach of the Normandy team.
'It was our worst showing in months and I hope the players will have enough pride to bounce back against Nancy.'
Caen and Nancy have not met in the top flight since 1997 because they have been yo-yoing between the first and second division whereas Bordeaux-Auxerre games have been a regular Ligue 1 fixture.
Over the last 10 years, Bordeaux's home record in this fixture reads six wins and three draws -- including last season -- while Auxerre's last and only victory was back in 2003.
Both clubs will also be affected by the exodus of their African players.
Bordeaux will be deprived of Senegal central defender Souleymane Diawara and Morocco striker Marouane Chamakh.
Auxerre will have to reshape their defence without central defender Sammy Traore, who has started 13 of their 19 league games this season.
Lyon, who finished the first half of the season in their familiar top spot, play their first game of the year at home to mid-table Toulouse on Saturday.
After stepping up a gear before Christmas with a run of seven league games without defeat, Olympique Marseille travel to Stade Rennes on Sunday.
Paris St Germain and Lille, who are in 16th and 17th place, will try to boost their survival hopes when they host 18th-placed Racing Lens and bottom club Metz respectively.