- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

PARIS (AP) - Monaco spent large parts of last season challenging Paris Saint-Germain for the French league title, before eventually dropping off and finishing in second place.

This season is proving far more difficult following the departures of its star players - striker Radamel Falcao to Manchester United and winger James Rodriguez to European champion Real Madrid- and new coach Leonardo Jardim’s side is mired in 19th place. But a hard-fought 1-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League boosted morale ahead of Sunday’s home game against Guingamp.

Meanwhile, at the top of the league, no team has managed to stamp its authority after five games, with the top six separated by just two points. League leader Lille faces Montpellier on Sunday.

Here are some things to know ahead of this weekend’s games:



Breathtaking football and goals galore? Hardly. Star-studded PGS’s slumbering start to the season has seen the ambitious club draw four out of six games so far.

PSG opened its campaign in a similarly slow way last season, before hitting form straight away in the Champions League.

But it was left clinging on to a 1-1 draw away to an aggressive Ajax side on Wednesday night and top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic made little impression for the second game in succession. Not a good sign when no one else is scoring regularly.

While coach Laurent Blanc and other PSG players tried to analyze what is going wrong, Ibrahimovic’s verdict was blunt.

“We have to wake up,” he said.



PSG’s mediocre form may work in Edinson Cavani’s favor.

The Uruguay forward has been largely frustrated since joining PSG for €64 million ($82.4 million).

He spent most of last season wide on the right to suit Ibrahimovic, prompting his advisers to seek assurances from the club during the summer that he would be given more games in his favored center forward role.

That has yet to happen, but Blanc could be tempted to ditch his favored 4-3-3 formation and give Cavani more of a run in a 4-4-2 alongside Ibrahimovic.



Marseille president Vincent Labrune says the rift between him and coach Marcelo Bielsa has been healed.

Marseille, long known as France’s most turbulent club, has been under the spotlight even more than usual in the past two weeks after Bielsa launched an astonishing outburst, accusing Labrune of reneging on proposed transfer deals and signing Brazliian defender Doria behind his back.

The pair met for showdown talks on Monday and Labrune is confident their differences have been resolves.

“The case has been closed. We had a frank, deep and respectful conversation. It helped us to get some misunderstandings and incomprehension out in the open,” Labrune said. “Marcelo spoke in a truthful way and I understand that he wasn’t trying to cause controversy but to get his feeling across to the fans.”

Bielsa can now focus on helping Marseille’s bid for a fourth straight league win.



Teenage midfielder Marcos Lopes has made such a big impression at Lille that the club’s youth team coach is already comparing him to Chelsea star Eden Hazard.

Hazard came through the youth ranks and was voted the French league’s Player of the Year before he joined Chelsea two years ago.

The 18-year-old Lopes, who is on a season’s loan from Manchester City, changed the course of the game when he came on against Nantes last weekend, scoring early in the second half as league leader Lille won 2-0.

Youth team coach Jean-Michel Vandamme worked with Hazard when he was the same age and thinks Lopes could even become a more complete player.

“Eden was a soloist, Rony is an orchestra conductor. He’ll make others play better because he’ll play for them,” Vandamme told sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday. “Ronny’s far more involved in the defensive phases of play: it’s a natural reflex for him to drop back and defend.”



Florent Malouda rampaging down the flanks was once a familiar sight when the former France international played for Lyon.

Malouda won four league titles with Lyon before joining Chelsea in 2007, where he went on to score 45 goals in 228 games.

After a brief spell with Turkish side Trabzonspor, the 34-year-old Malouda joined newly-promoted Metz this season after rejecting a move to Championship side Birmingham.

Malouda, who played 80 times for France, could make his debut against Bastia on Saturday.

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