- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

PARIS (AP) - It’s the country’s biggest rivalry, and it will be of crucial importance this year.

With eight rounds of games remaining, everything is up for grabs in the French league as Marseille hosts bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday, setting up what is set to be an exciting end to the season.

“Paris are favorites to win the title, but we will play with our weapons and try to make them tumble,” said Marseille winger Andre Ayew, who scored four goals in the 11 “Classiques” he played with the southern club. “The championship is starting now.”

PSG and Marseille are locked in an intriguing three-way battle for the title, with PSG leading Lyon by one point and Marseille in third place one point further back. Lyon travels to Guingamp on Saturday.

The match between PSG and Marseille became popular during the 1990’s when the arrival of prominent stars such as Enzo Francescoli, Rudi Voeller and George Weah in France ignited a strong enmity between the sides. It lost its glamour with Marseille’s decline but with the nine-time champions’ resurgence this season much will be at stake at the Stade Velodrome.

With Belgium forward Michy Batshuayi making a big impact and Ayew hitting top form at the right time, the final sprint for the title might well turn in favor of Marcelo Bielsa’ side. Marseille is not involved in any other competition this season while PSG, has to cope with a hectic schedule as it aims for an unprecedented quadruple.

“We all know that the game next weekend is super important,” said Marseille defender Rod Fanni. “We have an all-conquering mindset.”

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

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DON’T RULE MONACO OUT

Just behind the three top teams, Monaco is mounting a late challenge for the title. Trailing PSG by just six points and having a match in hand, Leonardo Jardim’s side had been unstoppable before the international break.

Monaco, which ousted Arsenal from the Champions League, has added attacking efficiency to its rock-solid defense and boasts the league’s best record since December, with 10 wins out of 14 matches.

“We got off a bad start but we have been feeling very good over the last few months, and we all get along together,” said midfielder Nabil Dirar ahead of Friday’s game against Saint-Etienne.

Monaco, which will take on Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals, is likely to welcome the return of Andrea Raggi after the Italian defender missed two months of action with a knee injury.

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IBRAHIMOVIC BACK IN FORM

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s struggles and antics of recent weeks have made way for stunning displays.

Since being sent off for a rough tackle on a Chelsea player at Stamford Bridge and insulting a French referee last month, the Sweden international has made amends on the pitch.

The 33-year-old forward made the most of the international break, scoring three goals in two matches for Sweden, after bagging eight goals and providing two assists in his last six league games with PSG. Ibrahimovic is available for the match in Marseille but he might be missed in the closing stages of the season as he faces a four-match ban for comments he made about the referee following PSG’s 3-2 defeat at Bordeaux last month.

Ibrahimovic has been called before the league’s disciplinary commission on April 9.

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NICOLLIN HONOURED

Over the last 40 years, Montpellier’s truculent president Louis Nicollin has never been shy of controversy. The larger-than-life president whose collection of famous football shirts is unequaled has often made the headlines for the wrong reasons.

A few seasons ago, he was banned for two months after he used an anti-gay term to describe a player and his profanity-laced tirades have put him in trouble more than once. But there is one thing that can’t be taken away from him: his dedication to a club he turned from amateurs to French champions.

Nicollin, who became chairman of Montpellier in 1974, was handed the Golden Plate award by the French football federation this week to celebrate his achievements at the helm of the southern team.

Under Nicollin, Montpellier won the second-division title in 1987, the French Cup in 2010 with a team featuring the likes of Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc and Julio Cesar, then sprung a massive surprise when it denied PSG the Ligue 1 title in 2012.

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BACK TO BORDEAUX?

With his contract at Lyon expiring at the end of the season, Yoann Gourcuff might return to the club where he came to prominence and won the French league title in 2009.

The 28-year-old playmaker, once regarded as the next Zinedine Zidane, has lost his way since he joined Lyon from Bordeaux for 22 million euros five years ago, losing his spot in the France squad and regularly missing games through injuries.

Although Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is brushing aside talks of a possible transfer to its French league rivals, Bordeaux has welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm.

“Gourcuff is a player that we appreciate very much,” said Nicolas de Tavernost, the president of M6 TV channel, which owns Bordeaux. “He left very good memories behind him. If he is available at the end of the season, we’ll look into it carefully.”

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