AS Monaco play host to Stade Rennais FC on Wednesday seeking to ensure they remain the closest challengers to Ligue 1 Conforama leaders Paris Saint-Germain during the Christmas break.
AS Monaco – Stade Rennais FC
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The reigning French champions head into their final game of a memorable 2017 level on points with third-placed Olympique Lyonnais, and the most slender advantage possible in terms of goal difference.
They kept themselves ahead of the hard-charging OL with a 4-0 victory at AS Saint-Etienne at the weekend, boosting not only their goals tally but also their confidence with a third successive league triumph as they start to ressemble the team that so brilliantly claimed the top-flight crown last term.
“We still have the same team spirit,” insisted full-back Djibril Sidibé, who scored on his return from injury in the rout at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. “We haven’t been scoring as many goals but we’re on the right track and need to keep going.”
The fact the rest of Leonardo Jardim’s squad has stepped up has helped cover a dip in form for star striker Radamel Falcao. The Colombia international forward has struck 14 times in the first half of the season, but just once in his last six league outings.
The Monaco captain will hope to change that against Rennes, though he can rely on Keita Baldé, who struck his fourth of the campaign against Les Verts, and Fabinho to help out the team if he draws another blank.
“I think it’s my first goal from open play, the others were penalties,” noted Fabinho after netting his third of the season and his first since early November. “It’s good to score, it had been a while. We played good football today – that hasn’t been the case of late – so it’s a good sign.”
While Monaco’s slump was relative in comparison to the glorious heights they scaled in 2016-17, Rennes’ disastrous start to the campaign was all too familiar to fans of the Red-and-Blacks.
The Week 9 loss to Breton neighbours En Avant Guingamp left the club hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone. But first under Christian Gourcuff and then his successor, Sabri Lamouchi, Rennes have been reborn, losing just twice and winning six times in their last nine matches.
The second of those defeats did, however, come last weekend when PSG swept to a 4-1 Neymar Jr-inspired win that kept their lead at the top at nine points.
“We didn’t do the job in the first half,” admitted Benjamin Bourigeaud. “Of course we have some regrets but we have to accept PSG are stronger than us and we now must focus on the Monaco game.”
The visitors to the Stade Louis II will be without their captain, Benjamin André, after he was sent off against PSG, but a rejuvenated Wahbi Khazri, who should be fresh after starting Saturday’s game on the bench, will be a major threat.