French league leader Marseille eyes 8th straight win as PSG continues to struggle for form

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France’s Antoine Griezmann, left, celebrates scoring with teammate Andre-Pierre Gignac during a friendly soccer match between Armenia and France in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday Oct. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Hrant Khachatryan, PAN Photo)


France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac, left, fights for the ball with Armenia’s Levon Hayrapetyan during a friendly soccer match between Armenia and France in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Vahan Stepanyan, PAN Photo)


PARIS — The pressure is on two-time defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, which will again be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Friday's trip to Lens.

Ibrahimovic has missed PSG's past four league games with a heel injury and was on the bench for Sweden's recent European Championship qualifiers against Russia and Liechtenstein. The striker was not included in PSG's squad, although center half Thiago Silva is fit again after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Marseille's players, meanwhile, have taken to new coach Marcelo Bielsa and the leaders are eyeing an eighth straight league win when they face Toulouse at home on Sunday. Marseille got only one point from its opening two games and very few would have predicted such a remarkable turnaround, particularly as Bielsa — a strict disciplinarian who always speaks his mind — was embroiled in a bitter struggle with the club's president during the summer transfer window.

Aside from a thrilling 3-2 win against Barcelona in the Champions League, PSG's season is stark in contrast and coach Laurent Blanc's team is drifting away from its bitter rival after winning just three and drawing six matches.

Here are some things to know about this weekend's games:


TOP MARKS FOR GIGNAC

Striker Andre-Pierre Gignac's prolific start to the season has seen him score 10 goals in as many games and break back into the national team.

The 28-year-old Gignac is in the best form of his career and, after returning to the France side after more than a year's absence, he scored one goal and set up two in Tuesday's 3-0 win against Armenia.

"I faced up to my responsibilities. I told myself that this might be my last chance (for France)," Gignac said after the win. "I'm quite an experienced player now."

With his contract up at the end of the season, Marseille faces a struggle to keep him.

The burly forward is free to talk to other clubs in January and has yet to start negotiations on a new deal.


CAUSE FOR REGRET

Monaco defender Layvin Karzawa is at the center of some unwanted attention after his gesture when playing for France's under-21 side in a European Championship playoff match on Tuesday prompted some heavy criticism.

After scoring a late goal to bring France level with Sweden at 3-3 on aggregate— at which point France was qualified for Euro 2015 on away goals — Karzawa mockingly saluted Sweden forward John Guidetti as he stood grinning inches away from him.

But Sweden scored right at the end to knock France out and Sweden's players all mimicked Karzawa's salute as they ran off the field.

Former France coach Raymond Domenech called Karzawa "idiotic" and added "one wonders where he left his brain behind."

UEFA President Michel Platini also condemned Karzawa's gesture, saying Thursday on France Info radio that "the teasing and the mockery backfired" on him.


NO GO FOR RABIOT?

Midfielder Adrien Rabiot could now fight for his place at Paris Saint-Germain, despite wanting to leave.

The 19-year-old Rabiot made a strong impression last season, playing 25 league games, but has not made a single appearance so far this term amid reports of a falling out with coach Laurent Blanc.

With Yohan Cabaye well short on form since joining PSG from Newcastle in January, Rabiot could get more chances to impress Blanc.

"I'm not scared of competition for places at PSG," said Rabiot, whose contract expires next June.

However, he remains bitter that a summer move to Italian side Roma fell through.

"It really should have happened. I believed it would," Rabiot told Canal Plus television. "I struggle to understand why it didn't happen."


CISSE RETURNS

Veteran striker Djibril Cisse is pushing for a starting place in Bastia's team after recovering from an injury.

The 33-year-old Cisse limped off early in the final game of last season. Last Friday, he made an appearance for Bastia's reserves and hopes to be included in the squad for Saturday's game at Nice.

Cisse has extra incentive to get back as he closes in on the milestone of reaching 100 goals in the French first division. The former France striker has 96 in 201 appearances.


RESURGENT LYON

Lyon's five-game unbeaten run has seen it rise to sixth place, just one point behind third-place Paris Saint-Germain.

Cash-strapped Lyon has relied heavily on its renowned youth set up to fast-track players such as defender Lindsay Rose, midfielder Nabil Fekir and forward Clinton Njie and the results have been surprisingly good.

Now, all Lyon needs is for its record signing Yoann Gourcuff to find his best form.

The 28-year-Gourcuff joined Lyon from Bordeaux in 2010 in a deal worth up to 26 million euros ($33.3 million) but has missed more than half of Lyon's games over the past four seasons due to a succession of injuries and failed comebacks.

"If we manage to get him back over a long period of time without any new injuries, then I think that Lyon is going to surprise quite a few people," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said.

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