the republic logo

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns for Paris Saint-Germain as title battle with Lyon heats up

bug
Share/Save/Bookmark

PARIS — Zlatan Ibrahimovic has completed a three-match ban for an expletive-laced rant at French officials and will be back with Paris Saint-Germain against Nantes on Sunday.

With four matches remaining in the French league, Lyon still has a chance to stop big-spending PSG from winning a third straight league title.

Although PSG has a three-point lead, the advantage is precarious. Lyon still has a better goal difference and will expect to increase it with a convincing win against relegation-threatened Evian on Saturday.

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


IRRITATED BLANC

PSG coach Laurent Blanc became irritated when asked whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return would have a negative effect on other players, notably forward Edinson Cavani.

When Ibrahimovic plays, Cavani is pushed out wide in his less favored role on the wing. But when Ibrahimovic sat out his three-game ban for insulting match officials, Cavani was unleashed at center forward and flourished.

Cavani scored in three consecutive games and forged a promising understanding with playmaker Javier Pastore, who has also found his best form in taking on more responsibility to orchestrate the attack in Ibrahimovic's absence.

Asked if the players were playing more freely without the demanding Ibrahimovic on the field, Blanc snapped at a reporter, saying "Why do you say that?"

Told that PSG has scored 12 goals in three matches without the imposing Swede in attack, Blanc barked back defensively "maybe with him we would have scored 15."


BIELSA RESPONDS

Marseille's 5-3 loss at home last Friday drew a scathing response from Evian coach Pascal Dupraz, whose side is battling with Lorient to escape relegation.

An irate Dupraz said Bielsa had chosen to "mock football" because his seemingly cavalier, all-out attack tactics had gifted Lorient time and space to score goals at will.

"I don't know which part of my behavior suggests I'm making fun of football," Bielsa responded. "If he had the slightest idea of the situation we're in right now, he wouldn't have used the term mockery."

The pressure has increased on Bielsa following four straight losses, knocking the club out of the title race and threatening its Champions League hopes.


PAYET DEFENDS BEILSA

Marseille playmaker Dimitri Payet has defended under-fire coach Marcelo Bielsa following a run of four straight losses, and urged his teammates to fight for third place.

Payet responded adamantly when asked if the players had given up on Bielsa's methods.

"I can't let that be said. If at one stage we had hopes of winning the title, it's because of him," Payet said. "I can't accept that."

Marseille was still in the title race three weeks ago, but has dropped down to fifth place.

Bielsa's team is under massive pressure heading into Friday's match at 19th-place Metz, which still has a slim chance of avoiding relegation.

But Payet, the league's best passer with 13 assists, has not given up hope of securing a third-place finish and a place in the Champions League.

"We still have time to make up for our bad run," Payet said. "Our aim is to finish in the top three. We will need a near-perfect run to achieve this, but it's not impossible."

Marseille is five points behind third-place Monaco, which hosts Toulouse on Sunday. Marseille then hosts Monaco.


FEKIR DOUBTFUL

Lyon coach Hubert Fournier is waiting on the fitness of forward Nabil Fekir ahead of Saturday's home game against Evian.

"We have some concerns regarding Nabil Fekir, who has a bit of a back problem," Fournier said Thursday at a pre-match news conference.

Lyon should prove too strong for 18th-place Evian without Fekir, but with goal difference possibly playing a factor in the title race, Lyon would prefer to have its chief creator on the field. Lyon's goal difference advantage over PSG has been slashed in recent weeks and now stands at plus-39 compared to plus-37.

Fekir has been one of the best players in the league this season, scoring 12 goals and setting up nine to earn a call up to Didier Deschamps' France squad.


MVUEMBA'S MOAN

Lyon midfielder Arnold Mvuemba has not played in more than two months and has lost patience with coach Hubert Fournier.

After making the last of his 19 league appearances at Lorient on Feb. 15, Mvuemba has not even made a substitute's appearance since then.

"Maybe, and I say maybe, (Fournier) has a problem with me," Mvuema told local newspaper Le Progres on Thursday. "It only concerns the coach and I. But it's just that I know what he told me in January, so it's legitimate for me not to understand."

With the French title race heating up, Mvuemba's lament is unlikely to win him a recall.

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

Story copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Feedback, Corrections and Other Requests: AP welcomes feedback and comments from readers. Send an email to info@ap.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate editor or reporter.


We also have more stories about:
(click the phrases to see a list)

Category:

Follow The Republic:

All content copyright ©2015 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.