France's Big 3 vying for unofficial autumn championship in Ligue 1



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PARIS — While many expected Paris Saint-Germain to reign supreme this season, the race for the French league title has turned into a three-horse contest.

Ahead of this weekend's final round of matches before the winter break, the defending champions trail Marseille by one point, with Lyon also in the mix just two points behind the leaders.

Pessimism is growing among PSG fans before Montpellier's visit to the Parc des Princes on Saturday. Laurent Blanc's team is not playing well and Montpellier lost only twice in its last five trips to Paris. The Mediterranean side also overcame the big-spending club to win the French title in 2012 on an annual budget of $45 million.

After claiming an eighth consecutive home win last week, seven-time champion Lyon travels to Bordeaux and Marseille hosts Lille Sunday.

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


BIG STARS, NO SPIRIT

At least for now, PSG coach Laurent Blanc is more concerned with his players' attitude than their results.

The former France coach got some respite with a 3-1 win at Ajaccio in the League Cup midweek but is under growing pressure after back-to-back defeats against Barcelona in Champions League and Guingamp in the league. Both mishaps have cruelly exposed PSG's current lack of concentration and fighting spirit.

"In a team there are leaders, and when it's not going the way you want, these leaders and also the coach, of course, they have to raise their game to ensure that the collective do too," Blanc said.

PSG has been enjoying possession a lot this season but is struggling to create chances.

"We were better last year. The way we had possession of the ball was so much different last season," said midfielder Thiago Motta. "We had a lot of the ball, but we knew exactly what we wanted to do with it and what we needed to do with it to put our opponents in danger. With or without the ball we were playing more as a team."


RABIOT LINKED WITH TOTTENHAM

Despite extending his contract with PSG until 2019 a few weeks ago, promising midfielder Adrien Rabiot has been linked with a move to Premier League side Tottenham during the winter's transfer window.

According to L'Equipe newspaper, Tottenham officials recently met the 19-year-old Rabiot's mother to discuss a possible move to Spurs, who are looking to add an extra midfielder to their squad.

Rabiot, who has been nurtured by PSG, has a tense relationship with coach Laurent Blanc and has been involved in just four games this season.


JOURDREN BETTING ON MARSEILLE

Goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren sees similarities between Marseille and the 2012 Montpellier team that beat PSG to the title.

"I can see us in this team, both offensively and defensively. They don't concede and score a lot, the same way we did with Olivier Giroud," said Jourdren, who won the title alongside the France striker before his departure to Arsenal.

Marseille, which lost at Monaco last weekend, has the league's best attack and only two teams have conceded fewer goals than Marcelo Bielsa's side.


IBRAHIMOVIC PAYS HENRY TRIBUTE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has joined in the downpour of tributes that followed Thierry Henry's retirement.

Widely regarded as the best striker in the French league, Ibrahimovic played alongside France's all-time best scorer at Barcelona during the 2009-10 season. He will remember him as a "fantastic athlete."

"He made such a difference on the pitch. I was lucky enough to be his teammate at Barcelona, and to get to know him as a man, too," Ibrahimovic said. "He was great as a player, and he was even greater as a man. He will leave a huge mark behind him."

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