PARIS — Although third-place Paris Saint-Germain has won its past two matches, coach Laurent Blanc's team is playing patchy football and still struggles to dominate for a whole game.
Sunday night's match at fourth-place Saint-Etienne is a big test for Blanc's players, because another slip-up would open the door wide open for leader leader Lyon — which has a far lighter fixture list than PSG — to pull away at the top.
Led by the prolific scoring form of forward Alexandre Lacazette, the league's top scorer with 20 goals, Lyon is already four points ahead of PSG and will be confident of another win at home to struggling Metz on Sunday.
Here are some things to know about this weekend's games:
After failing to turn up for winter training camp, PSG's record signing Edinson Cavani was dropped for three games by coach Laurent Blanc.
Cavani, who cost 64 million euros ($74.4 million) when he joined PSG from Napoli 18 monts ago, was also made to apologize to the squad for his no-show.
He seems to have got the message and appears keen to make up for it on the pitch.
The Uruguay forward scored with a superb glancing header in Wednesday's night's 2-1 French Cup win against Bordeaux.
A few days earlier, he came off the bench to score PSG's fourth goal in a 4-2 home win against Evian.
Those goals work two ways for PSG.
They help take the pressure off Zlatan Ibrahimovic and put Cavani in the shop window for a potential move during the January transfer window.
TEAMMATES DON'T NEED TO BE FRIENDS
PSG coach Laurent Blanc has played down the reported rift between Cavani and Ibrahimovic, saying that top players don't need to be friends.
Sports daily L'Equipe splashed "En Instance de Divorce" (About to get Divorced) on its front page Wednesday, with a picture of both players looking stern-faced.
The dream partnership has failed to materialize and the relationship between the two is reportedly increasingly frosty. French media pounced on the fact that Cavani, after scoring from an Ibrahimovic pass against Evian last weekend, celebrated the goal on his own.
"The press announced that they were about to get divorced ... let's wait until their lawyers have done the paperwork," Blanc joked. "I played for 25 years and there were always players I didn't get on with at all. There are lots of players who never go on holiday together but as long as they get on well on the pitch, that's all I care about."
TEAM OF TWO HALVES
PSG still doesn't play well over 90 minutes and its performances have followed a familiar theme this season: either a poor first half and a good second half, or vice-versa.
Wednesday's 2-1 win against Bordeaux in the French Cup and the 4-2 defeat at Bastia two weekends ago, when PSG led 2-0 after 20 minutes, are examples of the latter — while last weekend's 4-2 home win against Evian was the opposite as PSG's picked up form midway through the second half.
Coach Laurent Blanc has warned his players that this lack of consistency could cost them dearly. Bordeaux, for example, trailed 2-0 at the interval but scored one minute after the restart to cause panic in the PSG ranks.
"It seems that we just can't put two very good halves together," Blanc said. "We got away with it this time, but against better teams..."
PSG faces Premier League leader Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals next month.
League leader Lyon's players will hardly be able to complain about fatigue if they fail to win the title.
Coach Hubert Fournier's side can concentrate solely on the French league since it has no European football distractions and is out of both domestic cup competitions, while PSG is playing in the Champions League and is still involved in both Cups.
Furthermore, the nucleus of Lyon's side is made up of homegrown players under the age of 25. Top scorer Alexandre Lacazette is 23, while attacking midfielder Nabil Fekir is 21.
Last season, Lyon played a total of 61 games in all competitions, while this season's total will be 45.
11 AND COUNTING
Thanks to a miserly defense, rather than a scintillating attack, Monaco has gradually clawed its way back up to fifth place following a difficult start to the season.
Coach Leonardo Jardim's side is unbeaten in 11 matches ahead of Saturday's trip to Lille.
Monaco may not be exciting to watch but the Portuguese coach has instilled a rock-solid tactical discipline into his players.
During its unbeaten spell, Monaco has kept 10 clean sheets and conceded only one goal.