‘Monaco must handle spotlight’

PARIS: Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said his free-scoring side must cope with building pressure after opening up a three-point lead over their title rivals in the hunt for a first Ligue 1 crown since 2000. Radamel Falcao scored twice as Monaco outclassed Nice 3-0 on Saturday to pull clear of their Cote d’Azur rivals at the top, with reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain also three points behind.
“It’s harder to hold on to first place than to chase it down,” said Jardim ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Montpellier.
“I’m very focused on ourselves, that’s the most important thing. We’re working to be ready match after match. You can’t think about the others. We’re in first and our aim is to keep hold of it.”
Monaco remain alive in four competitions, having already qualified for April’s League Cup final against PSG, and face Manchester City in a fortnight’s time in the Champions League last 16.
They also hit the 100 goal plateau for the season at the weekend while Falcao’s return to form is a notable factor behind Monaco’s emergence as a genuine threat to PSG’s four-year reign.
“He’s a top class player. My staff and I have put together a way of managing him so he can rediscover his form, but the quality has always been there,” Jardim said following the win over Nice.
Barcelona on the horizon
PSG left it late before securing a 3-1 win at Dijon and next host a Lille side bolstered by a raft of new signings in the January transfer window.
Coach Unai Emery is keen to get attacking midfielder Angel Di Maria and full-back Thomas Meunier back after the pair missed Saturday’s game, while the hope is to have goalkeeper Kevin Trapp and holding midfielder Marco Verratti fit in time for next week’s European clash at home to Barcelona.
“We must progress every match and the team’s progression is done through matches, by preparing well for them, playing well and winning them,” said Emery. “It’s the best preparation for everything.
“The tiredness is normal. When you play lots of matches, every three days right now, you need players to be at 100 per cent. How you look after them is very important.”
On Wednesday, Nice will look to shake off just their second defeat of the season at home to a Saint-Etienne side buoyed by a 2-0 win over bitter rivals Lyon in Sunday’s Rhone derby.
The defeat capped a dismal week for Lyon after they were bundled out the French Cup by Marseille, while star striker Alexandre Lacazette hinted his future lies elsewhere come the end of the season.
“I think the right time has arrived. I think this summer is the time to change the air and see something else,” Lacazette said on Sunday in an interview broadcast on Canal Plus.
Dimitri Payet is in line for his first start following his controversial return to Marseille when they take on slumping Guingamp. — AFP