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Surprise duo set for top-of-the-table clash in France

Much of the attention so far this season in France has been on crises at Lyon and Marseille, but fine starts for Nice and an unheralded Brest have set up an unlikely top-of-the-table clash this weekend.

Brest begin a round of top-flight matches in first place for just the fifth time in their modest history as they lead the way by a point from Nice before making the long trip from the tip of Brittany to the Cote d’Azur.

Come kick-off they may well have been replaced at the summit by reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain, who visit winless bottom club Clermont a day earlier.

Also on Saturday, Monaco entertain Marseille, with the principality side and PSG both two points adrift of Brest.

Yet the Brittany club’s run so far has been remarkable, with four wins and a solitary defeat in Marseille.

Last week they beat Lyon 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Steve Mounie, taking them to 13 points from six outings.

That is as many points as they had after 17 games last season, when they appointed Eric Roy as coach.

The one-time Sunderland midfielder, who was born in Nice and coached his hometown team a decade ago, revived their fortunes to keep them up and has built on that this season.

That is despite losing winger Franck Honorat to Borussia Moenchengladbach for a reported nine million euros ($9.5m) and not being able to reinvest all of that money on new faces.

“We have picked up where we left off last season. The team has not changed much and I think that is a strength,” captain Brendan Chardonnet told RMC radio.

“We are having a super start this season. Maybe we can get into the top half, or higher, but our main aim is survival.”

Nice’s ambitions are more lofty, given the investment in recent years by owners Ineos, the group chaired by British petrochemicals billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.

Yet spending was still limited during the summer, when Nice responded to a disappointing mid-table finish last season by naming little-known Italian Francesco Farioli as coach.

Farioli, only 34, was never a player but had previously worked under Roberto de Zerbi before managing in Turkey.

His Nice team started tentatively with three straight draws but have followed that with three consecutive wins, helped by their two biggest signings this year.

Nigerian striker Terem Moffi terrorised PSG in a shock 3-2 win in Paris, in which he scored twice, before Ivory Coast winger Jeremie Boga’s late winner last week against Monaco.

“It is just the start of the season, so we need to be careful,” striker Gaetan Laborde told L’Equipe TV this week.

“We are working hard with Francesco Farioli. The team is behind him and things are going well.

“Our aim has not changed. We want to be back in Europe.”

One to watch: Gennaro Gattuso

The Italian takes charge of Marseille for the first time when they go to Monaco. Gattuso, 45, was appointed on Wednesday, a week after Marcelino resigned as coach of the former Champions League winners. 

Gattuso takes over a team reeling after a 4-0 defeat away to PSG and the former AC Milan midfielder is the second member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning team to be appointed coach at a leading French club in just over a week. He was linked with the vacant post at Lyon only for his compatriot Fabio Grosso to get the nod instead.

Key stats

8 – Marseille will be looking to end a run of eight away matches without winning when they face Monaco.

44 – Lyon’s tally of two points is their joint lowest after six matches of a top-flight season, equalling that of the 1979/80 season, 44 years ago.

5 – Rennes are unbeaten this season but have drawn their last five Ligue 1 games.

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