PSG can move into first in Ligue 1 if they handle Montpellier this time
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain can hit top spot in Ligue 1 for the first time this season if they dispose of Montpellier at Parc des Princes on Saturday. With league leaders AS Monaco not in action until Sunday night away at Lyon, the French champions can go a provisional three points clear of their principality rivals.
However, if PSG are to do that, they will need to put in a more convincing performance than they did in the 3-2 win away at Metz on Tuesday. Had Blaise Matuidi not popped up with a last-gasp header to steal all three points, Les Parisiens' title hopes would be all but over right now.
PSG have already had issues with Montpellier this season -- La Paillade beat the men from the capital 3-0 at Stade de la Mosson back at the start of December, just before disappointing home results against Ludogorets Razgrad in the UEFA Champions League and Nice in Ligue 1.
Unai Emery's men have come a long way since then, but the Spaniard is wary that a number of the visitors -- notably current coach and former Laurent Blanc assistant Jean-Louis Gasset -- will be keen to succeed on their returns to Parc des Princes this weekend.
"I met Jean-Louis before the first match away at Montpellier," Emery told journalists during his pre-match news conference at Camp des Loges on Friday. "He visited us at our hotel. I only spoke with him for five or 10 minutes, but that was enough for me to see how much he loves football.
"He is a former player, a coach who knows us well. His team have improved a lot in the way they play, their possession of the ball, as well as in attack and defence. His teams have personality. We have a lot of respect for Montpellier, their coach and their players.
"Of course, Jonathan Ikone is also on loan there. This is good for him because he is playing regularly there. Stephane Sessegnon will also be returning. It promises to be a good match for us and for Ligue 1. Both teams possess good players."
PSG inexplicably threw away a 2-0 lead at Stade Saint-Symphorien earlier this week but were bailed out by Matuidi's late heroics. Inconsistency over the course of 90 minutes has been a significant problem for Emery and his squad this campaign, and the Basque tactician admitted it is something that must be worked on if they want to finish the term as champions.
"This is something we need to improve," said the 45-year-old boss. "Our challenge is to play well and remain consistent over the 90 minutes. We have spoken a lot about it.
"Our opponents can play, too, so that obviously makes it harder to be consistent. This is our challenge, in Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.
"I believe in this team and its players. We must remain as urgent, motivated and consistent as we have been in our work so far, right up until the end of the season."
PSG have been waiting for their chance to put Monaco under maximum pressure, and now that moment has arrived, as three points against Montpellier will mean Emery's men move ahead of Les Monegasques for the first time.
With the UEFA Champions League adventures of Leonardo Jardim's men extended into the semifinals and the chance to land another mental blow in the Coupe de France semifinal in Paris next week, this is a chance the Ligue 1 champions must take.
If they fail to do so, the race for Le Championnat will effectively be over. Every match between now and the end of the season is a cup final, and this Montpellier match is no exception.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.