Labrune hits out at supporter over ban
Marseille president Vincent Labrune has reacted with fury after his club's supporters were banned from travelling to Sunday's hugely important Ligue 1 clash at south-coast rivals Nice.
Marseille also lodged complaints in court in an attempt to overturn the decision which was made by France's interior ministry on the basis of a perceived potential for trouble.
With the season nearing its conclusion, third-placed Marseille retain slim hopes of landing the league title but more realistically are looking to pin down a top-three finish to have a shot at the Champions League next season.
Fifth-placed Nice trail Marseille by only three points, making the derby match one of the most keenly awaited in recent years.
On learning his club's fans would be forced to stay away, Labrune said: "This decision is grotesque and incomprehensible.''
He told his club's website that after an initial meeting with local authorities last week to discuss safety issues, it was determined that the match could go ahead safely providing sufficient police were in attendance to handle both sets of fans.
"This condition has been fulfilled, and there is no other reason why our fans shouldn't come to support their team,'' Labrune said. "Particularly because their irreproachable behaviour on the two trips to Paris, at the end of February, showed their responsible attitude and the work done by the club in this area.
"I notice that the match on Sunday is classed high risk, level three, the same level as for the matches between Nice and St Etienne, Bordeaux and PSG. However no travel ban was announced for these games which were as important as ours for European qualification.
"The motivations for this ban are therefore contradictory and make no sense. Marseille can't take on all the ills of French football under the pretext that it attracts the biggest following of supporters at each of its matches. Passion is a right. It's also our pride.''
Nice supporters were also prevented from following their team against Marseille at the Stade Velodrome earlier in the season, however Marseille are certain that before today's decision they had taken every measure within their power to ensure this weekend's match would pass off without any spectator trouble.
Nice captain Didier Digard is relishing the game, the last derby against Marseille at the Stade du Ray, which the club are leaving for a new home in the summer.
"Something always happens in matches where there is so much at stake,'' Digard said. "We saw it in the away game against Marseille with bizarre refereeing decisions. Knowing we are neck and neck with a club like Marseille, I expect a fantastic atmosphere.''
Leaders Paris St Germain face last season's champions Montpellier at the Parc des Princes, in the opening match of the weekend.
PSG will be seeking to stretch their five-point lead over second-placed Lyon, but wary that seventh-placed Montpellier remain an able side, and one which will be looking to remind this season's front-runners of their past achievements.
Lyon will have 48 hours in which to take in the result from the clash in the capital before their home match against Sochaux on Sunday evening.
Fourth-placed St Etienne can inch up a place on Saturday night and nudge Marseille down to fourth, but only if they win at Troyes.
St Etienne have a Coupe de la Ligue final just three weeks away, but head coach Christophe Galtier said: "We're not talking about it. We know that we have something to play for in the league. It's a target we have in our minds.
"Before the Coupe de la Ligue final, we will also have a Coupe de France quarter-final to play. That's also a great opportunity. The players want to play in every competition, that's a good sign. We have to make the most of this situation. The final of the Coupe de la Ligue doesn't have to be the culmination of our season.''
Nancy, Troyes and Sochaux begin the weekend in the relegation zone. While Troyes and Sochaux are engaged against two of the leading sides, Nancy will see a trip to Rennes on Saturday as an opportunity to pick up points, given their hosts have hauled in just two points from their last five games.
Brest, just a point outside the bottom three, have a tough home fixture against sixth-placed Lille on Sunday.
Saturday also sees Ajaccio at home to Toulouse, while Evian, having clawed their way out of the bottom three by winning their last two matches, tackle Reims in a battle of two sides two points outside the red zone.
Bordeaux face Lorient in a clash of two sides with slim European chances, while Valenciennes play Bastia.
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.