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SOCCER

Montpellier hopes to turn season around against PSG

Montpellier has failed to replicate its championship form this season, but the defending Ligue 1 champions have a shot to turn their season around Sunday against PSG.

With just three wins from 11 Ligue 1 games, and having already been eliminated from Champions League knockout contention, Montpellier takes a modest two-game unbeaten run into the showdown with first-place PSG at the Stade de la Mosson.

But its up-and-down form, which included a 3-1 loss at Olympiacos in Champions League play, has haunted the club as it tries to repeat its surprise title run from last season.

With just one less goal than PSG in league play this season, Montpellier can't point to the loss leading scorer Oliver Giroud to Arsenal as the reason it has struggled. Souleymane Camara leads the club with four goals this season.

Montpellier has also allowed 16 goals this season, which ranks in the bottom half of the league after 11 matches. The defensive deficiencies were apparent in Greece against Olympiacos.

PSG will test Montpellier with its plethora of offensive firepower, although a top gun will be missing in suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He leads Ligue 1 with 10 goals, but was handed a two-match ban after a red card last week.

Ibrahimovic was sent off with 19 minutes remaining in a 2-1 loss to St Etienne last week, the first in league play for PSG this season.

"It's not a catastrophe because there's still a long way to go this season. We have to learn from this result so that it doesn't happen again," PSG striker Javier Pastore said.

Even when Ibrahimovic does not score, he has been the play-maker for PSG. Just this week, he assisted on all four goals in a 4-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League to leave PSG within reach of a knockout berth.

Coming off the first home loss under coach Carlo Ancelotti, the Paris club can turn to Pastore, another high-priced addition, and other good attackers in the absence of Ibrahimovic.

PSG showed what it can do without Ibrahimovic with a 2-0 win over Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue and a team performance will be needed this week. Pastore and Kevin Gameiro scored in a 3-0 win at Montpellier last season.

"We may not be playing great football but we have been efficient," Ancelotti said.

With Marseille level on points and Lyon just one point back - and both with a fixture in hand - PSG cannot afford to slip up without Ibrahimovic. Marseille hosts Nice on Sunday, and Lyon visits Sochaux on Sunday.

Lorient hosts Bordeaux in the other match Sunday.

On Saturday, Lille will try to rebound from its Champions League thrashing at Bayern Munich, a 6-1 loss on Wednesday, when it hosts Brest.

"We need to stick together and make sure we perform well in the league," Lille defender Franck Beria said. "We were outclassed. That is just fact, as painful as it is. Hopefully, this slap in the face will serve us well in future."

Also Saturday, St Etienne will try to build on its win over PSG when it tests a league-best six-match undefeated streak against Troyes at home, Bastia hosts Valenciennes, Reims hosts Evian, and Toulouse hosts Ajaccio.

On Friday, Mevlut Erding, Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan Pitroipa scored and Rennes beat last-place Nancy, 3-1, to move within three points of first place ahead of the weekend matches.