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Defending champion Montpellier's woes continue

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PARIS (AP) -Defending champion Montpellier is hovering only one point above the French league's relegation zone, leaking goals and in desperate need of a win over Nice on Saturday following another setback in the Champions League.

Montpellier has won only two league games so far - while losing two and drawing one in the Champions League - and has kept only one clean sheet in 12 games overall this season.

Coach Rene Girard has dropped his first-choice goalkeeper, severely criticized his players, and has even been suspended for losing his temper. But nothing seems to be working and his players have been unable to respond.

"If you want to be a nice guy you can draw positives. I think that our problem this season is our efficiency, our defensive efficiency," Girard said after Montpellier's 2-1 loss to Olympiakos in the Champions League on Wednesday. "Once again, we provided an example of what not to do in this area."

Girard was suspended for the Olympiakos match and fined for directing an obscene hand gesture at the Schalke bench after a 2-2 draw three weeks ago.

That was one of Montpellier's brightest performances this season, but since then it has lost three straight games, conceding seven goals.

"We really have a lot of problems in that part of our game," said Girard, who will return to the bench against Nice - which is one place above Montpellier in 15th.

Nice is hard to beat but has drawn six of nine games this season.

At the top, Paris Saint-Germain will try to defend its unbeaten league record when it travels to last-place Nancy on Saturday. Marseille, which is second behind PSG on goal difference, hosts third-place Lyon on Sunday.

Lyon is only one point behind the top two, while fourth-place Toulouse trails Lyon by two points. Toulouse hosts Brest on Saturday.

Marseille will be without top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, who is expected to be out for six weeks after breaking a bone in his foot during last Sunday's surprise 1-0 loss at Troyes. Loic Remy, who has only recently returned from a long-term thigh injury, will likely replace him in attack.

Although PSG moved to the top of the league for the first time last weekend, Marseille winger Mathieu Valbuena thinks the loss to Troyes may have been useful in highlighting where the team must improve.

"We need to be a bit sharper in front of goal and we have to sort out our problems on free kicks," Valbuena said. "There's nothing to get alarmed about. We just have to get back on the right track and fix what didn't work."

As for PSG, it has yet to show the sparkling attacking football to match its huge offseason transfer outlay, but coach the team is still grinding out wins and has the league's most dangerous player in striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The imposing Sweden forward scored his 11th goal of the season in Wednesday's 2-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. With Nancy having the worst goal difference in the league (minus-12), Ibrahimovic will be confident of continuing his scoring form.

Rennes, which has recovered from a poor start to win its last three league games to climb up to ninth place, will again leave out midfielder Yann M'Vila for Friday's trip to Saint-Etienne.

M'Vila was among five players from the under-21 national squad who left their training camp late at night to go to a nightclub last week between two playoff games for the under-21 European Championship. M'Vila has been dropped from the first team until further notice.

"He'll never have my trust again as a man, and that's forever," Rennes coach Frederic Antonetti said. "He may regain my trust as a player, that's all."

Antonetti added that he's "had enough" of M'Vila and that his ban from the first team is indefinite - which could lead to the player's departure in January's transfer window.

Also Saturday, it's: Lille vs. Valenciennes; Reims vs. Troyes; and Sochaux vs. Evian.

In Sunday's other matches, Lorient takes on Corsican side Ajaccio as it looks to bounce back from a 6-1 loss at Valenciennes, and Bastia faces sixth-place Bordeaux.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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