PARIS (AP) -Zlatan Ibrahimovic's suspension could not come at a worse time for Paris Saint-Germain, which hosts a vastly improved Rennes side on Saturday and is struggling to pull away at the top of the French league.
The imposing striker scored all of Sweden's goals against England in a 4-2 win on Wednesday, including a sensational overhead kick from 25 meters (yards). His previous club appearance saw him set up three goals and play a major part in the fourth when PSG thrashed Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 in the Champions League.
But, before that, a red card for kicking Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier in the chest earned him a two-game suspension. PSG struggled without its top scorer when it was held to 1-1 at defending champion Montpellier last weekend.
PSG lost 2-1 to Saint-Etienne two weeks' ago, with the visitors grabbing the winning goal just moments after Ibrahimovic was sent off.
Those two recent league setbacks have opened the door for Marseille, which is at Bordeaux on Sunday, and Lyon, which hosts Reims the same day.
Although PSG remains in first place on goal difference from Marseille, it has played one game more, while Lyon has pulled to within one point of PSG. Saint-Etienne, Valenciennes and Bordeaux are just two points behind PSG.
"In our minds we started (the season) aiming to finish in the top eight or five places. Now we're level at the top with a game in hand," Marseille winger Andre Ayew said. "If we start doubting ourselves now, it means that we've understood nothing. We can't forget all the good things we've done."
But Marseille travels to Bordeaux with the weight of history against it - it has not won there since 1977 - and facing a revitalized Bordeaux which has found its scoring touch after winning 4-0 at Lorient last weekend.
"We want to break this bad spell. Every record is there to be broken and we will try and put an end to this," said Ayew, whose father Abedi Pele won the Champions League with Marseille in 1993. "Even my father's generation, the European champions, could not do it. We will try and make history by winning there."
Rennes is only in ninth spot but that is due to its awful start to the season, and recent form makes it a dangerous team to face following five straight league wins. Striker Mevlut Erding, who left PSG to join Rennes last season, goes back to Parc des Princes in fine form having scored three goals in his last four games, and getting another for Turkey against Denmark on Wednesday.
"Mevlut is in fine form at the moment, just like his team," PSG defender Christophe Jallet said. "He's scoring in almost every game at the moment. We're happy for him, but I hope he stops on Saturday, that would be better."
Behind the scenes things appear to be getting tense at PSG, too.
PSG spent more than ?160 million on new players during the offseason - following last season's already huge outlay of around ?107 million - and the pressure seems to be getting to sporting director Leonardo, who has overseen the mass recruitment, including signing Ibrahimovic and center half Thiago Silva from AC Milan in a double coup.
After last weekend's draw with Montpellier, Leonardo unleashed a verbal outburst against the match referee live on television, even going as far as to suggest PSG is a victim of unfair treatment compared to other clubs. That rant means Leonardo will have to appear before the French league's disciplinary committee, and will have done little to sooth any frayed nerves the players may have.
In Friday's game, Lorient - which has conceded 16 goals in its past four matches - hosts Lille.
Also on Saturday, it is: Ajaccio vs. Sochaux; Brest vs. Bastia; Evian vs. Saint-Etienne; Troyes vs. Nancy, and Valenciennes vs. Montpellier.
Nice hosts Toulouse in Sunday's other match.