Saint-Etienne will play host to Marseille on Saturday, in a game with major implications at both ends of the Ligue 1 table.
The hosts have climbed into the relegation playoff place thanks to an upturn in form, while their visitors sit second only to Paris Saint-Germain.
With just 12 points from their opening 21 Ligue 1 matches, and on the back of a run of seven straight losses, Saint-Etienne looked all but condemned to relegation, but they have given themselves a fighting chance with an eye-catching improvement.
Pascal Dupraz’s side were firstly able to stop the rot with a 1-0 away win over Angers in late January, before making it back-to-back league victories for just the second time this term as they beat Montpellier 3-1 on home turf.
After a third consecutive three-point haul and a commendable draw against fifth-place Strasbourg, Les Verts were briefly halted by a defeat to dominant league leaders Paris Saint-Germain, but they were able to bounce back instantly, taking their league wins tally to six for the season as Denis Bouanga hit the only goal of the game at home to Metz.
Following back-to-back draws with Lille and Troyes heading into the recent international break, Dupraz’s men have quickly gone from almost certain relegation to standing a good chance in the fight for survival, now sitting in the relegation playoff place with a four-point lead over Metz.
Meanwhile, Les Verts find themselves just a single point adrift of automatic safety, meaning a victory could see them leap out of the bottom three, an aim that looked a far cry at the beginning of the year.
In their way stand a Marseille side battling for a top-two finish in the French top flight.
After a brief blip in form, in which they earned just a single point from meetings with Clermont, Troyes and Monaco, Les Olympiens returned to winning ways with a 4-1 thrashing of Brest away from home, as Gerson, Arkadiusz Milik, Amine Harit and Cengiz Under all got on the scoresheet.
That came between the two legs of their Europa Conference League round-of-16 contest with Basel, and, after a pair of 2-1 victories, the French outfit secured their progression.
On the back of those three consecutive triumphs, Les Olympiens took on Nice in their final game before the break, and they scored a crucial 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Milik and Cedric Bakambu to leapfrog Les Aiglons and move back into second place.
Now only trailing Paris Saint-Germain in the French top flight, but with Nice and Rennes hot on their heels, Sampaoli’s men will look to return to action with a fifth consecutive win to boost their top-two bid.
Saint-Etienne Ligue 1 form:
Marseille Ligue 1 form:
Marseille form (all competitions):
We say: Saint-Etienne 1-2 Marseille
Given the major improvement enjoyed by the hosts, we predict an interesting encounter on Saturday and would not be surprised to see Dupraz’s men come away with a result.
On the whole, though, we just give Les Olympiens the edge given the impressive quality throughout their squad and back them to return home with a hard-fought win.