Lille out to avoid 'curse of the leaders'

PARIS - Lille will try to ward off the 'curse of the leaders' when they visit Ligue 1 bottom club Arles-Avignon on Saturday.

Champions Olympique Marseille, Stade Rennes and Lille themselves have all relinquished the lead this season but coach Rudi Garcia's team sent a clear message to their title rivals when they crushed Lorient 6-3 last weekend.

Several pundits now feel Lille should be considered favourites to finish top.

"(Lille) are the perfect team. If they avoid injuries I don't see who can stop them," former France striker turned television pundit Olivier Rouyer told newspaper L'Equipe.

Former Arles-Avignon coach Michel Estevan agreed.

"Lille are the favourites. They are not Barcelona but the team is impressive," said Estevan.

"They score a lot and are able to do it against any team. They also make defensive mistakes but I don't think it will happen at every game."

Much rests on the shoulders of red-hot Lille striker Moussa Sow.

Ligue 1's leading scorer notched his second hat-trick of the season last weekend to take his tally to 13 goals.

"We want to finish in the top five or qualify for Europe next year," said Sow.

Coach Antoine Kombouare returns to his former club on Saturday when second-placed Paris Saint-Germain visit Valenciennes.

Kombouare was in charge of Valenciennes from 2005-09 and led the club into the top flight.

PSG are one point behind Lille after 16 matches and are level with third-placed Rennes who visit Girondins Bordeaux on Sunday.

Marseille, who slipped from top to fourth after their stoppage-time defeat at Nice last weekend, travel to Auxerre on Saturday.

Fifth-placed Olympique Lyon, two points off the pace, host Toulouse on Sunday.