Battles lines drawn in French football's fight against homophobia
French football is in the midst of a culture war over homophobic chanting as Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain prepare for a trip to Metz on Friday shorn of their superstar frontline amid rumours of Neymar's imminent departure for Barcelona.
Prosecutors in Nice revealed on Thursday they had opened an investigation after Nice fans caused the suspension of Wednesday's 2-1 home defeat by Marseille by unleashing a volley of homophobic chants and banners that forced referee Clement Turpin to lead the players off the field, where they remained for over 10 minutes.
Turpin was praised by coaches Andre Villas-Boas and Patrick Vieira and France's equalities minister Marlene Schiappa, but Nice midfielder Wylan Cyprien bemoaned the decision, brought on by new instructions ordering referees to stop matches in the event of anti-gay chants.
On Thursday, France coach Didier Deschamps also questioned the stoppage despite insisting that authorities should be "uncompromising" in their attitude against homophobic chanting.
"It is a difficult problem to deal with," he said during the announcement of his squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.
"I'm not going to say that the match should or should not have been interrupted, but what everyone can see is that it disrupts the course of a match. And when I say that it doesn't mean that that decision should not be made."
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel meanwhile will be without his world-famous attacking trio after once again leaving Neymar out of his squad amid reports he is inching closer to a return to Barca.
Tuchel's side travel to newly-promoted Metz also without the injured Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe leaving the German down to the bare bones up front as Italian broadcaster Sky Sport claimed on Thursday the deal to send the Brazilian back to Catalonia had already been done.
The uncertainty surrounding the future of the world's most expensive player is only adding to concerns over PSG's unconvincing start to the season, which has already seen then beaten by league leaders Rennes.
"I can only say that I'm calm. It's not the moment to lose my head, we have four days to close (the deal), anything can happen, and maybe nothing will change," Tuchel said ahead of Friday's clash.
"I am only the coach, it is more important to stay focused on what I can influence: the team."
Player to watch: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
With Neymar looking set to leave and both Cavani and Mbappe injured during PSG's 4-0 thumping of Toulouse on Sunday, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will have to lead the champions' depleted forward line at Metz on Friday.
The Cameroon international became notorious last season for his remarkable miss from on the goal-line in a game against Strasbourg, and after scoring just three times in 22 league appearances last season the 30-year-old looked like he was out of contention in the French capital.
However his super second-half double at the weekend, including a wonderful solo effort to make it 2-0 just after half-time, showed that he might be the man to take PSG's attack on his shoulders as they wait at least a month for star pair Cavani and Mbappe to return.
5 - The number of goals that Choupo-Moting has scored in the 23 league matches he has played for PSG since signing from Stoke City last year. He will need to up his goals-to-games ratio if his side are to deal with their attacking absences.
0 - The number of times Metz have beaten PSG since the capital club were taken over by the Qataris in 2011. They have lost all seven of their encounters, with their last win coming way back in 2006.
40 - Marseille and Saint-Etienne, the two clubs with the most league titles in the history of French football, meet at the Velodrome on Sunday. Les Verts will be looking to end a run of 40 years without winning in Marseille since a 5-3 success in August 1979.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Metz v Paris Saint-Germain (1845)
Lyon v Bordeaux (1530), Nantes v Montpellier, Nimes v Brest, Angers v Dijon, Toulouse v Amiens (all 1800)
Rennes v Nice, Reims v Lille (both 1300), Strasbourg v Monaco (1500), Marseille v Saint-Etienne (1900)
© 2019 AFP