With PSG having sewn up the title last weekend, attention this weekend turned to the important issues that remain to be resolved: European qualification and Ligue 1 survival.
The race for the Champions League places heated up this week. Lyon and Marseille have been battling it out for third place for some weeks now, but suddenly second place is within reach too. The two Olympiques did their bit earlier in the weekend: Lyon rode a little luck to come away from Dijon with a 5-2 win on Friday night (only OL and OM have managed wins at the Stade Gaston-Gerard since October), before Marseille went one better, beating beleaguered Lille 5-1 at the Velodrome (doubles for Florian Thauvin and Kostas Mitroglou).
Monaco had the chance to respond on Saturday evening but, coming off their 7-1 shellacking against PSG last week, Leonardo Jardim’s men succumbed to a disappointing – and worrying – 3-1 defeat at Guingamp. Had substitute keeper Seydou Sy not had a blinder, it could have been another 7-1! That leaves Monaco just one point ahead of their two rivals, and similarly straightforward looking run-ins for all three.
It’s been a strange season for the three clubs. For differing reasons (Monaco selling half their title-winning squad, Lyon selling off Lacazette and Tolisso and moving to their next phase of youngsters, Marseille still early in their “champions project”), they have all have had phases where they’ve played some pretty stuff. The three have produced quite a lot of rubbish too. There’s an argument to say that their lofty positions flatter all three.
However, all the matches between them have been excellent, with goals, excitement and drama. Hopefully the remaining four-matchday mini-league will see them all raise their games and truly earn their Champions League qualification.
Just below them is the fight for Europa League competition and it is Nice and Saint-Etienne who will be most pleased with their weekend’s work. In what is a spicy derby at the best of times, fellow contenders Nantes and Rennes fought out a 1-1 draw which is not ideal for either but at least keeps Rennes in touch. Claudio Ranieri’s Canaris probably now have a little too much to do. They are level on points with Montpellier, who lost the other match between two Europa contenders, going down 1-0 to Nice, who rise to a season-high fifth. The scorer was one of this Ligue 1 season’s most under-rated players, Pierre Lees-Melou.
One point behind Lucien Favre’s men are Saint-Etienne, who continued their spectacular 2018 renaissance (record since their three straight defeats in January: P12 W7 D5 L0) with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over struggling Troyes.
When Laurent Blanc’s former assistant Jean-Louis Gasset became Les Verts’ third manager of the season with the team in 16th and two points off the relegation zone, the club looked in disarray on and off the pitch. European qualification would be outstanding and few would begrudge Gasset, who lost his wife last year, some glory. Speaking last week he said: “Now only my family – my oxygen – and football keep me going. It’s terrible but I needed this awful knock to learn how to put my job in perspective. It’s given me an inner peace and extra strength.”
Troyes have now given Marseille and Saint-Etienne scares with nothing to show for it. They are 18th in the table, level on points with 19th-placed Lille, and both three ahead of lanterne rouge Metz, who dominated Caen but only came away with a 1-1 draw.
Big winners were Toulouse, who beat Angers 2-0 (Yaya Sanogo opened the scoring) and now have a four point gap separating them from the bottom three. Troyes have the toughest run-in but host Caen next week, while Lille and Metz meet each other – whoever loses that one is in big trouble.
We’ll leave you with this week’s pick of the goals – Etienne Didot’s missile to help Guingamp to their defeat of outgoing champions Monaco: