Quartet scrapping for Champions League berths in France

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

Paris (AFP) – While Paris Saint-Germain have long since had the Ligue 1 title wrapped up, the battle for Champions League qualification beneath them is only intensifying in the final weeks of the French season.

Just two points separate Lyon in second from Saint-Etienne in fifth with three matches remaining, including a crucial set of fixtures this Saturday.

Lyon sit second ahead of Monaco on goal difference, with Nice and Saint-Etienne both two points back.

Only second carries with it automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League group stage, with the team in third facing entry in the third qualifying round in late July.

Monaco are desperate to avoid that fate after losing to Valencia in the Champions League play-offs at the start of this season, but their form has dipped rather alarmingly of late.

Leonardo Jardim’s side have won only two of their last eight matches, allowing Lyon to catch them up thanks to six wins and two draws over the same period.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Ligue Un games on US TV and live streaming

The two teams meet each other in a huge game on the penultimate weekend of the season, but first Monaco entertain Guingamp at the Stade Louis II on Saturday just before Lyon entertain relegation-threatened Gazelec Ajaccio.

“It is a decisive match, a bit like a semi-final. There will be something to play for at Lyon only if we win against Guingamp,” said Monaco coach Jardim, whose side drew 1-1 at Rennes last weekend.

“The fact OL are favourites now changes nothing. There are four of us fighting for second place and all the teams will give everything to get it.

“The draw against Rennes doesn’t change much. We are still obliged to win our next three matches. If we do that we will finish second.”

Lyon, whose leading scorer Alexandre Lacazette has this week been linked with a move to Barcelona, will look to defend their unbeaten record at their new Parc OL when they host Gazelec.

“It is a very important match and we are really concentrated on it. We are not thinking about the match against Monaco,” said midfielder Corentin Tolisso.

“Everything depends on a victory on Saturday. We need to be in front of them before playing Monaco.”

 

– Vegas visit –

 

With Hatem Ben Arfa in the form of his life, Nice have lost just once — to PSG — in their last seven games and go to Nantes looking to keep alive their hopes of a first podium finish since 1976.

Ben Arfa, who has scored 17 Ligue 1 goals this season, has been nominated for the player of the year award in France along with PSG duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria and Marseille midfielder Lassana Diarra.

Nice need points before hosting Saint-Etienne next weekend, before which Les Verts entertain Toulouse on Saturday.

Christophe Galtier’s side are bidding to secure a fourth consecutive top-five finish and are on a run of five successive wins, all without conceding a goal.

PSG’s win against Lille last weekend ensured fifth place would bring with it a Europa League berth, while sixth will also offer European qualification if PSG beat Marseille in the French Cup final next month.

Lille, who visit Lorient on Saturday, are currently sixth, one point ahead of Rennes, who go to Paris on Friday.

Champions PSG can equal their own record for the most points in a Ligue 1 season with a win against Rennes after a week in which several stars used their days off to take a mini break in Las Vegas.

“My players do what they want. They had three days off, I gave them to them, and I think that’s a good thing,” coach Laurent Blanc said in response to media criticism after Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore were among those who visited Vegas.

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