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Strasbourg riding high with Champions League on horizon


Paris (AFP) – Little over a decade after being forced into liquidation and relegated to the regional fifth tier, Strasbourg are pushing for a Champions League place following an impressive first season under Julien Stephan.

French champions in 1979, the club from the eastern Alsace region that neighbours Germany and Switzerland is having its best season since lifting the league trophy for the only time.

Backed by the goals of the experienced Kevin Gameiro, Ludovic Ajorque and Africa Cup of Nations winner Habib Diallo, Strasbourg sit fourth in Ligue 1 and just one point adrift of Nice.

They are the division’s second leading scorers (46) behind Paris Saint-Germain and the only team in Europe’s top five leagues besides Manchester City with four players on at least seven goals, once Adrien Thomasson is added to the mix.

Seven wins from their past nine matches have propelled Strasbourg into Champions League contention, with Stephan recreating the success he had at Rennes two years ago when he led them to third place, the best finish in their history.

“We can say that we’ve fulfilled our first aim: to have enough points to be in Ligue 1 again next season,” the 41-year-old Stephan said following last week’s 1-0 win over Angers.

Strasbourg are one point shy of matching last year’s tally of 42, when a season of struggle saw the club’s fight against relegation go down to the final weekend.

“We’re not going to win every match until the end,” Diallo said on Friday. “But we’re going to do everything to get as many points as possible…

“We want to keep our momentum and not ease off simply because we have reached 41 points.”

Defender Frederic Guilbert said recently he felt Strasbourg weren’t “being taken seriously”, but they can notably take matters into their own hands with the visit of Nice next weekend.

First, though, is a trip to a resurgent Saint-Etienne, whose three-game winning run under Pascal Dupraz has lifted the 10-time French champions off the foot of the table.

Paris Saint-Germain, 13 points clear at the summit, go to Nantes on Saturday boosted by a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s injury-time goal.

Marseille can strengthen their hold on second place against Clermont on Sunday while Nice host Angers.

David Guion begins his rescue mission at bottom side Bordeaux against Monaco after taking over for the rest of the season following the dismissal of Vladimir Petkovic.

Player to watch: Kevin Gameiro

The former France international has scored five times in his past four games, including a brilliant volley last weekend against Angers, to lead Strasbourg’s assault on the top three.

Gameiro, now 34, returned to Strasbourg — the club where he made his professional debut in 2005 — in July after eight years in Spain with Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Valencia. 

After a slow start to his second spell, the ex-PSG striker is up to nine goals for the campaign and looking a shrewd investment for a team that hadn’t been in fourth place this deep into a season since 1997.

Key stats

15 – PSG have earned the most points in the final 15 minutes of games this season, eight of which have come via goals in the 90th minute or later.

61 – Goals conceded by Bordeaux this campaign. It is the worst defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues.

6 – Arkadiusz Milik has scored six goals in as many games in Europe, one more than his total in Ligue 1 this term despite the Pole striking four times in his past two outings for Marseille.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Lille v Metz (2000)

Saturday

Lens v Lyon (1600), Nantes v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)

Sunday

Nice v Angers (1200), Lorient v Montpellier, Reims v Brest, Rennes v Troyes, Saint-Etienne v Strasbourg (all 1400), Bordeaux v Monaco (1605), Marseille v Clermont (1945)

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