Ligue 1 Title Race Takes Yet More Twists As Thrilling Climax Seems Inevitable


Ligue 1 Title Race Takes Yet More Twists As Thrilling Climax Seems Inevitable

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By Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip)

After 30 rounds of Ligue 1 games this season, defending French champions Paris Saint-Germain finally sit atop Le Championnat for the first time this season. After passing up countless golden chances to seize top spot, Laurent Blanc’s men finally took one of those opportunities with just eight games remaining until the end of the season.

PSG were first up out of the title hopefuls to play last weekend, hosting a struggling FC Lorient on Friday night with a one-point lead over then-leaders Olympique Lyonnais.

It looked in doubt when Jordan Ayew’s thumping effort was headed off the line by Marco Verratti minutes after the Ghanaian international had equalised with a low driven effort from the edge of the box.

However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pair of penalties and a simple, late finish was enough to secure a 3-1 win at Parc des Princes.

“We had 11 chances to score altogether. Eleven!” Blanc said, incredulous after the match. “That is a lot. We scored three goals, but two of them came from penalties. We are not going to turn our noses up at it.”

“In recent games we have created lots of chances against Monaco, Lyon, Chelsea, but we can’t always say that we are not putting them away just because the goalkeeper is so good, even when it’s true,” Le President continued. “I think we need to work on our finishing. Hopefully we are saving up our goals for the month of April.”

Les Parisiens were perhaps fortuitous, particularly considering the nature of the foul given against Lamine Kone for hosts’ second penalty. But it was enough to do what the capital outfit have failed to do many times in the past season.

It put Lyon under pressure on Saturday and Les Gones were not strong enough to stand up in the face of it this time.

Welcoming relegation-threatened OGC Nice to Stade Gerland, Hubert Fournier’s men were expected to pick up all three points – despite some notable absentees – at the start of a largely winnable run of games between now and the end of the campaign.

However, as has happened with PSG a number of times already this term, the title contenders were caught out.

Carlos Eduardo stunned OL with a sensational acrobatic opening goal and even though home captain Maxime Gonalons levelled from the spot, Valentin Eysseric’s late penalty secured a narrow 2-1 win for Claude Puel’s 10 men.

“The team are disappointed with the performance and the result, especially the last half hour in which we lacked collective maturity,” revealed Fournier after the game. “Instead of moving the ball around, being patient and finding a way around the Nice defence, we rushed things.”

“We knew this was the game where we could get caught out because Nice are fighting for their survival and we were missing key players, and that showed at times,” the Lyon tactician added. “This will allow us to gain the experience and maturity that we were lacking tonight. We don’t have the same squad as Marseille, Paris or Monaco, but so far we have done well.”

To make matters worse for Fournier and Lyon, skipper Gonalons and Yoann Gourcuff both picked up injuries during the game and will now miss the next four weeks – effectively ruling them out of the best part of OL’s title tilt.

With Les Gones dropping points, it opened up a massive chance for Olympique de Marseille and Marcelo Bielsa to close the gap to just a solitary point after being denied a win over Lyon in the “Olympico” at Stade Velodrome the previous weekend.

Despite being goalless at the break away at RC Lens on Sunday, OM smashed Les Sang et Or with four second half goals at Stade de France.

Substitute Michy Batshuayi’s prolific recent form continued with a third brace in six games, while Alaixys Romao added a rare strike and Andre Ayew notched his fourth league goal in six appearances to make it two convincing away wins in a row after a miserable run of form on the road earlier in the season.

“The first half of the opening period was positive and then from the 25th minute until half-time we lost our way,” Bielsa observed after the game. “Scoring so early in the second half made things easier for us and we had more space to attack after that.”

Le Classique,” the eccentric Argentine tactician explained. We were clinical against Lens and the team has grown as we now require fewer chances to score than before.”

After that result, the top three are now just separated by a single point each and the tension has cranked up another notch.

Despite the initial expectation that one team would eventually wake up and seize the lead in Ligue 1, no side has stamped their authority on this campaign and France now looks certain to play host to the most thrilling title race in Europe and one of the most exciting bouts for Le Championnat’s crown in recent memory.

There are eight games left, so 24 points still to play for and all the candidates are now looking at their remaining fixtures with either new optimism or a sense of worry after the latest turn of events.

But perhaps the biggest twist is yet to come.

With one game in hand after their week 25 encounter with Montpellier HSC was postponed, last season’s runners-up AS Monaco could now ghost in to make an unlikely late title assault.

Assuming that Leonardo Jardim’s men beat La Paillade, they would potentially be just one point behind Marseille and the top four could possibly be separated by four points or less with fewer than eight games remaining.

Depending on how PSG, Lyon and Marseille are faring by then, Monaco could be in the best position of them all to push on and snatch the Ligue 1 title at the death. OM appear to hold the best cards though, with their bitter Paris rivals and Les Monegasques still to visit the Velodrome between now and the end of the season.

It could not be shaping up better at the top and there should be the traditional late scramble to avoid the last relegation place as well. As many as six teams are currently within touching distance of 18th placed Toulouse, who now look upwardly mobile after the arrival of Dominique Arribage as coach.

For those who dismiss Ligue 1 as dull and uncompetitive, take another look. The French top-flight could be about to provide one of the most thrilling climaxes to a domestic season anywhere in Europe.

What better place to start the final stretch than Stade Velodrome in just over a week for Le Classique?

A win for Marseille would breathe new life into their title hopes, while a PSG success could distinguish Loco Bielsa and the southerners’ chances for good.

The stakes could not be higher!

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