Monaco out to complete Champions League job
By A. Scott
In the three-way fight to secure third place and Champions League qualification, AS Monaco travel to Brittany to face FC Lorient at Le Moustoir on Saturday with their destiny in their own hands.
FC Lorient - AS Monaco
Leonardo Jardim's side start the day in third spot, two points clear of both Olympique de Marseille and AS Saint-Etienne, so a win on the artificial surface in Lorient will clinch a podium finish and take them into the qualifying rounds of the Champions League, a competition in which they impressed on a run to the quarter-finals this season before losing to Juventus.
That is the simplest scenario for the principality club, although a draw would also be enough if Marseille fail to win and Saint-Etienne do not win by enough goals to turn the goal difference around to their advantage. Even a defeat would not stop Monaco finishing third if their two challengers both failed to win, but Jardim would rather not risk having to rely on favours from elsewhere.
European football guaranteed
Monaco are guaranteed to be in Europe next season, but it is the Champions League they want and the fact they are playing away from home while OM and Saint-Etienne are at home may well suit them. After all, Jardim's side have the best away record in Ligue 1 this season and have won nine out of nine games so far against teams currently in the bottom half.
"It is the last match of the season and it is the most important match. We have to keep third place. It is always different playing on a synthetic surface, but we mustn't think about that. We have to just win the game. They are a good team and they beat us at the start of the season so we will need to be at 100 percent," said the Portuguese coach this week.
Recovery from slow start
A lot has changed since that 2-1 defeat to the Bretons at the Stade Louis II on the opening weekend of the campaign in August, with Radamel Falcao - on the scoresheet that night - having long since left and Monaco recovering from a slow start to be the best team in the division since the start of December with just two defeats in 22 games. However, one of those defeats came at Marseille two weeks ago and that prevented Monaco from having third place secure by now.
"The pressure is on. We have to play away from home while OM and Saint-Etienne are at home. We will take this game as it comes. We have confidence in ourselves. It is the last game of the season and it is not the time to crack. We know what is at stake and it will not be easy on the synthetic surface, but we are Monaco," said midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko.
The visitors could be helped by the fact that Lorient come into the game with nothing at stake but pride after their top-flight survival was secured last weekend as Evian-Thonon-Gaillard's defeat to Saint-Etienne saw them relegated along with FC Metz and RC Lens. A four-game unbeaten run, including last week's 1-1 draw at Nantes and a stunning 5-3 win in Marseille last month, helped pull them away from danger just in time and ensured that it was job done in Sylvain Ripoll's first season in charge of Les Merlus.
Ripoll: "Produce a spectacle"
"It has been a difficult season but we have survived and we can celebrate that with our fans. The supporters have understood that it has not been an easy season but they have stuck by us anyway. Now we want to produce a spectacle for them," Ripoll said after the Nantes encounter.
Lorient have not lost at home to Monaco since a last-minute Ludovic Giuly penalty clinched a 2-1 win for the principality side and ruined the Bretons' top-flight debut back in August 1998, but their home record in general this season has been poor and they have not beaten any of the current top seven at Le Moustoir.
Full-back Lamine Gassama has been struggling with an ankle problem while former Monaco midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur, Valentin Lavigne, Benjamin Jeannot and Fabien Robert are all on the sidelines.
The visitors, meanwhile, have issues in defence with Aymen Abdennour missing due to injury and the Italian Andrea Raggi sidelined for the final game of the campaign due to suspension.
FC Lorient: Lecomte; Gassama, L. Koné, Lautoa (c), Guerreiro; Mostefa; Jouffre, Ndong, Mesloub, Philippoteaux; J. Ayew
AS Monaco: Subasic; Fabinho, Wallace, R. Carvalho, Kurzawa; Toulalan (c), Kondogbia; Ber. Silva, Moutinho, Carrasco; A. Martial