Second in sight for Monaco at Troyes
By I. Holyman
AS Monaco are out to clinch second spot in Ligue 1 Conforama and a place in next season's UEFA Champions League at Troyes on Saturday, but can expect a battle from the relegation-threatened hosts.
ESTAC Troyes - AS Monaco
Olympique de Marseille's defeat in Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final was a blessing in disguise for French football as Atletico Madrid's 3-0 victory in Lyon means the team that finishes third in Ligue 1 Conforama this season goes directly into the group stage, rather than trying to reach it via the third qualifying round and play-off.
With three points in hand on fourth-placed Marseille and a +5 goal difference, Monaco can almost reach out and touch their place in European club football's premier competition.
But with Olympique Lyonnais, who play host to OGC Nice this weekend, just two points back in third and with a superior goal difference to the principality outfit, coach Leonaro Jardim wants his team to focus on claiming the honorific title of closest challengers to champions Paris Saint-Germain.
WATCH: Monaco squeeze past Saint-Etienne
"It's good news for France that third place goes directly into the group stage because it means an extra Champions League place. But for us, the most important thing is to keep hold of second place. We still have a match to play against a team that has to save itself. There will be a lot at stake for both teams, a very clear objective," explained the Portuguese.
"The league is very evenly matched, especially for second and third place. We're preparing our game to win it, even if a draw would be enough. But a draw won't be enough for Troyes. Each team has to win."
Falcao to return?
Jardim hopes to have captain and leading scorer Radamel Falcao back after the Colombia international missed the last two league games with a thigh injury while full-back Djibril Sidibé could also feature against his hometown club following his speedy recovery from a similar problem.
"Falcao wants to help. He's a very important player for the team. He's our captain. He's been training for a few days now. We'll see if he's capable of playing on Saturday, either 45 or 90 minutes," Jardim said.
"Djibril Sidibé needs to keep going. He's training normally. But for the moment, the important thing is the match at Troyes, which could take us into the Champions League. I'm focussed on the match."
WATCH: Troyes ran Monaco close before Christmas
Troyes are focussed too. After claiming promotion via the play-off last May, Jean-Louis Garcia's men are seeking to secure back-to-back top-flight campaigns for the first time in more than a decade.
To do that, they need to win and hope Toulouse do not match their result at home to En Avant Guingamp to condemn the south-westerners to the drop and give themselves a fighting chance of staying in the division, this time on the other side of the play-off, the hunted rather than the hunter.
"The result is a huge disappointment given the way we played and the chances we had. We deserved to win," Garcia said after seeing his team take the lead at Montpellier last weekend only to then be pegged back and have to settle for a 1-1 draw that kept them second-from-bottom, a point behind Toulouse and with -7 goal difference.
"It rather sums up our season. We've had so many chances to kill off games. We're still alive in terms of getting a play-off place. It's so great to play in Ligue 1 and we'll do everything we can in order to beat Monaco. It will be a real Cup game."
Troyes: Zelazny – Cordoval, Giraudon, Hérelle, Cha. Traoré – Azamoum, Bellugou – Grandsir, Nivet (cap), B. Pelé – A. Niane
Monaco: Subasic (cap) – D. Sidibé, Glik, Jemerson, Serrano – Fabinho, Moutinho – R. Lopes, Tielemans, Lemar – M. Sylla