WEEK 33 REVIEW: OL stay top, Paris close in
By I. Holyman
Olympique Lyonnais clung on to top spot in Ligue 1, but Week 33 saw Paris Saint-Germain move ominously onto the shoulder of the leaders.
After moving into pole position with their midweek Week 32 win over SC Bastia, Lyon had seen Paris move ahead of them with victory 24 hours before their Rhône Valley derby at home to AS Saint-Etienne on Sunday evening.
Clinton Njié (24') put the hosts ahead, but Lindsay Rose's dismissal for handball (29') and Max-Alain Gradel's clinical finish from the spot (31') gave Les Verts the upper hand. Romain Hamouma gave the visitors the lead just before the break (45'), but OL found a rapid response through Christophe Jallet (48') to overtake Paris on goal difference.
"Football can be a bit strange sometimes. We conceded a goal the first time they crossed the halfway line, which slowed my team's momentum," said OL coach Hubert Fournier, whose team are +7 better off than Paris. "At half-time, we felt we had the means to get the draw or even the win. In this game, we were superior to them. However, we had few things that went against us, and we paid for our mistakes."
Paris now have the initiative in the title race, however, as they have played one game less than OL with the reigning champions' Week 32 fixture against struggling FC Metz rescheduled for 28 April. Laurent Blanc's men did not falter in their pursuit of a third successive Ligue 1 crown, but they were made to work harder than they might have hoped at OGC Nice before coming away with a 3-1 victory to boost their morale and fatigued limbs ahead of Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Barcelona.
"It's difficult to get back into action after the Champions League. We tried to fight that but the first half was delicate for us and Nice played very well," said Blanc, who saw Javier Pastore score his second of the game after the break (39', 63') while Edinson Cavani (68') also found the net to seal the points in the absence of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
"We needed the three points and we were much better in the second half. I wasn't happy with our first half, even when we were leading. The reality is we're tired. That's not an excuse, I'm just stating the reality. Nice were fresher than us but they tired little by little."
OM slip, Bordeaux too
Olympique de Marseille's title charge is flagging as they were beaten 1-0 by FC Nantes on Friday to suffer a third straight league defeat - Serge Gakpé (20') got the only goal of the game. Gakpé's former club, AS Monaco, could not fully capitalise to strengthen their grip on third place as they saw Habib Habibou score a late equaliser (87') to earn Stade Rennais FC a point at the Stade Louis II where Juventus arrive on Wednesday for the second leg of their last-eight tie with the principality outfit, who are now just two points clear of OM and ASSE.
An early goal from Vitorino Hilton (4') was enough for Montpellier Hérault SC to see off SM Caen and move to within two points of Girondins de Bordeaux in sixth place, which will be good enough for Europa League qualification if Paris defeat second division AJ Auxerre in May's Coupe de France final.
Les Girondins' ambitions of holding onto that place were put in jeopardy by their 2-0 loss at LOSC Lille on Sunday in the 100th meeting between the pair. Nolan Roux (13') opened the scoring with Adama Traoré (90+4') adding a very late second for the hosts, who are now themselves in contention for a top-six finish following a third successive Ligue 1 triumph.
While the race for the European places hots up, that to avoid the drop is at boiling point. Six teams are within three points of each other after the weekend's results.
Martin Braithwaite's goal (28') was enough for Toulouse FC to win at FC Lorient, moving Dominique Arribagé's side out of the bottom three with a third win in four for the new TFC coach, and dropping their opponents into the dreaded bottom three.
Olivier Guégan enjoyed his first win as Stade de Reims boss as his side triumphed 2-1 at SC Bastia, who appear to still be suffering from their Coupe de la Ligue defeat to Paris. En Avant Guingamp drew their first home game of the campaign as they were held 1-1 by Evian-Thonon-Gaillard FC leaving both teams with work still to do to avoid the drop. FC Metz have some hope of staying up after beating RC Lens, who now look all but doomed to relegation after a single season back in L1.