Week 34 review: Monaco strike back in race for second
By S. Willis
Monaco won 2-0 over Marseille, making the most of Lyon's 1-1 draw with Nice to re-take second as the race for the Champions League places intensifies; Toulouse, held to a 1-1 draw in Lorient, faltered in their bid to beat the drop.
Olympique Lyonnais were looking to firm their grip on second as direct rivals OGC Nice came calling at the Parc OL on Friday night, but the 1-1 result after ten-man OL's Alexandre Lacazette struck late (82') to cancel out Valère Germain's opener (18') left the way wide open for AS Monaco to steal a march on both sides as they played host to struggling Marseille on Sunday.
After losing their last two on the bounce, Leonardo Jardim's men were keen to get back on track and did so with an excellent pressing game and some individual brilliance from Portugal star Bernardo Silva (47') before Andrea Raggi bagged a second (75') to make Michy Batshuayi's 15th of the season a mere - or scant - consolation.
"From now on, every match will be a final," said Jardim, whose side will face Rennes, Guingamp, Lyon and Montpellier before the end of the season. "The next one (against Rennes) is very important. Monaco is not a club used to losing two matches in a row. Since I've been the coach, we have not lost three in a row. That's why we felt we could win tonight against a quality side with good players, a good coach and from a great club."
Míchel: 'Everyone has just let go'
That Marseille are going through a rough patch of late has been no secret; over and above the poor results - OM have not won in ten Ligue 1 outings - owner Margarita put the club on the market last week, but coach Míchel admitted he was saddened by his side's performance.
"We have a feeling of sadness, of abandonment. When you see the team failing to react, there's a feeling that everyone has just let go. Nothing that we worked on in training this week was reproduced out on the pitch," said the Spaniard who, with his side just six points clear of the drop, admitted that there are relegation fears. "Yes, the players are worried. Our Cup match (the Coupe de France semi-final on Wednesday, against FC Sochaux-Montbéliard) will be a very tough encounter, and given what we showed tonight, we're not the favourites. We'll need to work hard to prepare not only tactically but mentally."
Normal service resumed
Meanwhile champions Paris Saint-Germain were back in action after their mid-week Champions League elimination at the hands of Manchester City, and the capital club showed they have lost none of their verve with a 6-0 hammering of SM Caen at the Parc des Princes on Saturday.
With Tuesday's Coupe de France semi-final in Lorient on the cards, coach Laurent Blanc made several changes, but it was normal service in front of goal as Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the charge with a brace - that took him to a personal-best 32 strikes - as the capital club claimed their biggest home win of the season - and SM Caen's biggest defeat.
Dupraz: 'Keep fighting'
Toulouse have been on a tear of late, new boss Pascal Dupraz's arrival bringing a string of good results and hopes of beating the drop, but the TFC remain in 19th place - three points shy of safety - after being caught in a 1-1 draw in Lorient as in-form Wissam Ben Yedder's opener (49') was cancelled out in injury time by Zargo Touré's header (90'+1).
"There are two or three reasons why I say we should have won," said Dupraz. "There were chances where it looked more likely to be 2-0 than 1-1. However, I am very satisfied with the attitude of the players. They showed great bravery, and they will keep fighting. There are still 12 points available. This would take us not far above the 40-point threshold. We will give ourselves every chance."
Boufal breaks loose
Fortunately for Toulouse, 18th-placed GFC Ajaccio are now just a point ahead after they received a pasting from LOSC Lille who notched a second big win in a row as they hammered the Corsicans 4-2 thanks in no small part to a superb hat-trick from star forward Sofiane Boufal.
LOSC have won their last six in a row - and lost just one of their last 12 in the league - and sit in sixth, four points off third, but remain behind Saint-Etienne after Les Verts' 1-0 win in Bastia, a result secured by Nolan Roux's diving header (75'). The win comes at a crucial time for Christophe Galtier's side, who are level on point with fourth-placed Nice and who could still clinch a Champions League finish.
Rennes run dry
The same cannot really be said of Stade Rennais, however, after Rolland Courbis' side came unstuck in a 3-0 defeat against Brittany derby rivals EA Guingamp, who rattled in three second-half goals to reach the theoretical safety of 42 points while Rennes slide to seventh, their dreams of Europe fading fast.
Angers SCO confirmed their return to form with a 3-1 win away to struggling Bordeaux - despite being a man down after Ismaël Traoré was sent off in the 34th minute - and now look set for a top-ten finish to cap en excellent promotion season.
Meanwhile Montpellier put a six-point gap between them and the relegation zone with a fine 2-0 win in Nantes - Les Canaris' fourth loss on the trot - and 17th-placed Stade de Reims made their bid for safety that much tougher by becoming the first side to lose away to already relegated Champagne-region rivals Troyes, 2-1.