Week 35 review: OL strike Champions League blow, LOSC keep hopes alive
OL struck a blow in the race for second place and direct UCL qualification, beating Nantes 2-0 while AS Monaco and OM both drew; LOSC beat all-but relegated FC Metz 3-1 to maintain their slim hopes of survival.
What was once a race for third place - and the Champions League qualifiers berth that goes with it - has turned into a race for second and direct qualification for Olympique Lyonnais, whose 2-0 win over Nantes on Saturday was their seventh in a row, leaving them trailing only champions PSG on the Ligue 1 Conforama table.
Depay day once again
Bruno Genesio once again had in-form Dutchman Memphis Depay to thank for the precious result, 'Dreamchaser' bagging the opener with a crisp turn and finish on the edge of the area before his enterprise in the danger zone teed up Bertrand Traoré for the second and final goal of another impressive performance from the side yearning for a return to Europe's biggest stage.
"We had to win and we did so. Our competitors are going to play tonight and tomorrow, so that puts a bit of pressure on them," said OL boss Bruno Genesio after the match on Saturday afternoon. "We wanted to win all our games from Caen [Week 29] on, and for now that's been the case, although there are still three games to go. If we win these three games, I think second place is possible. But I prefer for now to focus on the battle with Marseille."
Monaco give ground as Amiens inch closer to safety
Perhaps Monaco did feel something of the pressure put on by OL as they played host to promoted Amiens at the Stade Louis II. Although there was an eventful end to the match with Monaco's Adama Diakhaby and Amiens' Prince-Désir Gouano seeing red for a scuffle, there were no goals - which suited Amiens, who are now within a whisker of securing top-flight survival - but not so much Monaco, who are now winless in three.
"The situation is serious but there are still three games, and nine points. Not being second doesn't change anything," said ASM boss Leonardo Jardim, whose side had been in second place since Week 25 until Saturday evening's draw. "In fact, we may have less anxiety now. But the most important thing is to say that this team has tried to play with intensity. If we are fourth tomorrow nothing changes. We must still fight."
OM follow suit as UEL final berth beckons
Then on Sunday, Marseille had their chance to leapfrog Monaco but Rudi Garcia's side - perhaps with one eye on Thursday's UEFA Europa League quarter-final second-leg tie away to RB Salzburg, in preparation for which star playmaker Dimitri Payet was rested - struggled to deal with Angers' pressure despite Florian Thauvin's converting an early penalty for a 20th of the season that makes him the most prolific French goal scorer among Europe's top five leagues.
"I think the draw was a fair result as both teams had enough chances to win it. But, we were 1-0 up and we had a big chance for 2-0 that we would have done well to score," said Garcia, clearly optimistic despite having missed an opportunity with the 1-1 draw. "We dropped two points and that's damaging as we're near the end of the season. There are three games left and Monaco also dropped points. It's not over."
Cavani quality rescues Paris, denies gregarious Guingamp
Perhaps struggling to access their customary drive and determination after stitching up the title in Week 33, Paris Saint-Germain were under the pump at home to Guingamp but managed to hit back late on thanks to the quality of a certain Edinson Cavani, who bagged a late brace to not only salvage a result but also step further out of the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic by scoring his 114th and 115th Ligue 1 Conforama goals for Paris, topping the Swede's record.
"Matches like this show you what can happen if you're not 100 per cent focused for the entire match," explained the Uruguay international. "We need to be concentrating right to the end of the season. It was a good lesson, a reminder of what can happen. I didn't know that I had set a new record, but I'm happy to have written a little more history with this shirt."
Sainté in the driver's seat
Meanwhile in-form Saint-Etienne stretched their unbeaten run to 13 and climbed to fifth with a 1-0 win away to direct rivals Montpellier, Romain Hamouma capping a sweeping team move for the only goal of the game that leaves Jean-Louis Gasset's Verts in pole position for UEFA Europa League next season [although, should PSG beat Les Herbiers in the Coupe de France final on May 8, sixth place will also carry European implications].
Like fellow one-time fifth-place contenders Nantes, whose defeat to Lyon saw them slip to tenth, Montpellier are now six points off the pace and trail Rennes, who beat Toulouse 2-1, and Nice, who drew 1-1 in Strasbourg, by five points. A resurgent Bordeaux climbed to ninth after trumping Dijon 3-1 in their third win in four outings.
The battle to beat the drop has been every bit as intense as the battles for European places, and LOSC struck a huge blow in their bid to stay in the top flight, hammering - and all but relegating - bottom side FC Metz 3-1 with notably a stunning goal from Nicolas Pepe.
"We're still in with a chance with three matches left to play, and that means we can hope," said LOSC boss Christophe Galtier. "But really, all we have done is win one match against Metz - and maybe kill their survival hopes. We need to reproduce this kind of performance in the three matches that remain, and I hope this win serves as inspiration."
Troyes keep hopes alive
Inspiration certainly wasn't lacking for ESTAC Troyes, whose veteran captain Benjamin Nivet scored a close-range screamer in the 3-1 win over SM Caen that kept his side's nose in front of LOSC and just two points shy of safety with three matches left to play.