Week 35 review: Wire-tight in race for second!
By S. Willis
Olympique Lyonnais hung onto second place with a dramatic 3-2 win in Toulouse, while Monaco stay third - behind OL on goal difference - after a 1-1 draw in Rennes. Stade de Reims, 2-0 losers in Nice, sank into the drop zone.
The race to secure direct Champions League qualification alongside champions Paris Saint-Germain - who had the weekend off Ligue 1 duties as they claimed a third-straight Coupe de la Ligue title, 2-1 over Lille on Saturday - looks set to go down to the wire this season, with Olympique Lyonnais the current front-runners after an heroic performance to come from behind and claim a 3-2 victory in Toulouse on Saturday night.
Tolisso's dramatic winner
Toulouse had been on a tear under new coach Pascal Dupraz and they took the lead through defender Marcel Tisserand (50'), but the entry into play of OL substitutes Clément Grenier and Nabil Fekir - and an accompanying shift to a 4-4-2 formation - did the trick. The visitors left the southwest with all three points, leaving the TFC to make up the four-point gap between them and safety in their final three matches of the season - against Saint-Etienne, Troyes and Angers.
"We came back after falling behind, and that's a very good sign," said OL boss Bruno Génésio after the win on Saturday evening. "No-one is giving an inch, the squad is in a good place and everyone's is pitching in. Mental strength is also playing a big part. Not every team has it. We're reaping the rewards on every match day. These are end-of-season matches. Every team is giving their all. We need to prepare well for our next match, against Ajaccio. It's another final."
Playing the next day, Monaco knew they would need to win in Rennes to have a chance of -re-taking second, and while Helder Costa's opener (14') had them on track to do so, Stade Rennais forward Giovanni Sio had other idea's and struck nine minutes from time (81') to prevent his side losing three in a row for the first time this season.
The result left Monaco locked on 59 points with Lyon, and piled even more pressure on the Week 37 clash between the two sides, which will more than likely settle the fight for second once and for all. However, OGC Nice in fourth and AS Saint-Etienne in fifth, two points back, could still have their say.
Nice's usual suspects fire
Les Aiglons kicked the weekend off with a 2-0 win over struggling Stade de Reims at the Allianz Riviera, Valère Germain bagging his 12th of the season (11') and Hatem Ben Arfa his 17th (56', pen.) to send the Champagne club into the bottom three, much to the delight of GFC Ajaccio, who climbed out of the drop zone - for the first time since Week 25 - on the back of a thrilling 3-2 Corsican derby win over SC Bastia.
Keeping a lid on it
Meanwhile AS Saint-Etienne continued their blistering end-of-season form with a fifth-straight win, 2-0 in Lorient thanks to a Nolan Roux double (76', 90'+2). A Champions League finish is within their reach, but coach Christophe Galtier is wary of aiming too high.
"We're looking to finish fourth - that's the place that gives you direct qualification for the Europa League [unless Olympique de Marseille win the Coupe de France]," he declared. "That's our main and very clear objective, agreed upon by the players and all the elements at the club."
OM held, Der Zakarian announces departure
Following last week's sacking of coach Míchel and the promotion of former assistant coach Franck Passi to the top job, Olympique de Marseille bounced back mid-week by clinching a place in the Coupe de France final against arch-rivals Paris Saint-Germain, but they couldn't repeat the feat as they were held 1-1 at home to FC Nantes on Sunday.
Florian Thauvin (49') replied after OM defender Nicolas Nkoulou had put through his own net (31', o.g.), but when Alaixys Romao was sent off (56'), the southern giants' hopes of victory took a beating and their winless run stretched to 11 Ligue 1 matches, shaving their buffer over the drop zone from six to five points.
Despite the result not being a terrible one for Nantes, coach Michel Der Zakarian announced after the match that he will leave the club at the end of the season, citing compatibility issues with club president Waldemar Kita.
Montpellier in the clear?
Montpellier, resurgent under new boss Frédéric Hantz, continued their push for safety with a 4-1 hammering of relegated Troyes - despite playing the entire second half a man down after captain Vitorino Hilton saw red (41') - that took them to 11th place, seven clear of the drop on 43 points.
EA Guingamp look to have all but secured safety after joining a host of teams on 43 points following a 1-1 draw at home to SM Caen in which Jérémy Sorbon (82') cancelled out Ronny Rodelin's opener (30') in a match that saw both sides have a man sent off.
Dijon step up
Meanwhile in Ligue 2, Dijon FCO secured promotion to the top flight for next season as - now with an 11-point lead over fourth-placed Havre AC with three matches left to play - they are guaranteed a top-three finish despite losing 2-0 to Auxerre on Saturday night.
Lille play their Week 35 fixture - postponed due to Les Dogues' appearance in Saturday's Coupe de la Ligue final - at home to Angers SCO on Wednesday, April 27 at 18:30 CET while Paris Saint-Germain's Week 35 trip to Bordeaux will have to wait until Wednesday, May 11 at 20:30 CET.