Week 36 review: Summit clash set for OL, Monaco
By S. Willis
Lyon and Monaco both clinched crucial wins to set up a Week 37 clash in Lyon that could prove decisive in the battle for second place; Toulouse earned a point in Saint-Etienne to steal a march on relegation rivals Gazélec and Reims.
With champions Paris Saint-Germain stitching up the title in early March, the race for second place - and the direct qualification for the Champions League group stage that goes with it - has taken centre stage and is now set to reach fever pitch as second-placed Olympique Lyonnais play host to third-placed Monaco in Week 37.
OL have come from a long way behind to find themselves in pole position going into the final two weeks of the season, and their 2-1 win at home to GFC Ajaccio on Saturday showcased their fighting spirit. What Bruno Génésio's men lacked in terms of fluidity in their play they made up for with clinical finishing as Rachid Ghezzal fired in directly from a corner (11') before Maxwel Cornet bagged the winner as he swept home a superb deep, low cross from Brazilian right-back Rafael (40').
Grégory Pujol struck back for the relegation-threatened visitors with a contender for goal of the week (49'), but Génésio's men held out to stay ahead of Monaco - who had played two hours earlier - on goal difference and set up Saturday's summit clash.
"We took the three points and we are ready for next Saturday for the 'final' against Monaco," said the OL boss, whose side will have the home-ground advantage in the potentially decisive battle at the Parc OL. "We will play to win because if they win, they will be sure of finishing second. The pressure will be on two clubs that have the goal of going straight into the Champions League. The one that best handles that pressure will win."
Jardim on the front foot
Monaco were under little pressure early at home to Guingamp, going into the break 2-0 up, but Leonardo Jardim's men conceded twice in six second-half minutes and once again had diminutive Portugal star Bernardo Silva - who produced a trade-mark surging run and crisp finish from the edge of the area - to thank for what turned out to be the winner late in the piece (76').
"The score does not reflect the game. A difference of two or three goals would have been more realistic. Guingamp scored two goals with luck, not deliberate construction," said Jardim, evidently keen to prevent any doubt from creeping into his squad ahead of Saturday's 'final' in Lyon. "We controlled the game, we scored goals and had two or three more chances. This is a deserved success; we gave the fans something to really cheer about. The team tried to combine well and play the ball, but the most important thing is the victory."
Meanwhile the battle for relegation has been narrowed down to three teams - GFC Ajaccio, Stade de Reims and Toulouse - as Guingamp and Lorient secured their top-flight status for next season despite losing to Monaco and Lille respectively. Toulouse, resurgent under new boss Pascal Dupraz, could have climbed out of the drop zone for the first time since Week 10 but had to make do with a 0-0 draw in Saint-Etienne after top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder saw the imperious Stéphane Ruffier save his spot-kick early on (5').
Nonetheless, the point collected in the Rhône Valley saw them inch to within a win of 17th-placed GFC Ajaccio and with two points of Stade de Reims, who lost 3-2 in a thriller at home to Montpellier that saw four goals hammered home in the final ten minutes. It was a third loss in a row for the Champagne club, whose interim coach David Guion will need to find a way to take all six points from upcoming clashes with Marseille and Lyon if they are to stay ahead of Toulouse, whose season run-in against Troyes and Angers SCO is clement by comparison.
Champions Paris Saint-Germain turned on the style to kick off Week 37, sweeping past Stade Rennais 4-0 at the Parc des Princes on Friday night to equal their points record of 89 and stay on track to hit the 100-goal mark by the end of the season. On an individual level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved closer to Carlos Bianchi's record of 37 goals in a Ligue 1 season as he bagged goals number 33 and 34, while out-of-contract Brazil left-back Maxwell scored an absolute peach of a goal in what could be one of his last performances for the capital club.
While Lyon and Monaco battle it out for second, OGC Nice now turn their attentions to the Europa League places after seeing their bid for a top-three finish take a blow with a 1-0 defeat in Nantes, who claimed their first win in six matches. The defeat sets up a crunch Week 37 clash at home to Saint-Etienne, who pulled a point clear of les Aiglons, but both sides will need to be wary of in-form Lille in sixth, who had Ronny Lopes (56') to thank for their 1-0 win in Lorient.
Bordeaux win big
Bordeaux scored the biggest win of new coach Ulrich Ramé's tenure 4-2 in Troyes, Diego Rolan bagging a brace, while Marseille secured their top-flight status with a 1-0 win in Angers - their first league victory since Week 24 - and SC Bastia battled to a scoreless draw away to a dominant SM Caen side.