Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Week 27 review: European race heats up

Publish on 04/03/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


Olympique Lyonnais put five goals past Toulouse FC to cement their grip on third; Olympique de Marseille leapfrogged AS Saint-Etienne into fourth with Mario Balotelli winning hearts and minds.

Champions and league leaders Paris Saint-Germain got Week 27 underway on Saturday with a 2-1 win over SM Caen. Casimir Ninga had given Caen the lead but a brace from Kylian Mbappé gave the capital club all three points, edging them closer to a sixth Ligue 1 Conforama title in seven years.

'Mbappé a phenomenon'

"He scored a penalty and one as a fox in the box. He's destined to finish our attacks, he's an extraordinary player," enthused coach Thomas Tuchel at his post-match press conference. "For me he's a phenomenon, and can be even bigger than he is today, and will undoubtedly be one of the biggest names in world football," Neymar readily agreed.

Attention now turns to the UEFA Champions League, with PSG hosting Manchester United in the second leg of their last 16 clash, in which they lead 2-0 from the first leg, although Tuchel has warned that the tie is "only at half-time."

Les Dogues struggle to find their bite

That Paris will qualify automatically for next season's competition is a given. The race to secure the remaining automatic qualification place is heating up, though. LOSC have been PSG's closest pursuers since Week 16, but they needed a late Wesley Lautoa own goal to sneak past relegation-threatened Dijon FCO.

"I'm delighted with the three points because we only played for half a match," said relieved Lille coach Christophe Galtier. "Lyon have an advantage over us for the Champions League race as they have the personnel, but we're making our own way and we're in front right now."

Fekir returns as Lyon roar past Toulouse

Olympique Lyonnais' embarrassment of riches was on full display against Toulouse FC. Club captain Nabil Fekir returned from injury to score one and assist two more as Les Gones roared past their visitors 5-1 for their biggest winning margin of the season. Moussa Dembélé scored two in a game in which Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traoré will also feel they could have doubled their tallies.

"The result's interesting and shows that the team is progressing and that the players are improving individually," said coach Bruno Génésio. "I'm pleased the result and the way it was achieved, the pleasure of seeing the players grow together. It's promising if we keep playing this way. It's good to take three points and score five goals in the process. That was a first this season."

Balotelli brilliance as OM leapfrog ASSE

The win sees Lyon cement their grip on third and final Champions League spot, which guarantees entry into the competition's third qualifying round. Olympique de Marseille are only five points back with 11 games left, though, after they leapfrogged OL's great rivals AS Saint-Etienne with a 2-0 win over Les Verts at the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday.

Mario Balotelli and Florian Thauvin got the goals, the former becoming the first player to score in his first three home matches for OM since Ibrahima Bakayoko back in 1999. Balotelli's celebration - in which he took a selfie with a cameraman's phone - caused a social media storm, and it is fair to say the Italy striker is winning hearts and minds.

"He reminds me of [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, and he scored a goal like he would too," said beaten coach Jean-Louis Gasset. Opposite number Rudi Garcia was also effusive in his praise. " Mario scored a difficult goal after missing an easy chance, but it's the strength of top scorers not to have doubts," he said. "He's a boy with big character and talent, but he's also intelligent."

Breton derby spoils shared

At the other end of the table, EA Guingamp held FC Nantes in their Breton derby. Nantes paid tribute to former No.9 Emiliano Sala in the ninth minute before having a Kalifa Coulibaly goal ruled out for offside. For Guingamp, it was their third straight game without defeat.

Caen and Dijon are just a point better off than the league's basement dwellers having lost to PSG and LOSC respectively, but AS Monaco, themselves recently resurgent, nearly missed the chance to put more daylight between themselves and the relegation quagmire.

Monaco stutter

The principality club have gone from 18th to 16th since Leonardo Jardim returned for a second spell in the dugout, but they needed a late Radamel Falcao brace to cancel out Flavien Tait's double and secure a share of the spoils.

"It's difficult to explain things in football sometimes," said Jardim afterwards. "After a run of picking up ten points in four games we struggled to keep our concentration, both the players and I, we're in this together. At half-time I told the players that this wasn't in our DNA, that I wanted another attitude with more movement and pace and in the second half they did that and we saved a point."

Elsewhere, Stade de Reims battled back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw against Amiens SC, and Youcef Atal scored on his return from injury to give OGC Nice a 1-0 win over RC Strasbourg Alsace.