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Week 34 review: European race tightens

Publish on 29/04/2019 at 00h00 - S. WILLIS

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With Rennes stunning PSG in the Coupe de France, Lyon and Saint-Etienne tightened their grip on third and fourth, with fifth no longer enough for European football next season…

Olympique Lyonnais laid down the gauntlet to their fellow European aspirants on Friday night, coming back from 2-1 down against Girondins de Bordeaux to win 3-2, with Moussa Dembélé coming off the bench and snatching all three points five minutes from time.

Goodbye gift?

Les Gones are third with four games left. Coach Bruno Génésio will leave this summer, but looks favourite to steer his side to the third and final UEFA Champions League place before he goes.

"That's why we do this job, to live these moments," he beamed at the Matmut Atlantique. "It's perfect. There are four games left to win. We'll have to stay focused. My decision to step aside? I would've liked to continue when I see matches like tonight, but I did it to allow the team to continue in the best possible way. My relationship with the players hasn't changed. There was a lot of joy and emotion in the changing room."

Rennes stun Paris, LOSC roar

Saturday was quiet in terms of Ligue 1 Conforama action, but Stade Rennais FC's penalty shoot-out win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France final had serious implications for European qualification. Rennes are 11th in the league, but their shock victory sees them qualify for next season's UEFA Europa League, meaning fifth place no longer equals a European finish.

While PSG have already won the Ligue 1 Conforama title, LOSC have been the best of the rest this season, a point they rammed home with a 5-0 thrashing of Nîmes Olympique on Sunday. Nicolas Pépé - one of five different scorers at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy - bagged his 20th league goal of a superlative campaign, and coach Christophe Galtier was understandably delighted.

"We're averaging two points per match," he said at his post-match press conference. "We're having a great run and we need to make it exceptional by putting in a great performance at Lyon next Sunday."

Victory at the Groupama Stadium next weekend would leave Lille nine points clear of Lyon with nine points left to play for. With a vastly superior goal-difference, Galtier is rightly optimistic.

European six-pointer

"My players are young, care-free, but they're determined," he said "They listen. They were already talking in the dressing room about the match on Sunday. We'll be up against a very good side with enormous attacking potential. We know it'll be a difficult match but we're ready."

OGC Nice were also convincing winners on Sunday, beating bottom club EA Guingamp 3-0. Youcef Atal was the star of the show, bagging his first career hat-trick, although coach Patrick Vieira also reserved special praise for veteran centre-back, Dante.

"I'm really very happy as we played a complete game both in attack and defence," said the France and Arsenal legend. "With Dante playing at that level things look easier. Rennes winning the Cup makes things more difficult and it'll be much harder to finish fourth. Winning all our games until the end of the season is a good challenge, though."

Sainté sauntering towards Europe

AS Saint-Etienne are favourite to seize fourth as it stands. Les Verts beat Toulouse FC 2-0, with Robert Beric bagging a brace. Goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier also saved a penalty from former ASSE forward Max Gradel, meaning he hasn't conceded in 330 minutes of football.

"We started really well," explained coach Jean-Louis Gasset. "We needed to get the ball wide, put the pressure on and try to score a goal or two, and that's what we did. We're on a run of five wins and a draw and haven't conceded in the last three games. Even if there was a penalty, we have an extraordinary goalkeeper and Ruffier was great today."

OM slip up

That victory means that Sainté have a five-point advantage over Olympique de Marseille, who are in fifth. That gap might have been two points had OM not slipped up against FC Nantes in Sunday's late kick-off, Samuel Moutoussamy and Andrei Girotto scoring either side of a Mario Balotelli strike.

"Tonight, we confirmed that we've returned to a higher level of play," said Canaris coach Vahid Halilhodzic. "Three consecutive home wins gave us confidence and I felt we were going to do something tonight. Marseille were under pressure to win and we took advantage of their nerves."

Caen out of the woods?

At the other end of the table, SM Caen won their relegation six-pointer with Dijon FCO, Fayçal Fajr getting the only goal of the game, a stunner which he lifted over Runar Alex Runarsson from the left wing. There was a dash of fortune about the goal, but Caen will not now be leaning on Lady Luck for the run-in.

"We're happy and relieved," said coach Fabien Mercadal. "We did what we wanted to do and played as a team, which meant we had the whole stadium with us and felt stronger. The players proved they've not given up. We now head into our last four games with our destiny in our hands, but we're not getting carried away."

More to come

Elsewhere, Angers SCO and Stade de Reims shared the spoils with a 1-1 draw at the Stade Raymond Kopa, while Amiens SC and RC Strasbourg Alsace played out the only goalless draw of the weekend.

Cup finalists Rennes and PSG will return to league action in midweek, meanwhile, the Bretons hosting AS Monaco on Wednesday evening; the league champions travelling to Montpellier Hérault SC the night before.