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Lille look to strengthen grip on second

Publish on 05/04/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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Nicolas Pépé and LOSC can delay Paris Saint-Germain's title celebrations with a win away to Stade de Reims on Sunday, although a result is of more importance to Les Dogues in their quest to finish second in the table.

Stade de Reims  -  LOSC 

Christophe Galtier's side must win at the Stade Auguste-Delaune to ensure that the Ligue 1 Conforama title is not decided before Lille host runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain next weekend. Anything less than three points and the capital club will be confirmed as champions with a win at home to RC Strasbourg Alsace on Sunday evening.

However, the northern side are more concerned with their fight to hold off Olympique Lyonnais and finish second in the table. That would represent their best performance since they won the double in 2010-11 under Rudi Garcia, and would guarantee a place in next season's UEFA Champions League group stage.

Lille came into the weekend four points clear of Lyon, as well as a massive 11 points ahead of AS Saint-Etienne in fourth spot. A place on the podium already looks to be secured for LOSC, who have lost just once in 11 Ligue 1 Conforama games in 2019.

That defeat was a narrow 1-0 loss at home to AS Monaco just before the recent international break, but they bounced back from that to win 3-2 away at FC Nantes last weekend. Galtier's men came from two goals down at the Stade de la Beaujoire, with Rafael Leão pulling one back after coming off the bench, Nicolas Pépé equalising from the penalty spot and Jonathan Bamba grabbing the winner. All those goals came in the space of eight second-half minutes.

"We were lucky to get a quick equaliser and to score three goals in quick succession," admitted Galtier after the game. "We played with a determination going forward that we didn't have against Monaco."

Reims on the rebound

The question now is whether they can do the same in Reims against opponents who held them to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture back in December. Indeed, LOSC required a 96th-minute Pépé penalty to salvage a point from that encounter. That result did nevertheless start a sequence of 13 matches without defeat for David Guion's Reims team, the club's longest unbeaten run since 1960, during their post-war glory years.

However, the run came to an end on Wednesday as last season's second-tier champions were blown away in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Coupe de la Ligue winners Strasbourg at the Stade de la Meinau, their first league loss in four months.

The result kept the Champagne outfit three points behind fourth-placed Saint-Etienne, meaning they remain right in the hunt for Europe, but the nature of the loss was especially painful, bringing back memories of 4-1 defeats in Paris and at Amiens earlier in the season.

"It was a real blow because we don't often concede four goals," said goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, so often outstanding this season. "It happened at Paris and at Amiens, when we were down to 10 men. The size of the defeat hurts, but it is better if all the bad things happen in one match. We are lucky to be playing again so soon and we will need to get our heads back in the right place."

Reims can welcome back Tristan Dingomé after he served a one-match suspension in Alsace, while Portuguese forward Leão can play for Lille before sitting out next week's clash with PSG.

Probable teams

Reims: Mendy; Foket, Engels, Abdelhamid, Baba; Chavalerin, Romao (c); Zeneli, Dingomé, Cafaro; Chavarría

Lille: Maignan; Çelik, J. Fonte; Soumaoro (c), Koné; Mendes, Xeka; Pépé, Ikoné, Bamba; Leão