Girondins de Bordeaux's chances of snatching an unlikely European place depend on them ending the stunning unbeaten streak of AS Saint-Etienne as the clubs meet at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday.
AS Saint-Etienne - Girondins de Bordeaux
These two giants of the French game, with 16 league titles between them, were in dire straits at the start of 2018 but they now find themselves going head to head at Le Chaudron with qualification for the UEFA Europa League the name of the game.
Such a prospect looks rather more likely for Saint-Etienne, who have risen up to fifth in the Ligue 1 Conforama standings thanks to a run of 13 games without defeat. From just a point above the bottom three, Les Verts have won eight and drawn five of those matches and now have a return to continental competition in their hands thanks to their form overseen by veteran coach Jean-Louis Gasset.
Sainté won 1-0 away at Montpellier Hérault SC last weekend, when Romain Hamouma scored an early goal at the Stade de la Mosson before Stéphane Ruffier saved a penalty to ensure the points would be heading back with them. Only champions Paris Saint-Germain have picked up more points than Saint-Etienne during these last 13 games, a figure unlucky for some, but certainly not for Gasset's men.
Highlights: Saint-Etienne grind out victory in Montpellier
"We have the squad to pull off something extraordinary so we will do everything to get that European place. We must not let up in the run-in," said midfielder Yann M'Vila ahead of a schedule that will also see them tackle AS Monaco and relegation-threatened LOSC in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
With sixth place also likely to be sufficient for European qualification, Saint-Etienne already have one eye on next season and are understandably keen to get Gasset's future tied up amid lingering doubts he could opt to move on and become an assistant to Laurent Blanc once again, just as he was at Bordeaux, PSG and with France.
"Our desire is very clear, we want to work with him next season," admitted director general Frédéric Paquet on RMC radio this week. "We have had a bit of a chat. It was still a bit early and we were lacking information on certain things, so we said we would speak again in early May. We want to work together. The only thing is we want to work together in the right conditions that will mean everybody is happy."
Qualifying for Europe would help, but Bordeaux - who won 3-0 when they hosted Saint-Etienne in November, with Jocelyn Gourvennec and Julien Sablé in the respective dugouts - are desperate to stop them.
Ironically, Gustavo Poyet has had 13 matches in charge of Les Girondins, but he has not been able to spark the kind of revival overseen by his opposite number Gasset. As a result, Bordeaux are ninth, five points behind Saint-Etienne. That means a victory here is absolutely crucial if they are to maintain hope of sneaking into Europe, giving themselves a chance to atone for a disappointing exit in the Europa League third qualifying round last August.
Bordeaux have won six and lost five of Poyet's games in charge, although the Uruguayan has been encouraged by recent form. Indeed, they have won three of their last four games, the exception being a narrow 1-0 home defeat at the hands of champions Paris. Last weekend, they ground out a 3-1 win over Dijon FCO at the Matmut Atlantique, with Younousse Sankharé scoring their opener before François Kamano netted a penalty and a late Valentin Rosier own goal secured the points.
Highlights: Kamano stars as Bordeaux beat Dijon
"Saint-Etienne are on a great run but I don't think they are going to win everything from now to next season. It is up to us to bring them down," claimed a defiant Poyet, whose team will face strugglers Toulouse FC and FC Metz in their last two matches.
Bordeaux can welcome back Danish forward Martin Braithwaite after a one-game ban here, and midfielder Soualiho Meité matched the optimistic mood of his coach, giving a nod to one of the most remarkable results seen in Europe this season.
"You never know what can happen. Who would have thought Roma would knock Barcelona out of the Champions League? We have to believe in our chances, but Saint-Etienne will be a decisive match," said the on-loan Monaco man.
Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Debuchy, Perrin (c), Subotic, Gabriel Silva; Selnaes, M'Vila; Bamba, Cabella, Monnet-Paquet; Beric
Bordeaux: Costil (c); Sabaly, Koundé, Pablo, Poundjé; Plasil, Lerager, Meité; Malcom, Braithwaite, Kamano