Leading duo LOSC and PSG, both victorious in Round 35 and still separated by a single point, have broken clear of chasers Monaco and Lyon after OL's dramatic 3-2 win at the Stade Louis II on Sunday. Meanwhile Bordeaux and Nantes got much-needed wins as the battle to beat the drop intensified.
Ligue 1 Uber Eats leaders LOSC retained their one-point advantage atop the standings thanks to their Turkish contingent of Burak Yilmaz and Zeki Celik, who struck superb goals to secure a 2-0 win over OGC Nice at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Saturday.
Fonte: 'Give it our all'
After Les Dogues' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Lyon in Round 34, it was the second week in a row that Yilmaz had proven decisive, showcasing the fighting spirit that captain José Fonte called on his side to maintain in the final three matches of the season.
"We continue the war," said the Portugal stopper. "We'll keep going until the end. There are three games left and I believe each one is difficult. Lens is an important match, but we must treat all the games like cup finals. We're there, in the fight, and we're prepared to win every match. Whether or not you win you must give everything. That's what we're going to do, we're going to give it our all."
Pochettino: 'We had to dig deep'
The win saw LOSC move back to the top of the table after having gone provisionally second when PSG got the better of Lens 2-1 earlier in the day. Ligue 1 Uber Eats top scorer Kylian Mbappé (calf) was missing for the capital club so it was the Brazilian contingent who stepped, up Neymar Jr and captain Marquinhos striking to put an end to the promoted side's stellar 13-match unbeaten run.
"It was a very difficult game. Lens play good football," said PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, who also noted he is optimistic about Mbappé's being available to take on Manchester City in their crunch UEFA Champions League semi-final return leg in England on Tuesday. "I really like their play. We struggled, but we deserved to win. We had to dig deep for this victory."
Fireworks as OL hit back
Meanwhile the match of the round pitted third-placed Monaco against fourth-placed OL at the Stade Louis II and the match lived up to its promise as Les Gones, despite losing midfield metronome Maxence Caqueret to a red card with 20 minutes to play, clinched a precious win 3-2 in the final minute thanks to 17-year-old prodigy Rayan Cherki.
"We didn't have any pressure," offered OL boss Rudi Garcia. "We had only one thing to do: come out of this match having done everything to win it. The important thing is to look ahead. I don't think many teams will take nine points [in the last three games the season]; we have to be the team to do it. There is no sense of relief after this win, just a fierce desire to finish on the podium."
Kovac: 'Never said anything about the title'
Although the dramatic win came at a cost - a post-match dust-up yielded further reds for OL stopper Marcelo and wing-back Mattia Di Sciglio, as well as Monaco's Pietro Pellegri and Willem Geubbels - it saw Lyon cut Monaco's advantage to just one point, which could prove crucial in the race for a Champions League finish if not the title.
"As I have said before, now that we're assured of finishing at least fourth, we're aiming for the podium," offered Monaco boss Niko Kovac, keen to keep the pressure off his side after they fell to defeat for the first time in seven matches (five wins) to sit five points shy of LOSC. "I never said anything about the title. We have the possibility of being third. The title will be decided between Paris Saint-Germain and Lille. I never looked at the title."
OM avoid defeat as Bordeaux, Sainté bounce back
Elsewhere the battle for Europe got tighter when Olympique de Marseille drew level on points with fifth-placed Lens as Dario Benedetto struck off the bench to clinch a 1-1 draw at home to Strasbourg, who slipped closer to the bottom three.
Both OM and Lens would have been pleased to see seventh-placed Rennes, fresh from a 5-1 drubbing of relegated Dijon in Round 34, fail to take advantage as they were stumped 1-0 by Bordeaux in the south-west. Teenage forward Sekou Mara, making just his fourth Ligue 1 Uber Eats appearance, got the early goal to end Les Girondins' five-match skid and put them five points clear of the drop, leapfrogging Strasbourg into 15th.
So too Saint-Etienne got back to winnings ways, after back-to-back defeats, coming from behind to trump Montpellier 2-1 and all but secure their top-flight survival while pretty much scuppering La Paillade's ambitions of a European finish, of which they are currently eight points adrift with three matches left to play.
Dofight hots up
FC Metz, at one point shooting for Europe as well, got their first win in eight matches by handing Dijon a second successive 5-1 hammering, while Lorient trumped struggling Angers 2-0 to go 17th, level on points with Strasbourg.
The precious win gives Les Merlus a four-point buffer over 18th-placed Nantes, for whom a crucial 4-1 beating of Brest created a four-point lead over Nîmes, whose survival hangs more than ever on a knife edge after Reims' Alexis Flips secured a late 2-2 draw.