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Rennes and Marseille meet in Champions League crunch

Rennes and Marseille meet in Champions League crunch

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Publish on 05/13 at 01:18 - A. SCOTT

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Olympique de Marseille return to Brittany on Saturday aiming to secure qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League, but opponents Stade Rennais FC can keep their own hopes alive with a win at Roazhon Park.

Stade Rennais FC – Olympique de Marseille Kick-off 21h00 CET (1900 GMT)

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It is one of the biggest games of the Ligue 1 Uber Eats season and Roazhon Park is on course to be sold out as Rennes prepare for their final home match of the campaign. The stakes could scarcely be higher, with the hosts still in contention for Champions League qualification and yet also at risk of missing out on a European place altogether.

Marseille have been in the top three permanently since November. Jorge Sampaoli’s now return to Brittany to face Rennes just six days after they ran out 3-0 winners away to FC Lorient, when goals by Bamba Dieng, Mattéo Guendouzi and Gerson got them back on track after the disappointment of their Europa Conference League semi-final exit to Feyenoord.

OM had wobbled in their previous league outing, going down 3-0 at home to Olympique Lyonnais, and against Lorient they had to overcome the losses of Cédric Bakambu, Duje Caleta-Car, Dieng and Gerson to muscle injuries. Overcome those setbacks they did, and Marseille made it seven wins in their last nine Ligue 1 matches as they maintained their grip on second place, three points ahead of AS Monaco in third – the two clubs have an identical goal difference and the same number of goals scored.

Watch: OM too good for Lorient

Most importantly, Sampaoli’s side are five points clear of OGC Nice in fourth, meaning victory here will secure a podium finish and Champions League football next season. Second place would guarantee a place in the group stage, yet lose here, and slip up at home to RC Strasbourg Alsace on the final day, and there is a chance they could still end up down in fifth and have to settle for the less alluring prospect of the Europa Conference League.

“There is no obligation for us to finish second, although it would be great. We have a young squad that has battled hard to make this a successful season. We have lots of points on the board, but now we have two matches to come against opponents who have it all to play for in the fight for Europe,” acknowledged Sampaoli.

“These will be two Cup finals. We could come second but we could also come fourth or fifth. It would be a bit more problematic if we came third and had to go into the (Champions League) qualifying rounds. We would have to plan and work out how to prepare and how to strengthen the squad.”

Rennes up against it

While Marseille have comfortably the best away record in Ligue 1, Rennes have scored a fearsome 78 goals, a tally bettered only by champions Paris Saint-Germain (81). The Bretons had been holding onto third place behind OM until last weekend, when in-form Monaco climbed above them.

Things got worse on Wednesday when Bruno Genesio’s side went down 2-1 away to derby rivals FC Nantes, despite having taken an early lead through Flavien Tait. Nice won 4-2 at home to AS Saint-Etienne at the same time, plunging Rennes back down to fifth. They are now six points behind Marseille and three adrift of Monaco, while also lying just two points better off than Strasbourg, outside the European places in sixth. Victory here is therefore absolutely crucial for a club who invested heavily in new players last summer.

Watch: Rennes beaten in derby

“It is going to be difficult now to finish on the podium,” admitted technical director Florian Maurice after the Nantes setback. “We will keep fighting right to the end. The desire to bounce back is there.”

Senegal international Alfred Gomis returned in goal for Rennes against Nantes after being out since mid-March with a fractured finger, while Nayef Aguerd can now return in central defence after serving a two-match ban. Marseille are without skipper Dimitri Payet for the remainder of the season with a calf injury. Bakambu was still struggling with the knock that forced him off in Lorient, but Arkadiusz Milik and Amine Harit are hoping to return after playing no part last weekend.

“We have been trying to make the most of having a full week to recover because the players finished the last match at Lorient worn out,” admitted the coach.

Probable teams

Rennes: To follow

Marseille: To follow

>> FOCUS: The Ligue 1 Race for Europe