Week 28 review: LOSC Europe-bound; Balotelli shines
PSG were given a rare rest in Week 28, but there were plenty of thrills and spills, with LOSC cementing their grip on second, Mario Balotelli scoring against former club Nice, and Monaco extending their unbeaten run...
LOSC cemented their grip on second on Sunday, but they were made to work by a dogged Saint-Etienne. Nicolas Pépé and Co. poured on the pressure against an AS Saint-Etienne side with serious European aspirations of their own, but the game was finally decided five minutes from time when Pépé's shot deflected beyond ASSE captain Stéphane Ruffier, who had otherwise played a stormer.
Les Dogues find their bite
Seven points clear of third-place Olympique Lyonnais with ten games left to play, Les Dogues look like favourites to return to the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign. Lyon play Barcelona in the last 16 of this year's competition on Wednesday, and LOSC coach - and former OL assistant - Christophe Galtier is hoping to see his former club progress for more than one reason.
"Lyon are capable of beating Barca," he said. "For French football, for Lyon, for Bruno [Génésio] and the people I like there, I keep my fingers crossed that Lyon eliminate Barcelona. It'll also add two high-intensity matches to a very busy schedule," Galtier then added, with a glint in his eye.
Anything Dembélé can do
Lyon could have closed the gap to LOSC to a provisional three points on Saturday, and they looked set to do just that when Moussa Dembélé's double put them 2-0 up against RC Strasbourg Alsace, but Ludovic Ajorque had other ideas, bagging a brace of his own to secure a share of the spoils for Le Racing.
"We made it difficult for ourselves by being overconfident, or perhaps it was a lack of maturity," lamented OL coach Génésio at his post-match press conference. "Barcelona will be another match in another competition so we can't make a comparison. We wanted to build our confidence and we were on course, but we ruined everything in the space of ten or 12 minutes."
Olympique de Marseille wrapped up Week 28 in possession of the fourth and final European place. OM welcomed Mario Balotelli's former employers OGC Nice to the Orange Vélodrome, and the Italy striker got what proved to be the winner, heading home his fifth goal in eight appearances since his winter transfer. There was no selfie celebration this week, but there was a standing ovation when he made was for Kevin Strootman with 15 minutes to go.
"I've told my agent that I am happy here and want to stay," Balotelli asserted before the game. "My first two seasons at Nice were good, but Marseille is on another level, another type of football and atmosphere. As far as I'm concerned, Marseille are the biggest club in France. I've always felt that I would fit in here and I can't explain why."
Champagne football returning to Reims?
If LOSC's wait for a return to Europe's top table has been seven years in the making, Stade de Reims last featured in the European Cup back in 1963. The Champagne club were disappointed to draw 1-1 with relegation-threatened Dijon FCO, who were down to ten men after three minutes on the clock following Senou Coulibaly's red card, but they nonetheless round out the top five, with coach David Guion managing to draw some positives.
"We had total control of the match: my players had 25 shots on goal," he said. "I think everyone but our goalkeeper had a chance. This proves we tried to win, but football can be cruel. We should've done more against a struggling opponent. We took a point, we move on, but we're inevitably disappointed because we deserved to win."
Stade Rennais FC had a European adventure of their own on Thursday, beating English Premier League side Arsenal 3-1 in an impressive UEFA Europa League last 16 first leg performance, and they dispelled any notion that they might then take it easy against SM Caen in the league, beating the Normandy club by the same score on Sunday.
"It's a great week," said the Bretons' coach, Julien Stéphan. "At times we struggled to get into the game but given how much energy we expended against Arsenal that's little surprise. It's looking good for Thursday. The scoreline means we should be able to impose our game in the second leg."
At the other end of the table, AS Monaco are seven points clear of the automatic relegation places, although that could have been ten had Radamel Falcao's opener against Girondins de Bordeaux not been cancelled out by Jimmy Briand's penalty - conceded after the Colombian club captain had handballed in the Monaco box.
The principality club nonetheless looks resurgent in Leonardo Jardim's second spell in the dugout, with the Bordeaux game their sixth in a row without defeat. The Portuguese tactician was left wanting more, though.
"This isn't a good point because we controlled the game and created a lot of chances," was his frank appraisal. "We're still fighting to survive. We're always in danger and it won't be easy. The goal is to take all the points available. We just took 12 points from six games. Before that the team was averaging a point per match. We want to secure our top-flight status as soon as possible."
Elsewhere, Montpellier Hérault were kicking themselves after letting a two-goal slip against ten-man Angers SCO, who had Angelo Fulgini to thank for their 2-2 draw after he bagged goal and an assist inside the final ten minutes.
Toulouse FC and Amiens SC put more daylight between themselves and the drop zone, beating EA Guingamp and Nîmes Olympique respectively by a goal, while FC Nantes' clash with runaway league leaders Paris Saint-Germain was postponed at the request of the Loire-Atlantique prefecture.