Week 31 review: Balotelli fires for Nice, Lorient move on up
By S. Willis
Nice took a 16-point lead over Lyon with a 2-1 win over Bordeaux in Week 31, striding closer to securing a UCL finish, while FC Lorient's 1-0 win over Caen got them off the bottom of the table for the first time since Week 9.
With league leaders Monaco and second-placed Paris Saint-Germain doing battle in the Coupe de la Ligue final at the Parc OL on Saturday night - with the capital club securing a record fourth consecutive title 4-1 - Nice were the ranking side in league action and Lucien Favre's men did not disappoint.
Nice come from behind
Despite going a goal down to Gaëtan Laborde's superb solo effort, Les Aiglons hit back as 'Super' Mario Balotelli struck from the spot before laying the ball off for Valentin Eysseric's spectacular winner. Nice now have a commanding 16-point lead over Lyon in fourth, and although OL play their rescheduled Week 16 clash with Metz on Wednesday night, Favre's men are looking good to secure a podium finish and the Champions League berth that goes with it.
"Hats off to the lads, because in the first half, we played superbly. We held our own well and had the daring to push forward," said Favre whose side - unbeaten in eight league outings -continue to perform despite a raft of long-term injuries to start players such as Alassane Plea and Wylan Cyprien. "We worked on that throughout the week, because we needed to find a way to break down Bordeaux's 4-5-1, which is very tough. Against them, if you lose the ball, it's fatal. We still have work to do, but it's positive."
Earlier on Sunday, Olympique Lyonnais had missed the chance to put pressure on Nice as they were held to a 1-1 draw in Rennes, their poor away form continuing as the ten-man Brittany outfit found a late leveller through Firmin Mubele after Maxwel Cornet had struck early in the second half.
"Given the circumstances we should have taken all three points. This draw feels like a defeat," lamented OL boss Bruno Genesio, who saw star striker Alexandre Lacazette fire a spot-kick into the post early on. "The match sums up our season pretty well. It was enough to hold onto fourth place, but there was room for us to win today and push on. On this performance we don't deserve a place on the podium. I'm annoyed, to say the least."
Garcia not impressed with OM showing
Luckily for Lyon, nearest rivals Marseille also failed to clinch a maximum points haul. Rudi Garcia's men did all the scoring in the 1-1 draw at home to relegation-threatened Dijon, Grégory Sertic haplessly bundling home an own-goal before Dimitri Payet levelled with a trademark free-kick.
But it wasn't enough to spare the side from Garcia's ire: "We didn't turn up. We lacked character. If you only play well for one half in Ligue 1 you cannot win. We didn't deserve it today. If we play like this we'll watch next season's Europa League on TV. I told my players this wasn't a performance worthy of a team that wants to finish fifth. It's a lesson for the guys."
The draw was enough to take them a point clear of sixth-placed Bordeaux, but Saint-Etienne could catch them when they play their postponed clash with Coupe de la Ligue finalists Monaco (at a date TBA). Saturday night's trophy winners Paris Saint-Germain play their Week 31 clash away to Metz at 18:30 on Tuesday, April 4.
Delort, Nakoulma on target
Toulouse had winter signing Andy Delort to thank for their move into the top half of the table, the former Caen and Tigres striker hitting the only goal of the game to hand Jean-Louis Gasset's Montpellier a third-straight defeat and leave them within five points of the drop.
Meanwhile, Nantes also ascended into the top ten as they claimed derby spoils over Angers 2-1. Préjuce Nakoulma hit his second double of the season to make Famara Diedhiou's late strike a mere consolation and Sergio Conceicao's side now have two wins from their last three matches.
Lorient on a charge
Guingamp claimed a second win in three match to move back to eighth place, Sloan Privat's lone strike enough to leave Nancy still in the relegation zone, locked on 28 points with the upwardly mobile Lorient.
Bernard Casoni's side clinched a Benjamin Moukandjo-powered 1-0 win at home to Caen to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time this season and climb off the foot of the table for the first time in five months. This result, coupled with SC Bastia's going down 1-0 to LOSC, courtesy of Nicolas De Préville's excellent solo goal, saw Les Merlus leapfrog Bastia into 19th.