Week 34 review: Five stars for OL, OM as Monaco fall
By S. Willis
Big wins for the Olympiques and another loss for Monaco left the three sides separated by just a point in the race for second; Nice and Saint-Etienne both won to boost their bids for Europa League football next season.
Until last week, Monaco seemed firm favourites to clinch second place and the Champions League group-stage berth that goes with it, but the 2016-17 champions' 7-1 hammering at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in Week 33 not only saw their title defence finish, but also whittled their lead over third place to just four points.
Jardim: 'Only one objective'
Thus, away to Guingamp in Week 34, Leonardo Jardim's team were looking to restore their buffer but, reduced to ten men after Jemerson saw red for an intentional hand ball on the goal-line 21 minutes into the match, couldn't find a way past a Guingamp side intent on clinching a third win in an unbeaten run of four matches and fell 3-1.
"I was expecting a reaction too. I defended the team at the Parc [des Princes], but today I can't say the same thing. We lacked commitment," said a dispirited Jardim after Saturday's defeat in Brittany. "To play for Monaco, a team that wants to stay in second place, there needs to be a change in attitude. It is not enough to say 'I play for Monaco'. This attitude of being a bit relaxed is not good because we have only one objective, the most important of the season, which is to finish in second place."
Lyon hit top gear
Stern words from the big chair, but hardly out of order given the threat posed by in-form OL and OM. Lyon set the tone on Friday night with 5-2 hammering of Dijon - their fifth five-goal haul of the campaign - with fit-again captain Nabil Fekir's dazzling solo effort and Memphis Depay's sixth in five outings helping to get the better of their game but out-gunned hosts.
"The aim was to win, which is what we did. We're happy with the win and to have scored five goals. But there are still quite a few things to put right going forward, because we should have been better in handling our weaker periods," said wary OL boss Bruno Genesio. "We have to learn quickly from our mistakes if we don't want to suffer a disappointment between now and the end of the season. What is important is to focus on the battle for third with Marseille. We can't control what Monaco do in second."
Perfect preparation for Europe
The win put the pressure on Marseille to keep pace, but Rudi Garcia's team responded in the best possible way. With Florian Thauvin and Kostas Mitroglou both bagging braces, OM hammered relegation contenders LOSC 5-1 at the Orange Vélodrome to stay locked on points with Lyon and in a winning frame of mind ahead of their UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg at home to Red Bull Salzburg on Thursday.
"We had seven shots, five on target, while Lille had no shots on target. That was the difference. And when you score a second, then a third and a fourth, the match is finished for the opposition," said OM boss Rudi Garcia. "We are equal-third again and we are on a winning dynamic. That is important for next Thursday, and now we are going to study Salzburg closely. With this team spirit, this team is capable of being stronger than anyone. We need to keep showing that until the end of the season."
Meanwhile, with the title secured, Paris Saint-Germain went about chasing the league's points record - 96, set by Paris Saint-Germain themselves two seasons ago - as they travelled to Bordeaux. Despite a valiant display from Gustavo Poyet's side, who had 21 shots on goal, Paris moved onto 90 points thanks to Giovani Lo Celso's winner - one of just two efforts on goal from the capital club.
The entertaining race for fifth place has another new leader this week, with OGC Nice moving into prime position thanks to a 1-0 win over direct rivals Montpellier and Rennes' inability to beat ten-man Nantes in their 1-1 derby draw on Friday night. Nice have lost just one of their last nine, but even this impressive form suffers from comparison to that of Saint-Etienne.
Jean-Louis Gasset's side are unbeaten in 12 matches following the 2-1 win over Troyes - substitute Robert Beric's brace (his sixth and seventh goals since returning to the club in January) cancelling out Adama Niane's opener - that took them to sixth place after being as low as 16th in January.
Kakuta & co inch closer
Amiens SC all but secured a second season in France's top flight with a 3-1 dismantling of fellow promotees Strasbourg who, winless in nine, sit just five points above the drop in 16th. Meanwhile Angers saw a four-match unbeaten come to an end 2-0 in Toulouse - just a second win by a two-goal margin for the Téfécé this season - while SM Caen denied bottom club FC Metz a precious win by coming from behind to draw 1-1.