The French League is poised for a thrilling finish as PSG and Lyon engage in a two-way bid for the title. Marseille and Monaco are also there in the third and fourth place, respectively and closely behind, but it is unlikely that they will be able to make ground on the top 2 teams unless something extremely dramatic occurs. Let’s examine the table and the top-4 teams currently.
Olympique Marseille- Fourth Placed (32 games, 57 points), Qualification to Europa League third qualifying round
Marseille were on top of the league standings for large part of the season, especially the first part of it. It was sunshine and rainbows for the Phoceens who were playing a wonderful brand of football under newly appointed manager Marcelo Bielsa. Things have taken a dip after the winter break and Marseille have been far from their best recently. They have had a shocking number of officiating errors against them, but this cannot justify the lack of character shown from the side in a lot of matches. In the headlines leading up to the game, it was decided that the outcome of the Le Clasique could decide whether it would be PSG or Marseille competing with Lyon till the end. Against PSG, Marseille were on top initially, and played some beautiful football in the opening minutes. However, some weak and almost embarrassing defending helped PSG climb back into the game and go home with all three points. Add to that, Andre Ayew received a red card which meant that Marseille’s only leader in the attack was missing against Bordeaux, a game they lost which widened the gap further for Bielsa’s side. Referee Bartolomeu Varela had a shocker in the game, and failed to award Marseille with a penalty to Marseille on two occasions, but he balanced things out by not sending Benjamin Mendy off in the first half itself.
Often, Marseille have had referee decisions to blame – Lucas Ocampos’s non-goal against Lyon – but the big problem for the side has been the inability to come back into the game after going a goal down. And this has a lot to do with the lack of leadership in front in the absence of Andre Ayew. While Dimitri Payet has been the best attacker for the club this season, Ayew’s inspirational and leadership skills for the club are unparalleled.
A seven point gap will be impossible for the club to make at this stage of the competition. For Bielsa, the goal must now be to finish as high in the table as possible, and with Champions League football (a goal, certainly achievable). The key for finishing third and with prospect of Champions League football, will be a favorable outcome against Monaco on the 9th of May. After the start Marseille had to the league, they must try and ensure the end is as good and they don’t miss out on Champions League football, whose financial rewards will also help them hugely.
Remaining Fixtures: Nantes (A), Lorient (H) Metz (A) Monaco (H) Lille (A) Bastia (H)
AS Monaco- Third Placed (32 games, 58 points), Qualification to Champions League third qualifying round
It took a while for Leandro Jardim to get settled in Stade Louis. In fact, Monaco only had four points in the first five games in the league. People blamed it on the sales of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez but they forgot that it could take time for a new manager to get settled at a club with so many changes in the squad. After a dull start, Jardim got a confidence boosting result against PSG in October, but Monaco’s grove came back in the 2-0 win over Lens in December which set off a eight win unbeaten run in the league. Since then, Monaco have actually only lost one league game (Guingamp) and are currently on another eight win unbeaten run, with the potential to extend it till the end of the season.
One of the reasons cited for their good current form is the shrewdness of owner Dmitry Rybolovlev in quietly continuing to invest in the club in young talents with a lot of potential, and Jardim getting the best out of these youngsters, something that can be illustrated through Monaco’s young, dynamic front three – Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (21), Bernardo Silva (20) and Anthony Martial (19). The trio has become regulars in the side and if Monaco can keep them all and make smart investments in the transfer window, they’re going to have an extremely threatening team in the future. 19 year old Martial has the most goals for the side in the league – 7 – and in all competitions -10.
Monaco got their season started late so they can’t compete for the title with Lyon and PSG, but have surpassed Marseille in the table and can ensure they are in the Champions League next season if they cement their ground in the third place. The game against Marseille will prove key in who finishes with the prospect of Europa League, and who with the chance to advance in the Champions League.
Remaining Fixtures: Rennes (H), Lens (A), Toulouse (H), Marseille (A), Metz (H), Lorient (A)
Paris St. Germain- Second Place (31 games, 62 points), Qualification to Champions League group stage
There seems to be a two-way fight for the title with big spending giants PSG sitting in the second place, one point behind Lyon, but the Parisian club has the advantage of having a game in hand over their rivals.
It wasn’t a great start for last season’s title winners as even though they didn’t lose a game up till December, they managed to draw six of their first ten league fixtures, which meant they dropped twelve points in the process. A slow start for the club and embarrassing defeats to lowly Guingamp and Bastia ensured that Blanc’s side don’t get their third successive title in ease. The club has already won a domestic cup, and are still alive in the Champions League so their season could still be hugely successful, especially if they can win the title again. However, Lyon will make their life very difficult. What adds to their woes is the fact that their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic is going to miss four games for his foul rant about officials that was caught on camera in the aftermath of the 3-2 defeat to Bordeaux in the league. The defending champions don’t have tough matches left in the league so if they win all of the remaining fixtures, they will win the title. However, in such a pressurizing time of the season, points can be easily dropped.
Remaining fixtures: OGC Nice (A), Lille (H), Metz (H), Nantes (A), Guingamp (H), Montpellier (A), Stade Reims (H)
Olympique Lyon- First Place (32 games, 63 points), Qualification to Champions League group stage
After suffering from three consecutive losses near the start of the season, Lyon have made a wonderful recovery in the league and only lost three other games (in the league) since then. This has meant that the club has been in contention for the top spot for large parts of the season and been embroiled in the title race with Marseille (who were in the running for a long time) and PSG. For a team that won seven consecutive league titles (2002-2008), they expectedly experienced the inevitable downfall that has become a football cliche when it comes to team that singularly dominate the country.
After a relatively unsuccessful term as Lyon boss, R mi Garde was replaced by Hubert Fournier at the beginning of the season and the replacement seems like an astute one now given how Fournier has instilled a winning mentality in the squad and how close they are to getting their hands on the coveted title. What has especially caught the eye in Lyon’s campaign, especially because it contrasts their title rivals PSG so drastically, is the importance of homegrown talent (which is not an unheard thing when it comes to the club). Lyon’s starting lineup against Guingamp featured nine homegrown players and the three used substitutes also started out at the club. The leaguea s top scorer with 25 goals, Alexandre Lacazette – who has been likened to Karim Benzema – is also a Lyon product. It of course, is extremely sad for the club that these talents, as reports already suggest for a lot of them, will be poached away by other European clubs. Needless to say, this has been a huge part of Lyon’s success in the league this season and the club will be very proud of the players they have produced in the last year or two.
Lyon need PSG to drop some points to win the title (even if they win all their remaining matches, which are relatively easy) so the wait to remove the thirst for the elusive championship lies in the hands of the fate gods. However, Lyon must still be incredibly proud of the season they’ve had and getting back to the Champions League must also feel like a huge achievement right now. If, however, they can beat PSG to the title, it would prove to be an incredible feat just keeping the money power of the two clubs presently in mind.
Remaining fixtures: Saint-Etienne (H), Stade Reims (A), Evian (H), Caen (A), Bordeaux (H), Rennes (A)