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Quel Suspense!

In the Premier League, the arch rivals from Manchester, City and United will play the probably title-deciding match on Monday, 30th of April. The Citizens have to win to level points. In the Serie A, Juventus Turin is likely to win the Scudetto, being 3 points ahead of AC Milan who still have to play the derby against the Nerrazurri while “The Old Lady” only has to play weak opponents. In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund have just celebrated their second salad bowl in a row. In the Ligue 1, well in the Ligue 1, the title race is still really thrilling as well. PSG and Montpellier are both in a great head-to-head race, with MHSC having a slight advance of 2 points. Not only the title race, but also the fight for Europe and against relegation are full of suspense and possible surprises. Let me clarify this in my new article.

The table of the Ligue 1 after 33 match days:

The title race:

Basically, two teams are having a head-to-head race to become “sacré champion de France”. Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain were already recognized as big favorites for the title after the first leg of the season. While it wasn’t a real surprise in Paris’ case, Montpellier’s season could already be called sensational. During these first 33 match days, they were only once not on one of the first two positions of the table: on the eighth match day they fell down to the fourth position – after a 3-0 defeat against Javier Pastore and Co.

Paris Saint-Germain, who started as big favorites in the season, consequence of investments of 86.4 million Euro, already had to leave the throne of the league to Montpellier thrice. Since “Les Parisiens” were leaders for the first time after their win over Montpellier, they had to leave it to MHSC for 10 match days altogether. At the moment the 14th of last season have conquered the first place since 5 games.

Of these last five games, Montpellier have lost one and won the other four. Ancelotti’s men couldn’t take advantage of their faux pas in Lorient one week ago (1-2) and only tied in Auxerre.  Paris’ current form is actually worse than Montpellier’s: Only two won games, two ties and one defeat in their last five games explain why they couldn’t totally close the two-points-gap yet. However, PSG’s superb forward line finished Sochaux off on Sunday (6-1) while their rivals were struggling at home against Valenciennes (1-0).

PSG seem to have regained team spirit and consequently strength while Montpellier is still being pretty solid. They are undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises in Europe’s top leagues and don’t seem to get much nervous despite Paris keeping the pressure high. After all, MHSC are still on top of the table and don’t have anything to lose while the Qatari club from the capital absolutely has to win the championship. Both teams have already played each other in the second leg of the season (2-2) but still have quite difficult opponents to face in the remaining five games: Montpellier’s most difficult challenges are Toulouse, Rennes and Lille whereas “Les Parisiens” have a slightly easier but not to estimate schedule: Only Rennes, St. Etienne and Lille are rather difficult.

Montpellier has the third best offense of the league (60 goals) and the second best defense of the league (31 goals against) while Paris’ forward line has scored 63 goals (best) and their defense couldn’t avoid 35 goals (4th best).

To sum up, I think it’s pretty tricky to predict the winner of the Ligue 1. Both teams have a more or less equally difficult schedule to play. The title race is still open but advantaging Montpellier. But since Paris is more experienced and have the better squad and manager, I do think PSG will make it. It will be a very thrilling and tight head-to-head race for the title for sure though. In case of Montpellier as well as PSG having the same amount of points in the end of the season, the fairest club will win the Ligue 1. A booking costs 1 point, red cards 3. At the moment, Montpellier’s players have been booked 61 times but also conceded 3 red cars (79 points). Paris Saint-Germain have seen 67 yellow cards and 3 of their players have been sent off (76 points). If both teams don’t see any cards at all anymore and level points in the end of the season, PSG would be champions.

Theoretically, Lille OSC, 3rd at the moment, can still win the championship as well, being only 7 points behind Montpellier. But considering MHSC’s and PSG’s ambitions, I don’t think any of the two favorites will lose enough games to give Lille enough hope to win the Ligue 1 for the second time in a row.

The fight for Europe:

Besides Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain who will surely play in the Champions League in the next season, only one more CL spot has been given by the UEFA to the Ligue 1. At the moment, Lille are second runner-ups. The third place has been their best position of the first 33 match days and they haven’t left it since the 23rd of October after 3-0 win over Olympique Lyon.

Due to their awful UEFA coefficient, France only have two starters for the Europa League. Yet, Lyon and Rennes are qualified for the “losers’ cup” (Franz Beckenbauer) but there are several teams fighting for these two spots. Actually, the Europa League isn’t the most attractive competition in the eyes of French club what does explain that no French club has had success in it recently. However, Lyon, Rennes, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse have high ambitions.

Lyon, 4th with 56 points at the minute, aren’t satisfied with the EL spot. They do want to reach the Champions League qualifiers despite a gap of 6 points between them and LOSC. Rémy Garde’s men, who will be playing the final of the Coupe de France on Saturday against Quevilly, have lost two games recently though: the final of the Coupe de la Ligue and on Wednesday, they got the short straw in Toulouse (0-3). They are said to be in a crisis but actually did have a great run after they had been kicked out of the Champions League by Nicosia: 7 unbeaten matches (6 won, 1 tied). On Sunday, they had a sensational comeback and won 3-2 against Lorient after they had been lead with 0-2. However, I don’t think they can still reach the third CL spot due to Lille’s fantastic form. But since they will do everything to reach it, they will be the first French starters in the EL in my opinion.

Thus Rennes, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse will be fighting for the remaining EL spot to earn quite a lot of money next season. Since none of these teams will be playing Lyon and they won’t face each other either in the last 5 matches, the clashes between Rennes and the two favorites for the title as well as between Toulouse and Montpellier and St. Etienne and Paris Saint-Germain will decide the race for the last gate to Europe.

Stade Rennais, who are 5th with 54 points, have had a good run recently with 3 consecutive wins after tying against Lyon. They haven’t been that steady throughout the current season and surely haven’t played the best football. The team is sometimes lacking determination such as in the semis of the Coupe de France where they were kicked out by the sensational amateurs from Quevilly (1-2). Already qualified for the Europa League in the last season, they didn’t cover France in glory in this season and were kicked out in the group stage. They still have to face the two strongest teams of the Ligue 1 what will be tight matches which I do expect them to lose…

Only one point behind Rennes, Saint-Etienne (6th) and Toulouse (7th) are waiting for their chance. Saint-Etienne surely hasn’t played an outstanding season and have only been 8 times on a spot for Europe but they shouldn’t lose hope. On Saturday they defeated Caen away with 4 goals to 1 and their best striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems to have regained strength just in time. Toulouse, who would have been qualified for Europe on 15 different match days, shouldn’t underestimate ASSE and be aware of their strength. However, Toulouse has the best defense of the league (only 30 goals against) but by far not the best offense (only 36 goals mean the 12th position in that ranking).

Considering Rennes difficult remaining schedule and Toulouse’s bad offense, I do expect Saint-Etienne to be the second club behind their nemesis Olympique Lyonnais to reach the Europa League. As already said, I also expect Lille to keep the third CL spot because their squad is simply among the best in the Ligue 1, whereas Lyon has a younger and more unexperienced team. Olympique Marseille (10th with 41 points) can be the third side to represent France in the Europa League (if Lille fails in the qualifiers, they will be in the EL too) thanks to their win of the Coupe de la Ligue against Lyon. They have to go through some rounds of qualifiers first though…

The fight against relegation:

The fight against relegation in the Ligue 1 is one of the most intense I have ever seen. 9 clubs can still be relegated and a gap of only 4 points is between the first relegation place (18th, 33 points) and the 12th (37 points). There are 5 games left and every team threatened with relegation still has to face one of the big teams. Auxerre, Sochaux, Brest, Ajaccio, Dijon, Caen, Lorient, Valenciennes and Nice are the 9 teams to fear until the last minute.

As already said, almost each of these teams has tough remaining fixtures. Ajaccio (17th with 34 points) still have to face Lyon, Rennes, Toulouse and Sochaux who will be fighting like crazy for sure since they only have 33 points yet and are even 19th at the moment, thus relegated to Ligue 2 if the season would already have finished. They have recently sacked their manager and appointed the former youth coach Eric Hély new manager. Consequently Sochaux has been playing better but it doesn’t seem to be enough yet…

Dijon (16th, 34 points) have a really tough schedule too. They will play two opponents in the fight against relegation (Auxerre and Lorient) and the three competitors for the Europa League (Rennes, St. Etienne and Toulouse), five matches that aren’t in their favor with them at all.

Caen, the 15th having as much points as Dijon and Ajaccio, have a very difficult schedule as well. They first play Nancy, who’ve had a great run that has lead them away from relegation danger (11th, 41 points), before hosting Lorient (14th, 35 points) and playing away in Lille. Afterwards they host Sochaux and play the final match of the season in Valenciennes.

As to Valenciennes (13th, 37 points), they will first play against the 12th (Nice, 37 points too) before playing Lyon, PSG, Brest and Caen.

Brest (18th, 33 points) will have a clash with Auxerre on the next match day before playing Toulouse, Lyon, Valenciennes and Evian-TG. These will be very difficult games as well, especially if you consider their bad run of 6 losses in the last 7 games (1 victory though).

Nice (12th, 37 points) has equally difficult fixtures (3 teams of the top 7 plus Valenciennes) but they have had a rather good run recently. Many didn’t believe in them anymore (16 match days on relegation places) but they managed to get a tiny gap between themselves and the first relegation place.

Only FC Lorient seems to have the “easiest” opponents among the clubs threatened with relegation. They can win against Marseille before playing against the direct opponents from Caen and Dijon. Christian Gourcuff (Yoann Gourcuff’s father) and his men are able to defeat Bordeaux before being guests in Paris.

Bye bye

Bye bye

I do expect AJ Auxerre to be relegated since they are at the rock bottom of the table and have only gathered 28 points yet. AJA, who have been part of the Ligue 1 since 1980 without being relegated, have only won 5 out of 33 games and have the worst defense of the league (54 goals against; as much as Dijon and Sochaux). It’s hard to say what other teams will be relegated, it will be so thrilling. 4 points are nothing with 5 games left. If I had to guess, I’d say that Auxerre, Brest and Caen will be part of the Ligue 2 in the upcoming season.

Helpful links: Ligue 1 summaryLigue 1 schedule 

As always feel free to rate (with the stars below the article), comment and share this article!🙂

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The match schedule

April 2012
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