So this is what it all boils down to for Montpellier, win this game a home to Lille and surely the title will be theirs, lose or draw and it potentially sets up a huge final day of action. It is a massive assumption that Paris Saint-Germain beat Rennes but if they were to claim three points then la Paillade could find themselves two points ahead of les Dogues in third place on the final day of the campaign and in need of an away win against an Auxerre side fighting for their life. PSG on the other hand would travel to Lorient who are almost guaranteed their safety with little to play for whilst Lille face Nancy at home. The title race could still take one massive twist with only two games to go so it is do or die for Rene Girard’s men. A Montpellier victory on Sunday would surely crush PSG’s spirited late challenge for the title regardless of their result but failure to do so would run the risk of undermining a heroic underdog story.
The game then will hinge on the battle between two of the league’s best players this season: Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard. Whilst Giroud has been prolific and undoubtedly the success story of this Ligue 1 season, Hazard has, statistically had his best season in a Lille shirt and is currently playing some of the best football on display in Europe. With suitors queuing up around the block for both players, Sunday’s epic showdown is surely a question of who can impose themselves more on the game, the clinical Frenchman or the eclectic Belgian. Your guess is as good as mine.
Since his early strikes in the opening two rounds of matches I don’t think many people expected Giroud to maintain his impressive goalscoring form right until the end of the season but he has. 21 goals and eight assists in the league have helped make him a French international as well as firing the provincial outfit to the brink of an unlikely title but he has been helped massively by Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda who has chipped in with 12 goals and four assists this season. The talented attacking midfielder has often provided the ammunition for the 25-year old and is the perfect foil for the target man but now Giroud has to go it alone.
Belhanda misses the rest of the season because of his red card against Evian a fortnight ago and the team must now strive to offset his absence and provide their predator with the chances he needs to downLille. With players like Remy Cabella, Geoffrey Dernis and John Utaka available la Paillade have the players capable of laying on the opportunities but will need to replicate their efficient if not entirely free-flowing performance from Monday night against Rennes.
Lille meanwhile have been playing like champions-elect despite their current third place in the table and nobody has been more impressive in their late season surge for a title challenge than Eden Hazard. The man of the moment in French football has been on fire for the past two months (coinciding with a number of scouting visits) and has racked up eight goals and eight assists in the past two months to take his season’s tally to 17 goals and 15 assists, already blitzing last year’s return of seven goals and ten assists.
The Belgian playmaker however is used to making his team tick as that is how he always plays: centre of attention. Giroud on the other hand is not used to not having anybody to shoulder the burden with as evidenced against Rennes when Cabella and Camara had to pop up with the goals. This is where the visitors have an edge that could prove crucial. Hazard is in the form of his life right now and nobody seems to be able to stop him. Just look at how he performed despite injury against PSG two weeks ago: he was imperious. This game although perfect for the hosts to sew up the title, is also perfect for the visitors to blow this title race wide open ahead of the last day of the season.
The match promises to be an exciting spectacle offering the two best footballing sides this season going head-to-head for the chance to swing the title race in their favour. Two of the league’s best talents are also on show and the game is shaping up to be pivotal in terms of nouveau riche PSG’s chances of winning what would be a slightly undeserved first title under Qatari ownership.
My prediction: Lille to put in a big performance and Montpellier to rally well with both sides creating a lot of chances. I think LOSC will dominate proceedings but Giroud perhaps will salvage a point for the hosts leading us into an exciting final day. 1-1.