Ligue 1: The Battle for Europe

EUROPE

PSG secured their fourth consecutive title last month, so as they motor gently onwards, unencumbered by any distractions, focus turns to the battle for who will join them in Europe next season. This is slightly complicated by the fact that PSG could also win the Coupe de France, so at this point it’s not clear if sixth in the league will get involved, but for the avoidance of doubt (and with respect to OM fans, we’re mostly trying not to jinx you by making assumptions) this will be contemplated.

A further complication is that there are three matches between the seven teams who could theoretically qualify, and this Saturday sees two of them. The podium’s other current residents, Lyon and Monaco, face off, as do the teams currently in fourth and fifth, as Saint Etienne travel to Nice. Then on the last day, ASSE have another potentially key tie, as they welcome Lille.

Lyon – 2nd on 62

OL look to be in the box-seat for group-stage qualification as they are unbeaten at home in 2016 with average goals scored of 2.7, conceding 0.8, whereas Monaco’s away form is mostly draws (the win at the Parc des Princes having its own context, their other win back in January against Lorient).

If they win against Monaco, they are safe for top three, and it would take a frankly ridiculous goalfest on the final day for Monaco to overhaul them on goal difference (they are at +22 versus Monaco’s +10 at present). That must be their focus, therefore – winning game 37 would render the final day’s result largely meaningless. The only danger is if they drop points against ASM and open up a ‘who does better’ sitch for the final match – where OL travel to Reims, who could well still be fighting for their lives, and Monaco welcome Montpellier, likely just heaving a giant sigh of relief and not being overly bothered.

Prediction – 2nd

Monaco – third on 62 points

See above. If Monaco can get something from the game in Lyon, game on. Apart from the PSG match, ASM haven’t beaten a top half side away since Nice on the first day of the season, but they do have four draws against the current top ten – although only one (Saint Etienne) against the current top six. There’s a very decent chance of three points against Montpellier, however, so they should be able to have another crack at C1 qualifying, and let’s hope that goes better than last year.

Prediction – 3rd

Saint-Etienne – fourth on 58 points

This is where it starts getting tricky, as ASSE travel to Nice and then host Lille in their last two matches. When they went to Nice in game 8 they lost 4-1, and although Nice have eased off the big-scores since then, they also lost 1-0 to Lille, who since then have started scoring actual goals. Their recent five-game winning streak was all against bottom-half teams and they haven’t beaten one of the top six since January so…there’s a feeling that they should be able to hold on, based on their position and history but two defeats is not out of the question, and then they could be watching the cup final in the awkward position of having to cheer for PSG.

Prediction – 6th

Nice – fifth on 57 points

Nice have calmed slightly. They’ve even failed to score a couple of times. But something about them still says ‘doing this’ and if they screw this up they have only themselves to blame. If they can beat ASSE and Guingamp, they should take fourth – and if PSG win the cup, that means automatic group qualification.

Prediction – 4th

Lille – sixth on 56 points

The real joker here is LOSC, who could – if some sort of post-apocalyptic confluence of results goes their way – still theoretically get a Champions League place. However, their role in this seems more likely to be pissing on Saint-Etienne’s chips to consolidate a Europa qualifying place. They need to beat Guingamp to have a chance of that, but, Guingamp, and then have the mettle to see out what could be a feisty away encounter at the Geoffroy-Guichard. They are probably not going to do better than Europa qualifying, but they could take ASSE down in doing that if they stay together.

Prediction – 5th

Rennes – seventh on 52 points

Rennes may well be about to get their third manager of the season – they were sixth when they binned Philippe Montanier, and are seventh with rumours swirling around Rolland Courbis being replaced by Christian Gourcuff. Perhaps it would be sensible to accept that this is a reasonable position for them to be in and that expecting an 18-year-old to shoulder the goalscoring burden and a defence including Sylvain Armand to keep up with the opposition might be overly optimistic.

They travel to Montpellier in game 37 and then host Bastia (not the greatest travellers) in the final game, so could theoretically get a Europa League spot – even knock Saint-Etienne out they get a big enough goal-swing – but it seems more likely that they will stay in seventh, wondering what might have been.

Prediction – 7th

Angers – eighth on 50 points

This is the wildcard – again, a post-apocalyptic etc and so on would be needed for Angers to take a place in Europe, but let us pause a minute to reflect on the season of a promoted club looking at the competition, going ‘sod them’, spending most of the season in the top six, and only dropping into the bottom half once, based on defending like they knew what they were doing and winning hearts all over the place. They’re staying up (TM). Their last two games are an archetypal difficult-place-to-go trip to Bastia, and a final day encounter with Toulouse, who could still be in with a chance of avoiding relegation, so crashing victories seem unlikely. But chapeau, Angers. See you next season.

Prediction – 8th

With all the focus on PSG, it’s been very easy to forget that there are other battles going on in Ligue 1 – whether that’s local rivalries, staying up, cup-runs, the LFP’s fair play standings, whatever. The performance of French teams in Europe hasn’t been stellar in the past few seasons, but it is still a key battle. And we will be watching, next season.

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