The title race in France may be a procession, but the drama at the other end of the table is ensuring that Ligue 1 remains compulsive viewing. Philippa Booth casts her expert eye over the survival scrappers and looks at who has the best chance of avoiding the drop.
Round 27 in Ligue 1 saw one of the periodic goal-flurries that can make the Saturday night multiplex rather difficult to follow, with the coverage swerving wildly between matches as commentators yell “goal at Lorient!”, before the studio manager finally gives up and just goes with a split screen.
There were 18 goals in total over the four matches, with all games featuring injury-time strikes, meaning the ‘as things stand’ table graphic had A LOT of work to do.
Ligue 1 scheduling tends to mean that key games for the relegation battle happen simultaneously; a ‘big game’ is reserved for Sunday night, a biggish match is on Friday, the post-Europa teams always get Sunday slots… and PSG never play Saturday evening. This weekend was no exception. Montpellier pulled themselves up to something approaching safety after beating Angers 3-2, and Lorient even more so after their 93rd-minute winner in a chaotic 4-3 against Guingamp – with whom they had started level on points.
On Sunday, Lille also put some distance between themselves and danger after beating Lyon 1-0 in a bad-tempered match in which OL had Christophe Jallet and Clement Grenier sent off. In the other direction, Gazelec got drawn back into things at the bottom after failing to a) hold on to a 1-0 lead and b) keep eleven men on the pitch against Toulouse, while Reims are down to 17th after losing 4-1 at the Parc des Princes.
Last-placed Troyes are 15 points off safety, in full “doomed, doomed I tell you” mode, and spent the January transfer window selling off their goalkeepers, which is unlikely to help matters. One place further up, Toulouse gave themselves a glimmer of hope with their injury-time equaliser against Gazelec, but taking only one point from a relegation six-pointer, at home, when your opponents are down to ten men, hardly constitutes a boost. At least it wasn’t them getting the red card this time.
Above them there are four teams – Gazelec, Reims, Guingamp and Montpellier – separated by only four points, who will no doubt be nervously comparing fixture lists for the run-in.
Gazelec, currently in 18th, also have to factor in a midweek cup quarter-final sandwiched between hosting OM and a trip to Bordeaux. Newly promoted this season, the Corsican team had a terrible start, taking only three points from the first ten games, but then put together an 11-game unbeaten run to get as high as 12th before their gas ran out. Despite the cup run, their league form has collapsed, with only two points from their last six putting them back in trouble again.
It looks like a straight fight between Gazelec and Reims to avoid the final relegation place, but there are a few factors on Reims’ side: they have got both PSG games out of the way (in fact they are one of only four teams to have taken a point from the champions), while Gazelec have one of the trickiest run-ins – their upcoming opponents average 1.5 points per game, compared against 1.32 for Reims.
This also suggests that Guingamp and Montpellier aren’t out of the woods just yet, as they have similarly tricky ends to the season; we saw Evian drop like a stone from this point last season, while Toulouse clawed their way to safety.
The bottom six are all at home next weekend… and four will feature in the multiplex.
Troyes are now surely only playing for pride, but Guingamp v Angers and Reims v Bordeaux could be crucial matches for the battle to stay in Ligue 1, before Gazelec host OM on Sunday afternoon.
So, stand by for more goal-alert yelling and split-screen action!