Ligue 1: France in Europe

The top of Ligue 1 continues to be fascinatingly close, with Nice still top but only by one point after being held to a draw by Bastia on Sunday. Monaco and PSG are level on points in the other podium places, ASM ahead on goal difference, before an eight-point gap down to the chasing pack.

The top three plus Lyon and Saint-Etienne have also had European competition to contend with, part of the brutal pre-Christmas schedule of nine games in 27 days. With six European spots available, it a little awkward that they last got four teams out of the group stages back in 2010/11.

That could happen this season, although it would be a big ask. Lyon are third in Champions League Group H, and will face second-placed Sevilla in the final group game. Under the head-to-head rules, OL need to win by two goals, and manager Bruno Genesio predicts it will be “un match extraordinaire”.

Elsewhere, things are simpler. Leonardo Jardim is proving that you can fight on two fronts as Monaco sewed up qualification as group winners after five games with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. They are maintaining an average of three goals per game, and have scored 20 in their last five. A hallmark of their free-wheeling attack is that the goals are shared around – they don’t feature at the top of the scoring charts but have five players with five goals, and thirteen scorers overall. This makes it rather tricky for opposition defences to work out where the threat might come from.

PSG meanwhile have maybe got used to Ligue 1 being a gimme so they can concentrate on the Champions League, but this season isn’t quite going as planned. A win over Lyon at the weekend was satisfying, but they are still not wholly convincing, which is true also of Edinson Cavani despite topping the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 13 and having scored five of their ten in Europe. But they are through, and given the head-to-head rules, if they and Arsenal both win their final game and end up level on points, PSG will be top on away goals having scored two at the Emirates Stadium.

Down in the Europa League – also proving that Jardim is a very, very good coach indeed – league-leaders Nice are out, bottom of Group I with a measly three points and not looking like themselves. There has been a sense that with their eyes are on a bigger prize.

Saint-Etienne have qualified for the knock-out stage and have the opportunity to top Group C if they win away at Anderlecht in their final game. Anderlecht’s home games so far read 3-0 (play-off v Slavia Prague), 3-1 (Gabala) and 6-1 (Mainz) while Les Verts’ attack is not their strongest suit even when Robert Beric isn’t injured.

In case you’re keeping count and wondering where the sixth place went – that’s another awkward subject. France’s dwindling league coefficient means more qualifying matches, and this is the first season since 2012/13 that the third-placed team has got through to the Champions League. For the Europa League, it is traditional for teams to crash out in the play-off but Lille went one better, being beaten by Gabala in the third qualifying round. Gabala currently have no points in the group stage, whilst Lille have just sacked manager Frederic Antonetti.

The frantic festive fixture pile-up may mean that the already qualified take their feet off the gas – Monaco don’t have to bother, PSG will be happy with a 1-0 win, and Saint-Etienne don’t really do gas anyway – but when everything kicks off again after the winter break, it will be very interesting to see what happens. Particularly if Monaco manage to outdo PSG, still desperately seeking a semi-final.

Follow Philippa on Twitter at @Philby1976

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