Now with both the League Cup and French Cup out of the way, all eyes can now focus on Matchday 36 and the remaining schedule. As of this point, only three things have been determined. First, Arles-Avignon will be relegated. Second, Lille will be playing in the Champions League. And third, Marseille will be playing in some sort of European competition due to their victory in the League Cup. Everything else is still up in the air.
Many of the matches this weekend could possibly be the predictor of nothing. At the end of the matchday, which will continue until Wednesday, many of the teams that were in competition for an European spot still might not have qualified or have been eliminated from that spot. Therefore, we will first look at a relegation zone match, which could possibly lead to one of the storied teams in Ligue 1 being relegated to the second division.
In the match between Monaco and Lens, both teams will be climbing an uphill battle. After compiling a few wins in April, Monaco looked as if they were going to survive the relegation zone. But after a few disappointing outings, The Principality find themselves right back in the same position as they did before their mini-win streak. As for Lens, the season hasn’t been one to remember. The club thought that making a coaching change from Jean-Guy Wallemme to László Bölöni would help, but many could argue that it has only made things worse. Therefore, who has the advantage going into this match?
The game will be played at Monaco. But since the Stade Louis II only averages around 8,000 fans, home field advantage will not really matter much. The big issue for both teams is injuries. In goal, both Stephanie Ruffier and Vedran Runje will be out of action. And while their backups have done a good job in relief, more pressure will be put on them to perform for their team’s Ligue 1 lives. But even with Ruffier’s absence, Monaco will have their upper hand. They will have Korean striker Chu Young Park back, which should help put pressure on the Lens defense. In addition Lens is the second worse defense in the league, while Monaco has the fifth best.
In addition to having the less talented team on the pitch, Lens is in a “must win situation”. In order for them to stay in Ligue 1, they must win this match against Monaco. If they lose, they will be relegated. If they draw the match, they still have a chance to stay alive, but they must win the next two matches by at least +18 goals, which would be impossible. Therefore, with their backs against the wall, Lens might be able to pull off yet another win like they did against Bordeaux in the mid-week.
Another match that many will be watching with great enthusiasm is the battle between St. Etienne and Rennes. With Lille winning the French Cup earlier today, the sixth place position in the Ligue 1 standings has now become a qualifying position. St. Etienne is currently in eighth place, while Rennes remains in fifth place, but have been playing extremely poorly in the last few matches.
Again, both teams will have to rely on the players they have available. Luckily for Rennes, they will only be without Alexander Tettey, which will still be a felt blow to the team. For ASSE, the situation will be a little more grave, as they will be without Dimitri Payet. The good news for St. Etienne is that Blaise Matuidi will be returning from a suspension, but that is about it.
The omission of Payet from this team has to be a blessing for Rennes. The Brittany team has had an awful time scoring goals this season. On the other hand, their defense has been stellar. Therefore, with ASSE’s most prolific scorer out of the line up, this could just be enough to get Rennes back on their winning ways. But in order to win, they must score as well, as common sense dictates. This is where the play of Victor Hugo Montano will be ever important. If Montano has a productive match, then Rennes have a chance. But that might even be a harder task without the services of Tettey.
Still, St. Etienne have the advantage in this match. While Payet might be absent, they still have enough strong offensive-minded players to get them the extra push they need to score goals. If ASSE lose, they aren’t technically knocked out of the Europa League race (as it also depends on what happens in the Lille vs. Sochaux match), but they will be on the outside looking in, with the store about to close. Therefore, this is a must-win situation.
But the most important key match up on Sunday might be between Lorient and Marseille. Even after the lost in The Olympico, Marseille have shown that they can move on, as they completely destroyed Brest at the Stade Velodrome in the mid-week. But this is a match being played at the Stade du Moustoir and its synthetic turf. This will make a big difference in the match, as Lorient hasn’t lost at home since October. In that lost, they were defeated by Nancy, another team that uses synthetic turf.
In addition to the turf issue, Marseille will be missing some key players that could hurt their overall play. L’Equipe reports that OM will be without Lucho Gonzalez and Gaby Heinze. On the other hand, Deschamps will be welcoming the return of Stephane Mbia to the line up. Taye Taiwo was handed a two-match suspension, but he will still be available for this match.
But even with some of their key players missing, the biggest injury might not be on the OM side of the field, but the other side. Last week, Lorient goalkeeper Fabien Audard collided with Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud, and will miss the rest of the season. Therefore, the goaltending duties will be handed over to Lionel Cappone. Cappone, a former Marseille product, has played eight matches for Lorient, which included clean sheets against Lens and Lyon. Therefore, he has the ability to stop the ball.
Like the other two matches we previewed, this match is a “must win” situation for both of these teams. If Marseille were to win, they have clinched second place in the Ligue 1 standings and have the automatic qualifying spot in the Champions League. In addition, they will only be one point behind Lille, who will be hosting a surging Sochaux team on Wednesday. For Lorient, they are still four points out of the last Europa League qualifying spot. While a loss doesn’t necessarily knock them out of the race, it will make it much harder, basically requiring them to win their last two matches outright.
In other Ligue 1 matches, Valenciennes will host Auxerre, Nancy will host Nice, Caen will host Montpellier and Arles-Avignon will host Toulouse FC.