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Ligue 1 Matchday 27 : a leader change?

Montpellier and Aït-Fana face their biggest challenge of '10

Undoubtedly the big game of the weekend will be the one that pins Bordeaux against Montpellier, the leader playing host to their follower on Sunday night in a high-stakes game. Bordeaux has slowed down in league play since the beginning of 2010, which has given Montpellier, Lille, Lyon and Marseille the chance to get closer. The Girondins and Montpellier are tied at the top of the table with 51 points, and Lyon follows closely with 49 points. We could therefore have a leader change, even if it is unlikely. Also, bear in mind that Bordeaux still has two games to play, which skews the reading of the table and what we can take from it (I’ve touched on this issue here).

Montpellier has a so-so record against bigger clubs, beating Lyon, Marseille (once) and Lille , losing to Bordeaux and Marseille (once). This game will be their real litmus test, and will provide answers as to whether they can run for champion, or whether they need to refocus and “settle” for a Champion’s League spot.

To add my personal opinion here, I’d rather Montpellier didn’t make it to the big European stage. Ligue 1 and French soccer in general would look bad if a club that was just promoted were to embarrass itself and get 0 point in group stage, let alone if they were French champions. French soccer needs strong representatives in the Champion’s League and Montpellier would not be one of them. Let Lille or Marseille take the spot ;  they are two teams that have a deep bench and can fight two battles at once. MHSC has a squad built to play only in Ligue 1, something that is a key to their success in the league this season ; and I don’t believe that a single transfer window would suffice to build a squad deep enough to compete in France and Europe. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and for that matter, neither were Olympique Lyonnais or the Girondins. Montpellier has quite a long way before becoming a behemoth of L1, and a participation in the Champion’s League could very well burn their wings.

The match will also be a challenge for Bordeaux, who hasn’t played in a week and a half, since the Olympiakos game. The Girondins usually fare pretty well against the other title contenders, but their lackluster start of ’10 leaves some questions answered, which they would be wise to answer tomorrow night. A victory would send a pretty strong message to the other contenders ; anything else would reinforce the feeling that Bordeaux can be defeated and that their winning the title is all but an evidence.

The other title contenders are also facing relatively difficult matches ; except for Lyon who should have an easy match in Boulogne, provided they stay serious like they did in their previous games. They need to keep the momentum going before the biggest match of the year on Wednesday against Real Madrid, something Lyon’s B-team should hopefully be able to do. Marseille is hosting Lorient in what will be an entertaining game that will pit against each other two very strong attacking lines ; whereas Lille’s trip to St-Etienne will be tougher than it sounds, the Verts fighting for their spot in Ligue 1 and coming off a very encouraging victory at  home against Montpellier.

Matchday 27 also features a death-match between 20th Grenoble and 18th Le Mans. The former are 13 points away from 17th position and are hoping to capitalize on their recent decent form and their ability to finally be efficient in front of the net to keep their hopes up. The team, any observer will tell you, is worth better than the position than they are at right now. Even if their hopes of staying in L1 are slim, Grenoble is determined to play quality soccer until the end and to fall with the honors ; they can therefore cause some unhappy surprises to some teams who would underestimate them. Le Mans is 6 points behind the 17th Nice and will look to get some more fresh air and pull themselves from the bottom 3. Nice, who has the same amount of points as St-Etienne, is hosting Nancy in a game where the head of the Aiglon’s coach, Ollé-Nicolle, will be on the chopping block once again. His players saved him a couple weeks ago by convincingly beating Lorient before losing (understandably) to Lyon, but will they be able to save him again?

The other matches will see Auxerre host Valenciennes, where the former will try to continue their good season and earn a European spot, something that could end up being hard even if they are only 2 points behind the 5th, Lille. Valenciennes will continue to play their role as the troublemaker of Ligue 1, as we never know what to expect from a team that is capable of winning games against good teams but can also crash and burn against a more mediocre team.

Sochaux will try to get some breathing room by obtaining a result against Toulouse, who can forget about their season altogether. Sochaux’s coach Gillot declared that the club saves itself each season by winning a series of 3 or 4 games, and I’m sure he would love it if the series were to start tonight. Finally, there will be a couple “ventre mou” matchups between Rennes and Monaco , and Lens and Paris. This last match will be placed under strict scrutiny, not for reasons pertaining to soccer, but because Paris supporters were prohibited by the club from traveling to away games until the end of the season. The reason for this decision is that Paris fans broke into a massive fight between each other before the match against Marseille, which provoked a few injuries and saw the arrest of 20 hooligans. Noises have been circulating, according to which Paris supporters would still try and go to Lens, but would be faced with the imposing security measures decided by the Ministry of Interior, which could lead to more trouble.

Scenes around Parc des Princes before the PSG-OM game

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