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Montpellier on brink of winning French league title
Published : 01 May 2012 05:16:52
Montpellier are on the verge of winning the French title after a great weekend for the southern club, but they have little time to rest on their laurels as they host Evian on Tuesday.
Rene Girard's side are five points clear with four games remaining after they claimed a Ligue 1 record tenth 1-0 win of the season at Toulouse on Friday before challengers Paris Saint-Germain went down 2-1 at Lille on Sunday.
Montpellier are on a roll, and will be hoping to record a ninth consecutive home win by beating the promoted club, who travel to the Stade de la Mosson with the pressure off having already guaranteed their place in the top flight for next season.
It is a game that they are expected to win but, with meetings with Rennes and Lille to follow that before a final-day trip to an Auxerre side fighting for their lives, Girard insists that anything can still happen.
"We need to remain fully focused on what we have left to do. It is not over yet by any means," said Girard, who won three league titles as a player with Bordeaux in the 1980s.
"I didn't come into work today singing and dancing, I didn't open a bottle of champagne in my office. There was no reason to, and my worry is what happens against Evian.
"There is no reason for us to change our approach, our philosophy, just because Paris lost at Lille. There are 12 points still available and we will see where we are on May 20 (the final day of the season)."
Meanwhile, in Paris, the mood is somewhat downtrodden after they threw away a lead to lose in Lille, compromising not just their title hopes but also their chances of finishing second and thereby qualifying directly for next season's Champions League group stage.
A Montpellier win against Evian would leave PSG eight points adrift by the time they kick-off at home to Saint-Etienne on Wednesday.
"The next match will be important, we need a reaction," Paris coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
"The title is not lost. It will be harder to win it now, but it is not lost. We must still believe that anything is possible."
Lille's chances of overhauling PSG will be tested when they go to struggling Nice, although if Eden Hazard continues his recent form then the northern side will feel they can beat anyone.
The Belgian, who has scored eight goals in nine games, is the favourite to win France's player of the year prize for the second year running, with Lille coach Rudi Garcia describing him as "the best player in Ligue 1, our Monsieur Plus."
"We were a long way behind Paris and Montpellier but we also knew we would be playing these teams in the run-in," added Garcia.
"Against Paris we managed to close the gap. But we are still third. We need to continue this positive dynamic."
There is lots at stake elsewhere, with Lyon hosting Valenciennes on Wednesday, four days after winning the French Cup to end a four-year trophy drought.
OL and League Cup winners Marseille will both be in next season's Europa League, but there is still one place up for grabs via the league.
Rennes are in pole position to take that at the moment after a run of four wins in a row.
They go to Bordeaux, while Saint-Etienne will look to keep their hopes alive at the Parc des Princes, and Toulouse must win at Brest.
At the bottom, the relegation issue remains wide open, with seven points separating the bottom eight teams.
Auxerre, who prop up the division, go to Burgundy rivals Dijon, while Sochaux, who have conceded nine goals in two games, face a six-pointer away to fellow strugglers Ajaccio and Caen against Lorient is another crucial encounter.
Without a win in 13 league games, Marseille take on a Nancy side who have not lost in nine matches.
Fixtures (all kick-off times GMT)
Montpellier v Evian (1900)
Ajaccio v Sochaux, Bordeaux v Rennes, Brest v Toulouse, Caen v Lorient, Dijon v Auxerre, Lyon v Valenciennes, Marseille v Nancy, Nice v Lille (all 1700), Paris Saint-Germain v Saint-Etienne (1900)