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Montpellier set for Lille Ligue 1 title showdown
Published : 13 May 2012 05:17:00
Montpellier's Ligue 1 title aspirations will be placed under serious scrutiny when they welcome in-form defending champions Lille to Stade de la Mosson for their penultimate game of the season on Sunday.
Having won 2-0 at Rennes on Monday, Montpellier lead second-placed Paris Saint-Germain by three points and are five points clear of Lille, who must win on Sunday to stand any chance of retaining their crown.
Victory for Montpellier, coupled with anything but a win for PSG at fifth-placed Rennes, would see Rene Girard's side claim the French championship for the first time in the club's 93-year history.
Montpellier may be in pole position, but in recent weeks Lille have generated a momentum that might have carried them to the top of the table had they not dropped points in careless fashion earlier in the campaign.
Rudi Garcia's team have won eight of their last nine league games, losing points just once, in a 3-1 loss at Brest on April 7.
"If we manage to win there, nothing will be over," said Lille right-back Mathieu Debuchy. "Everything would go down to the last day.
"Montpellier are having a very good season. If they become champions, it's because they deserve it. But we have nothing to lose. We're going to play as we usually do."
Eden Hazard has been the star of Lille's late-season revolt, claiming six goals and eight assists in his last nine appearances.
His scintillating performances this term have seen him nominated for Ligue 1's Player of the Season award -- which he currently holds -- alongside Montpellier pair Olivier Giroud and Younes Belhanda, as well as PSG's Nene.
Hazard will come up against Giroud on Sunday, but not Belhanda, who has been suspended for three matches over the red card he was shown for an altercation with Cedric Mongongu in the 2-2 draw with Evian.
Remy Cabella, who had a hand in both goals at Rennes, will continue to deputise for Belhanda, with Benjamin Stambouli once again taking the place of the suspended Marco Estrada in central midfield.
Lille have doubts over Franck Beria, with 18-year-old Lucas Digne set to continue at left-back if Beria fails to recover from a calf injury.
PSG are praying for Montpellier to succumb to the pressure of being front-runners, as defeat for the leaders combined with victory for PSG would put Carlo Ancelotti's side on top of the table ahead of their final game at Lorient.
"It's true that Montpellier have a match point," said PSG sporting director Leonardo.
"But they're playing against the third-place team, who can still win the title. We're playing at home against Rennes and we're still completely in the race.
"We've wasted match points, it's true. But so have Montpellier, and so have Lille."
With Lyon having all but secured fourth place by winning 3-1 at Evian on Thursday, Rennes lead a pack of four teams bidding to finish fifth and book a berth in next season's Europa League.
Frederic Antonetti's side are level on 55 points with Saint-Etienne, who visit Nancy, while Bordeaux and Toulouse are both two points further back.
Bordeaux host 13th-placed Lorient, whose survival is still not yet assured, with Toulouse visiting second-bottom Dijon.
Bottom club Auxerre go into the weekend two points adrift of safety and will be relegated if they lose at Marseille, Sochaux win at Caen, and Ajaccio avoid defeat at home to Lyon.
Ajaccio v Lyon, Bordeaux v Lorient, Brest v Valenciennes, Caen v Sochaux, Dijon v Toulouse, Marseille v Auxerre, Montpellier v Lille, Nancy v Saint-Etienne, Nice v Evian, Paris Saint-Germain v Rennes