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Week 29: Ligue 1 Talking Points: European Contenders improving

French football writer Eric Devin‘s new Ligue 1 Talking Points column took the plaudits last week and he returns with five more reflections on last weekend’s top flight action.

With Monaco, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux and Montpellier all winning on the weekend, things are beginning to look very tight below the top three. Even Lille could stake a claim in the race for European places as they travel to the Loire valley next week. A win would move them to within just five points of Saint-Etienne. This quintet are all somewhat deficient in different regards, but all can be, on their day, a great advertisement for what the league is about. Each have dealt with setbacks throughout the season but are now finding the form necessary to make the chase for Europa League qualification something on which to keep an eye.  

Monaco, currently fourth but with a game in hand, are still hoping for more slip-ups from Marseille, who are four points ahead and clinging warily to the last Champions’ League spot. Monaco are the owners of the league’s best defensive record, with only 20 goals conceded in 28 matches, but have struggled to find their best in attack under Leonardo Jardim. However, buoyed by their shock result at Arsenal, ASM have recently begun to find their stride going forward, netting three goals in four of their last seven matches. Granted, they did play fail to score in two other matches against PSG, but on the whole they can feel confident about giving OM a run for their money.  

Joining Monaco on the defensively sound/questionable in attack axis are Lille and Saint-Etienne. Each have only conceded 24 goals on the season, but have been too often woeful in attack. Negatively affected by injuries (Lille) and the Africa Cup of Nations, (ASSE) both sides are now coming back to life, with Les Verts winning their last two matches comfortably. Granted, beating Lorient and Metz is no great achievement, but the confidence that can be gained from a modest win streak can help ASSE strengthen their grip on fifth. Lille, with Rony Lopes now back from injury and playing well as the no. 10 the team has been lacking, do have a lengthy injury list that could yet prove a hindrance. However, with nine points from three and little pressure, having left their relegation worries behind, Les Dogues could easily sneak past their fellow European hopefuls.  

Bordeaux and Montpellier, on the other hand, have had no problem scoring this season, but have been somewhat lacking in defence. While MHSC were embarrassed against Lyon on Matchday 28, aside from that result, La Paillade have only conceded four goals in their last six matches, fashioning convincing wins over Nantes, Guingamp, Nice and most recently Reims in that stretch. One feels that the quality perhaps is not quite there but with Lucas Barrios now on ten goals for the season, there remains a chance for Courbis’ men. Les Girondins have likewise tightened up at the back, as I outlined here last week, and are the form team in the league, unbeaten in eight with only six goals conceded in that period. The signing of Clement Chantome has been huge, and fans are no longer questioning the hiring of Willy Sagnol, especially after this weekend’s famous victory over PSG.  

With only nine matches to go, and several matches between these five still to come, one would be wise to look beyond the title race in Ligue 1 for some quality football. They can can be captivating on their day, and will undoubtedly contribute to some riveting encounters in the run-in.

E.D.

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