Ligue 1 Review | Champions League chase tightens as inconsistency leaves race wide open

Paris Saint-Germain’s third draw in a row in Ligue 1 should have been a far more concerning story for the league leaders than it was. However, Stade Brestois slipping to their first defeat since November, meant Les Parisiens ended the weekend with a ten-point gap on the current runners-up. 

All of this has led to a gloomy title race in France as even when PSG finally stutter and look to teeter on the edge of internal turmoil, none of their nearest rivals are close enough to increase the pressure on Luis Enrique’s men. And yet if you look just below the title at the gathering cluster bunched all together you can see something exciting building as an end-of-season sprint takes its first steps. 

11 points separates second from ninth, and each of these teams have a reasonable case to make for securing European football next season, and yet three of these teams will have to miss out. Each weekend is filled with crucial fixtures as just under half the league looks to land glancing blows on their nearest rivals all squashed up beside them. 

And with the extra place provided to France due to the Champions League expansion from 32 teams to 36, the race for Europe’s most prestigious tournament looks to be firing up with only nine games remaining. 

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Inconsistency is all that’s consistent in Ligue 1 

The competition for the three remaining places outside of PSG’s stranglehold on qualification for the Champions League has been defined this season by a startling inconsistency within the teams below the league leaders. 

Last season RC Lens and Olympique de Marseille represented the best of the rest as they claimed the Champions League places, and did so because they were quite clearly a step above the remaining competition. However, there’s no separation this year because there has been a wild lack of consistency within most of the teams. 

Amazing runs of form for the most part look as if they’re built atop a house of cards and that one bad result will send everything that was carefully laid out tumbling to the ground. Stade Rennais for instance entered their game against PSG with seven league victories in a row and a sense that the team was finally making a charge for the podium. 

A harsh penalty awarded in the dying minutes of the game for the league leaders meant Rennes were provided a draw but something in the process had been lost. The next weekend a shock defeat to relegation strugglers FC Lorient only underscored the feeling that momentum had dissipated almost overnight. 

Nine games left to define the Champions League race

It’s no surprise that the team in second have been the most consistent of the teams beneath PSG. Brest’s loss to Lens over the weekend was their first in the league since they were defeated by AS Monaco on the 5th of November. However, with Lille OSC in fourth up next in the calendar, another defeat could see them slip out of the Champions League positions altogether. 

This is an unprecedented time for a club that has never finished higher than eighth in the league and has a manager in Eric Roy who has only ever managed once before this job between 2010 and 2011. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that a few bad results in a row could create difficult questions even for the most consistent of the chasing pack. 

This is the problem that faces all of the teams currently vying for the top as even a minor blip of poor results can see teams careen down the table, like with OGC Nice. The former league leaders were unbeaten until December but a loss to FC Nantes started the dominos tumbling which led to this weekend the club losing to relegation strugglers Montpellier HSC and dropping down to sixth place. 

On the flip side, you have teams like Marseille, who after changing their manager are now looking at extending their winning run to five games in a row. A charge that sees them positioned just behind Nice and looking to a crucial game against Rennes to barge into the race for the Champions League. 

It leaves Ligue 1’s European places looking as if they will not be decided by how well a team has functioned for the majority of this campaign, instead, it will be left to the teams that can catch a run of form in these last nine games. The race is wide open and the chance for success is now. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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