Ligue 1 Review | Race for Europe and relegation battle decided in dramatic final day

Paris Saint-Germain might have sown up the title in late April but there was still a lot to play for on the final day of the Ligue 1 season, with the race for Europe and the battle to escape the drop far from settled. The eight games were wracked with tension as campaigns looked to be saved or doomed within the span of an evening. 

The focus would be on Olympique Lyonnais as they managed to secure their miracle under Pierre Sage. From the bottom of the table on the 30th of November when Sage was appointed to finishing the campaign in sixth where they would confirm their place in next season’s Europa League. 

An injury-time penalty from Alexandre Lacazette would secure a 2-1 victory for Lyon over RC Strasbourg Alsace in a packed-out Parc Olympique Lyonnais. It was enough for the club to complete their ludicrous narrative. Even if it appeared at the start of the evening as if they would miss out by a hair’s breadth, as RC Lens stormed to a 2-0 lead over Montpellier HSC. 

Lens only needed to win as their goal difference was far superior to a Lyon side that had spent seven uncontested weeks at the foot of the table. However, Montpellier would help Lyon to their fairy-tale finish as they managed to complete a comeback to peg Lens back to a 2-2 draw. 

Stade Brestois with a podium finish

There was no shortage of drama above Lyon as Stade Brestois and Lille OSC’s rat race for third place and the remaining automatic Champions League place would see both clubs clamber over each other to escape the dreaded qualifying rounds, where French clubs have historically underperformed with a disastrous record. 

Only one team from Ligue 1 in the last ten years has managed to run the gambit of the qualifying rounds and reach the group stages of the Champions League (AS Monaco in the 2016/17 season). So when Lille collapsed to a late turnaround from OGC Nice there was no surprise when the final whistle was blown and their players fell to the floor, Bafodé Diakité was inconsolable as he hid his face in the ground and wept. 

Lille’s 2-2 draw meant that the door was open for Brest to claim their first-ever podium finish. A 3-0 victory over Toulouse FC proved a rousing swansong to a historic season and a prelude to what awaits Europe’s elite. Les Pirates might be far from glamorous, but they are unflinchingly fantastic, swarming with character, and have more than earned a spot in the Champions League. 

Lorient denied a miracle

FC Lorient had been last season’s surprise package but on the final day of this campaign, they would need a sizeable helping hand from the league champions if they had any chance of escaping the drop. An eight-goal swing between them and FC Metz was needed for Lorient to climb into the relegation playoffs and push Metz into the drop. 

PSG did their part with an early 2-0 lead to put Metz under pressure, while Lorient stormed to a 5-0 victory over already relegated Clermont Foot. Despite their impressive efforts, it was not quite enough as Lorient drew level on points and goal difference with Metz, but were let down by their worse head-to-head record. 

Away goals might have disappeared from European football but in France, they were the narrow margin with which Lorient would be sent down to the second division after a three-season stay in the top flight. Lorient had beaten Metz away from home with a 2-1 victory but their 3-2 loss at the Stade du Moustoir would come back to bite them. 

For Metz, they were aware that they had survived (momentarily) by the skin of their teeth. The relegation playoffs await them and they will be watching nervously at who their future opposition will be. 

This week’s Ligue 1 subplots
  • The Nice project took a significant blow only moments after their draw with Lille as the news was confirmed that their sporting director, Florent Ghisolfi, would be leaving the club for AS Roma. Ghisolfi had only joined Nice 18 months ago but has quickly earned credit as one of the architects of the club’s return to Europe. Read the full story HERE.
  • Kylian Mbappé would miss the season’s final two games for PSG, but that would not prevent the forward from keeping his crown as the league’s top goal scorer. It was a fitting award for his final campaign in a PSG shirt before his move to Real Madrid. Find out more HERE.
  • Players would once again come under criticism for their response to Ligue 1’s anti-homophobia campaign. Questions were asked of notable squad omissions like FC Nantes’ Mostafa Mohamed who refuses to be associated with this message. Read the full story HERE.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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