Ligue 1 Review | Relegation fight deepens as four teams surround playoff spot

The Ligue 1 rescue mission was off to a perfect start for Antoine Koumbouaré as he watched his FC Nantes side defeat OGC Nice 2-1 away from home. The signs had been not promising ahead of this weekend’s tie despite Nice’s varied form in recent weeks. 

La Maison Jaune have floundered this season under owner Waldemar Kita’s commitment to short-termisim. The return of Koumbouaré looked to be in the same vein, with the manager reappointed for the exact reason that had seen him sacked only ten months before, with the club in the relegation zone and in desperate need of someone to come in and save them. 

The scars from his firing were still present in his first press conference back, as he didn’t bother to pretend that he and Kita had patched up their differences. That we don’t get on well is one thing, the most important thing is that Nantes remain in Ligue 1.” 

And with Moses Simon, perhaps the most important attacking player for Nantes in this underwhelming campaign, out with a possible season-ending injury during the international break. The writing appeared to be on the walls. Yet, instead, Nantes showed the kind of fight that has been missing for so much of the season. 

They overwhelmed a Nice side that has been slowly wilting since January and demonstrated that perhaps the new manager bounce will be enough for the club to avoid their third-ever relegation from Ligue 1. At the very least it was enough to get them out of the relegation playoff spot for a weekend.

Lorient’s purple patch come too late? 

The team that dropped down in their place FC Lorient will of course be hoping the Nantes’ bounce will come with an almighty fall. Last season’s overachievers have stuck with manager Régis Le Bris and their reward looked to be a turnaround in form at the start of February as they rode a purple patch out of the automatic relegation spot and into temporary safety. 

Four wins, two draws, and three losses is an extremely promising return for a team that had won only twice all season before February, but the fact that this recent upturn still leaves them in the relegation playoff spot after this weekend speaks to how tight the fight at the bottom of the table is, and the almighty amount of work that their early season form has left them with. 

A loss this weekend to Stade Brestois was not a disaster as their opposition have been having a historically brilliant season, but with only seven games remaining in the season, Lorient will only ensure their safety for another season if they can beat their immediate rivals and carve out a few upsets.

Ligue 1’s relegation battle remains alive with 7 games left 

Only three teams have occupied the relegation playoff spot in the last five weeks, and Lorient will be playing the third next weekend when they visit Montpellier HSC. The former league winners dropped into the bottom three for the first time since the 6th of February 2016 when they drew to RC Strasbourg on the 3rd of March. 

This has been a worrying season for the one-time champions. The club have rarely threatened the top of the table in the years that have followed their 2011/2012 title-winning season, but neither have they frequently found themselves near the drop. The club have been the ideal candidate for what it means to be a safe and functioning midtable side. 

However, their problem this season has been a defensive porosity that has seen the club manage to keep only three clean sheets in the league since January. The first against ten-man Lille OSC and the second against FC Metz a team that looks destined to occupy one of the two automatic relegation spots at the end of the season. The final clean sheet was recorded against Le Havre AC this weekend as La Paillade won 2-0. 

Promoted alongside Metz last season, Le Havre have not been in the bottom three at all this season, but are currently on the worst run of form in the league having only won one of their last five games. And with the club only a point above Lorient, it would not at all be shocking to see the club slide further as the race to avoid the relegation playoff spot only grows with a handful of games remaining. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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