La semaine en France: Week 27

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Once may have been a fluke, but to score match-winning goals in injury time twice in the space of a week suggests Lille may have the stomach for a bare-knuckle title brawl after all.

Seven days after Pierre-Alain Frau gave them a last-gasp victory at Marseille, Lille found themselves being held 1-1 at home to local rivals Valenciennes as the clock ticked into stoppage time. Cue Eden Hazard. Having located a pocket of space inside the visitors’ box, the Belgian showed a sublime, Velcro touch to cushion Rio Mavuba’s stinging pass before rattling a shot into the bottom-left corner. He claimed that he had “just hit it hard,” but no matter. Lille’s three-point lead remains intact and they now face a kinder run of fixtures than their rivals.

Rennes stayed second but saw their five-game winning run come to an end in a 2-0 defeat at home to Marseille. Lyon, adopting an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation, prevailed by the same scoreline at Sochaux to leave the two Olympiques on 48 points, one shy of Rennes and four adrift of Lille.

With 31 minutes of the weekend’s action remaining, fifth-place Paris Saint-Germain were just a point behind Marseille and Lyon, only for Olivier Giroud’s slick strike – his second of the game – to earn Montpellier a 2-2 draw after they had fallen 2-0 down inside 13 minutes. For Paris, a club permanently on the brink of eruption, defeat in Sunday’s clasico at Marseille could spell the end of their Champions League ambitions.

At the bottom, Monaco displayed remarkable efficiency to claim a 1-0 win at Bordeaux despite mustering just two attempts on goal. They are now out of the relegation zone on goal difference above Auxerre, for whom the autumn’s Champions League sojourns to Milan and Real Madrid must now seem a very long way away.

Ligue 1 results
Friday: Rennes 0-2 Marseille; Saturday: Arles-Avignon 3-3 Lorient, Lens 0-1 Toulouse, Nancy 2-0 Caen, Nice 1-0 Auxerre, Saint-Etienne 2-0 Brest, Sochaux 0-2 Lyon; Sunday: Bordeaux 0-1 Monaco, Lille 2-1 Valenciennes, PSG 2-2 Montpellier

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Eric Mouloungui (Nice 1-0 Auxerre)

Player of the week: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)
Signed from Ligue 2 side Tours (for whom he scored 30 goals in 61 league games) to replace the Rennes-bound Victor Hugo Montaño, Giroud initially struggled to adapt to Montpellier’s single-striker system. “It involves lots of effort,” he complained in August. The tall, strapping 24-year-old now looks every inch a Ligue 1 player, however, and he needed only two glimpses of goal to earn his side a point at PSG. He brought the visitors back into the game with a typically towering header from Younes Belhanda’s 47th-minute free-kick before swivelling sharply to flash a shot into the bottom-right corner for the equaliser shortly before the hour. Montpellier’s hopes of creeping into the European places may rest on Giroud’s ability to sustain his impressive chances-to-goals ratio.

Quote of the week
“It was hard tonight. We can’t lose points like that. And I was rubbish. Before I was the solution for the team, now I’m the problem.”
– Nenê offers a strange mea culpa after PSG’s draw with Montpellier, amid murky rumours of an altercation in the Paris changing room following the game

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Anthony Mounier has directly assisted half of Nice’s 18 goals this season in Ligue 1.

Top goalscorers
18: Moussa Sow (Lille)
16: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient)
13: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Nenê (PSG)
12: Lisandro López (Lyon)
11: Gervinho (Lille), Modibo Maïga (Sochaux), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)
10: Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux)
9: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Park Chu-Young (Monaco), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne), Loïc Rémy (Marseille)
8: Guillaume Hoarau (PSG)

Top assists
11: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
9: Anthony Mounier (Nice)
8: Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
7: Morgan Amalfitano (Lorient), Gervinho (Lille)
6: Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Bruno Grougi (Brest), Eden Hazard (Lille), Jérôme Leroy (Rennes)

Week 28 fixtures
Saturday: Auxerre v Sochaux, Brest v Lille, Lorient v Saint-Etienne, Montpellier v Lens, Toulouse v Nice, Valenciennes v Bordeaux, Lyon v Rennes; Sunday: Caen v Arles-Avignon, Monaco v Nancy, Marseille v PSG

Europe
There will be no French colours on either of Europe’s two major trophies this season, after the three remaining Ligue 1 sides in continental competition were eliminated in the space of just three days. Marseille were the first to go, losing 2-1 at Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday, but they were left with keen regrets after André-Pierre Gignac, Souleymane Diawara and Benoît Cheyrou all spurned excellent chances to snatch a game-changing away goal before OM finally got on the score-sheet, all too late, via a Wes Brown own goal in the dying stages.

Didier Deschamps declared his side’s profligacy “infuriating”, but worse was to follow on Wednesday for his Lyon counterpart Claude Puel, who saw his side ripped apart 3-0 by Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. Where Marseille had lacked sharpness in the opposition penalty area, Lyon were sloppy all over the pitch and their defensive frailties were exposed with impressive frequency by a ruthless Real side, who claimed their first win against Lyon in eight attempts. Centre-backs Cris and Dejan Lovren, in particular, had evenings to forget and were each awarded a score of 3/10 in Thursday’s L’Équipe.

PSG completed a dismal week for French clubs when they went down 3-2 on aggregate to Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday after a 1-1 draw at Parc des Princes. A stunning Mathieu Bodmer volley drew the hosts level after Nicolás Gaitán had put Benfica ahead, but PSG were ultimately left to rue glaring second-half misses from Mevlüt Erding, Guillaume Hoarau and Jean-Eudes Maurice that were symptomatic of the team’s disconcerting rustiness in front of goal in recent weeks.

Les Bleus
Franck Ribéry and Patrice Evra returned to the France fold for the first time since the World Cup when Laurent Blanc announced his squad for the Euro 2012 qualifier in Luxembourg on March 25 and the friendly with Croatia in Paris four days later. Ribéry is rewarded for his scintillating current form for Bayern Munich, but Evra’s call-up owes to the sad and shocking news that Éric Abidal (pictured) had to undergo surgery to remove a liver tumour on Thursday. Laurent Koscielny and Jérémy Menez both held onto their places in the squad but there was no room for Mathieu Valbuena as he continues his recovery following a knee injury.

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