Preview: Sochaux bid to disrupt Lille title procession

A version of this piece was written for Agence France-Presse and published on the AFP newswire on Tuesday, May 17.

Lille will be practically assured of a first French league title since 1954 with victory over Sochaux on Wednesday evening, but in Francis Gillot’s side they must overcome the form team in the division.

A day after beating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the Coupe de France final, Lille looked on gleefully as defending champions Marseille drew 2-2 at Lorient on Sunday to effectively concede defeat in the title race. Going into Wednesday’s home game, Rudi Garcia’s men require four points from their remaining three matches to complete the second league and cup double in the club’s history, after a previous such success in 1946. However, their +30 goal difference is seven goals superior to Marseille’s, meaning that OM would require something of a miracle to retain the trophy if Lille prevail in their next outing.

A third league title in the club’s history may be beckoning, but sporting director Frédéric Paquet says Lille cannot afford to look beyond the game against Sochaux. “We’ve expended a lot of energy in our recent series of matches and we’ll be up against a team who play well and who are on a positive dynamic,” he said. “The Marseille result changes almost nothing for us, because in any case, we absolutely have to win.”

If Marseille are seeking grounds for optimism, they will find them in the superb recent form of Sochaux’s young, ultra-attacking side. Unbeaten since a 2-0 defeat at Auxerre on March 19, Sochaux have picked up 17 points from a possible 21 in their last seven games. Having scored seven goals in their last two matches – a sensational 4-0 win at Bordeaux, followed by a 3-0 defeat of Monaco – they are now in pole position to secure sixth place and a berth in next season’s Europa League.

“It’s now a real objective for the players and it would be a real disappointment not to get there,” said Gillot. “With a four-point lead [now three points, over seventh-placed Lorient] and a good goal difference [+15] the cards are in our hands.”

Central midfielder Florent Balmont (thigh) misses out again for Lille, but captain Rio Mavuba should be able to start despite a nagging adductor muscle concern. Sochaux’s holding midfielder Carlão could feature after resuming training following a thigh injury, but defenders Jacques Faty (adductors), Yassin Mikari (ankle) and Jérémie Bréchet (Achilles) are all out.

In Wednesday’s other game, PSG will bid to put their Coupe de France disappointment behind them when they visit Bordeaux. Third-placed Lyon’s 1-1 draw at Brest on Monday means PSG can move above them into the final Champions League qualifying position if they take all three points. Bordeaux go into the game just four points clear of the relegation zone in 11th place after a run of one win in nine games that prompted coach Jean Tigana to fall on his sword.

Interim coach Éric Bédouet can call on captain Alou Diarra after he completed a one-game suspension, with Yoan Gouffran (fractured ankle) the only long-term absentee from the Bordeaux squad. PSG captain Claude Makelele, forced off in the cup final with a hip muscle strain, is suspended for the trip to Stade Chaban-Delmas.

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