La semaine en France: Week 36

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
Anyone who doubts the truth in the old adage that a week is a long time in football would do well to speak to the jubilant people of Lille. Seven days ago their team had gone 56 years without winning a trophy and were in danger of being overhauled in the league by Marseille. One week on, they are practically assured of their first Coupe de France and Ligue 1 double since 1946.

The Coupe de France already in the bag (see below), Lille saw Marseille concede the title race initiative by drawing 2-2 at Lorient on Sunday. The margins between success and failure, however, were paper-thin. Had Benoît Cheyrou’s injury-time header from all of two yards not been caught on the goal-line by Lorient goalkeeper Lionel Cappone, Lille’s lead would have been trimmed to a single point.

As it was, Lille hosted Sochaux on Wednesday with a three-point lead to build on and a 53rd-minute goal from Gervinho secured a 1-0 win that puts them six points clear with two games to play. Barring a miracle, the title is theirs and a point at Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday will make mathematically sure. “It’s not over yet but, to be honest, it looks good,” admitted Lille skipper Rio Mavuba.

Lyon remain in third place despite a 1-1 draw at Brest on Monday, after PSG failed to capitalise by going down 1-0 at Bordeaux two days later. Lyon lead PSG by two points, with Rennes two points further back after ending a nine-game winless run by prevailing 2-1 at Saint-Etienne (for whom Bakary Sako scored direct from a corner-kick).

Lens’ 1-1 draw at Monaco condemned the northern club to Ligue 2 but an injury-time equaliser from Lens’ reported Manchester United target Raphaël Varane dragged Monaco into the drop zone, after Nancy and Caen both recorded handsome – and timely – victories.

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

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Mario Lička (Brest 1-1 Lyon)

Player of the week: Gervinho (Lille)
Gervinho took to the pitch against Sochaux on Wednesday like a man intent on wrapping up the title single-handedly. Denied a penalty after tumbling – rather theatrically – over Damien Perquis’s clumsily outstretched leg in the second minute, he struck the post from an Eden Hazard cross and then committed one of the worst misses of the season, side-stepping Teddy Richert in the Sochaux goal but then spooning the ball over the bar. A combination of Richert, the right-hand post and Sochaux defender David Sauget miraculously repelled the Ivorian from close range early in the second period before he finally made the breakthrough, gathering Moussa Sow’s pass and trundling a shot in off the left-hand post. Gervinho seems more likely than even Hazard or Sow to leave Lille this summer, with Thursday’s L’Équipe listing Arsenal, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Everton and Newcastle United among his would-be suitors.

Quote of the week
“It’s not a moment when I can talk easily. I’ve taken a blow to the head. Are the players affected? Everyone is affected.”
– Monaco coach Laurent Banide reflects on his side’s descent into the relegation zone following the 1-1 draw with Lens, shortly before hurrying from his post-match press conference with tears in his eyes

Stat of the week (courtesy of Opta Jean)
None of the top five sides in Ligue 1 (Lille, Marseille, Lyon, PSG and Rennes) have managed to win on Lorient’s new synthetic pitch this season.

Top goalscorers
21: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Moussa Sow (Lille)
17: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
16: Lisandro López (Lyon)
15: Gervinho (Lille), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)
14: Modibo Maïga (Sochaux), Nenê (PSG)
13: Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne), Loïc Rémy (Marseille)
12: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Park Chu-Young (Monaco)
10: André Ayew (Marseille), Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux)
9: Gaël Danic (Valenciennes), Bruno Grougi (Brest), Romain Hamouma (Caen)

Top assists
16: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
12: Morgan Amalfitano (Lorient)
10: Anthony Mounier (Nice), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
9: Gervinho (Lille), Eden Hazard (Lille)
8: Ludovic Giuly (PSG)
7: Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Renaud Cohade (Valenciennes), Jérôme Leroy (Rennes)
6: Gaël Danic (Valenciennes), Marco Estrada (Montpellier), Bruno Grougi (Brest), Romain Hamouma (Caen), Guillaume Hoarau (PSG), Nenê (PSG)

Week 37 fixtures
Saturday: Auxerre v Brest, Lens v Arles-Avignon, Lyon v Caen, Marseille v Valenciennes, Montpellier v Monaco, Nice v Lorient, PSG v Lille, Rennes v Nancy, Sochaux v Saint-Etienne, Toulouse v Bordeaux

Coupe de France
The Coupe de France final did not prove to be the feast of attacking football that some so-called experts had predicted, but after a decidedly stodgy first half the game opened up. Both sides had opportunities to win the game in the second period before Ludovic Obraniak broke the deadlock in the 89th minute with an audacious, dipping free-kick from close to the right-hand touchline that embarrassed PSG goalkeeper Grégory Coupet. Read my AFP match report here.

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