Ligue 1 week 28 review: LOSC races towards Europe; Balotelli shines

Saint-Etienne made second-placed LOSC work hard for a win, while Leonardo Jardim has maintained an unbeaten run of six matches in the Ligue 1 for relegation-threatened AS Monaco.

Mario Balotelli was given a standing ovation by Marseille fans in the win against Nice.   -  Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain was given a rare rest in Week 28, but there were plenty of thrills and spills, with LOSC cementing its grip on the second place, Mario Balotelli scoring against former club OGC Nice, and AS Monaco extending its unbeaten run.

LOSC solidified its grip on second on Sunday, but was made to work by a dogged Saint-Etienne. Nicolas Pépé and Co. poured on the pressure against an AS Saint-Etienne side with European aspirations of its own. The game was finally decided five minutes from time when Pépé's shot deflected beyond ASSE captain Stéphane Ruffier, who had otherwise played a stormer.

Seven points clear of third-place Olympique Lyonnais with ten games left to play, Les Dogues are the favourites to return to the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign.

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Lyon play Barcelona in the last 16 of this year's competition on Wednesday, and LOSC coach - and former OL assistant - Christophe Galtier is hoping to see his former club progress for more than one reason.

"Lyon are capable of beating Barca," he said. "For French football, for Lyon, for Bruno [Genesio] and the people I like there, I keep my fingers crossed that Lyon eliminate Barcelona. It'll also add two high-intensity matches to a very busy schedule," Galtier added.

Lyon could have closed the gap to LOSC to a provisional three points on Saturday, and it looked set to do just that when Moussa Dembélé's double put it 2-0 up against RC Strasbourg Alsace. However, Ludovic Ajorque bagged a brace to secure a point for Le Racing.

"We made it difficult for ourselves by being overconfident, or perhaps it was a lack of maturity," lamented OL coach Genesio.

Lyon is confident of getting past Barcelona in the Last-16 after a 0-0 draw in the first-leg.   -  AFP

 

"Barcelona will be another match in another competition so we can't make a comparison. We wanted to build our confidence and we were on course, but we ruined everything in the space of ten or 12 minutes."

Olympique de Marseille wrapped up Week 28 in possession of the fourth and final European place. OM welcomed Mario Balotelli's former employers OGC Nice to the Orange Vélodrome and the Italy striker got what proved to be the winner, heading home his fifth goal in eight appearances this season. There was no selfie celebration this week, but there was a standing ovation when he made way for Kevin Strootman with 15 minutes to go.
 "I've told my agent that I am happy here and want to stay," Balotelli asserted before the game. "My first two seasons at Nice were good, but Marseille is on another level, another type of football and atmosphere. As far as I'm concerned, Marseille are the biggest club in France. I've always felt that I would fit in here and I can't explain why."

Marseille's Mario Balotelli scored against his former employees Nice.   -  Getty Images

 

If LOSC's wait for a return to Europe's top table has been seven years in the making, Stade de Reims last featured in the European Cup back in 1963. The Champagne club was held to a 1-1  draw by relegation-threatened Dijon FCO, who was down to ten men after three minutes on the clock following Senou Coulibaly's red card.

Stade Rennais FC had a European adventure of its own on Thursday, beating English Premier League side Arsenal 3-1 in the first-leg of the last 16 tie of the UEFA Europa League. Rennais maintained the intensity in th league against SM Caen, beating the Normandy club by a similar score on Sunday.

At the other end of the table, AS Monaco is seven points clear from the drop zone, although that could have been ten had Radamel Falcao's opener against Bordeaux not been cancelled out by Jimmy Briand's penalty.

The principality club nonetheless looks resurgent in Leonardo Jardim's second spell in the dugout, with the Bordeaux game its sixth in a row without defeat. The Portuguese tactician was left wanting more, though.

"This isn't a good point because we controlled the game and created a lot of chances," was his frank appraisal. "We're still fighting to survive. We're always in danger and it won't be easy. The goal is to take all the points available. We just took 12 points from six games. Before that the team was averaging a point per match. We want to secure our top-flight status as soon as possible.

Elsewhere, Montpellier let a two-goal lead slip against ten-man Angers SCO, who had Angelo Fulgini to thank for its 2-2 draw after he bagged goal and an assist inside the final ten minutes. Toulouse FC and Amiens SC put more daylight between themselves and the drop zone, beating EA Guingamp and Nîmes Olympique respectively by a goal.

FC Nantes' clash with league leader Paris Saint-Germain was postponed at the request of the Loire-Atlantique.

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