This week saw increased intensity as teams continue to fight for their place in European competition or Ligue 1.
As Lyon and Rennes played to a stalemate, all eyes were on the Stade Velodrome for Le Classique between Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain. The last match of the weekend served up a reminder that Marseille supporters remain classless, as they were unable to make it through the entire minute of silence for the victims of the Japanese earthquake without hooting and hollering.
To their credit, Marseille’s players were well-behaved on the pitch in what was still a contentious match. Unfortunately for the club from the capital, Les Phoceens demonstrated their fine form, particularly through Andre Ayew and Souleymane Diawara, to capture the vital three points and move into 2nd place in the table.
Saturday, March 19th:
Auxerre 2-0 Sochaux – Les Auxerrois only needed 39% of the possession to put down Les Lionceaux, with the latter left to rue their profligacy in front of goal (only 3 shots on frame, out of 19 taken). Sochaux were almost immediately on the back foot, as in the 3rd minute a shot from Contout was turned away by netminder Cros, who then did well to also deny the follow-up effort from Pedretti. Still, there was a glimmer of offense at the other end of the pitch in the 7th minute when a header from Maiga drew a save from Auxerre GK Sorin. That was quickly snuffed out by the arrival of the opening goal in the 18th minute, with a good ball from Chafni finished off by a cheeky lob from Jelen. That proved to be the best opportunity of the half for either side, and things didn’t really get going again until Jelen completed his brace in the 64th minute after some excellent work from Oliech and Birsa resulted in a shot into the upper 90. Sochaux seemed completely deflated by that goal, and they were lucky to avoid a 3-0 loss as in the 86th minute Ndinga sent his shot wide of the mark.
Brest 1-2 Lille – Les Dogues got another statement victory thanks to the efforts of their star players, efficiently converting 4 shots on frame (out of 7 taken) into 2 goals. It was Brest, however, who started more quickly, with an early shot from Licka forcing a good save from Lille GK Landreau. The former was involved in the first goal, combining with Ayite to free Lesoimier for the clinical finish in the 18th minute. The next 20 minutes saw Landreau peppered with shots, with the former French number 1 doing well to turn away all efforts. He was rewarded in the 39th minute with an equalizer as Gervinho played a good 1-2 with Hazard and then ghosted past the defense to beat Elana as the Brest GK looked on helplessly. The Ivorian turned provider in the 53rd minute, sending an excellent through-ball to Sow for the latter’s league-leading 19th goal of the season. Brest remained competitive, looking to break through again for an equalizer, but the match ended with a Grougi free-kick that went wide and a shot from Licka over the crossbar.
Lorient 0-0 ASSE – Lorient took 18 shots and maintained 70% of the possession but somehow managed to avoid scoring in what proved to be a relatively eventful draw. Early action saw a header from Ecuele Manga cleared off the line by ASSE defender Bocanegra, followed shortly by ASSE GK Janot flailing wildly at a cross only to be relieved that the ensuing shot from Diarra went into the side-netting. Although action went from end-to-end for the remainder of the half, neither side could manufacture a good opportunity on goal. The second half opened with a fluffed clearance from Ecuele Manga that saw a shot from Aubameyang turned away by Lorient GK Audard. In the 58th minute it was Janot’s turn to produce a fine save, punching clear a free-kick from Kitambala. However, it wasn’t long before the mercurial netminder was at fault again, this time a miscommunication with his midfielder Sall resulting in a shot from Diarra that Janot did well to block in a bit of redemption. The latter also turned away a shot from Amalfitano, while at the other end of the pitch Sako was denied by Audard. The match ended with Lorient still in control, but Janot was able to maintain the draw by denying shots from Romao and Coquelin.
Montpellier 1-4 Lens – Montpellier saw their dreams of European competition dealt another blow, this time at the hands of a basement-dwelling Lens side that inexplicably came alive. The 9th minute saw the first signal of intent, with Jemaa barely missing a cross from Akale in front of goal. The latter then hit the crossbar with a free-kick, but broke through in the 19th minute after a header from Yahia was pushed out by Montpellier GK Jourdren for a volley from close range. The lead should have been doubled just a minute later, but Jemaa was stopped while 1-on-1 with Jourdren. The 26th minute saw a header from Marveaux turned away by Lens GK Runje, and to make matters worse he was then responsible for an OG as a shot from Hermach deflected off him and past a helpless Jourdren in the 30th minute. The 33rd minute saw an unmarked Roudet finish off a cross from Bedimo, but Montpellier finally showed signs of life in the 57th minute when Bocaly found the back of the net on a hard shot. That optimism lasted just a few minutes as Jemaa headed home a corner from Eduardo in the 62nd minute, and both sides seemed to concede to the inevitable, settling into a slower pace for the remainder of the match.
Toulouse 1-1 Nice – This match was fairly even statistically, although Toulouse proved to be far more physical in their play (18 fouls, compared to 7 for Nice) as well as disciplined on defense (Nice were caught offsides 7 times). Le TFC started off well through Santander, who twice within the first few minutes drew a good save from Nice GK Ospina. The former finally got his goal in the 27th minute, although it was due more to a poor clearance from Nice defender Clerc, which allowed Gunino to send in a pass for the easy finish. The busy Santander finished off the half with a shot that went barely wide of the mark. The second half began with yet more pressure from Toulouse, this time resulting in a shot wide from Machado (who repeated the feat just a minute later). Despite their best efforts a second goal seemed unobtainable, with a nice volley from Capoue deflected wide by Nice defender Pejcinovic. The southern side, however, finished the match on the upswing. After Mouloungui was denied by Toulouse GK Valverde, the former sent in a stoppage-time pass to Ljuboja for a shot that deflected off TFC midfielder Cetto for an equalizing OG.
Valenciennes 2-2 Bordeaux – In a tightly-contested match, Jean Tigana’s men finally displayed some bottle to come back from a deficit with two late goals. The pace of the match was very deliberate, with the first opportunity not coming until nearly the 20th minute when Wendel sent a free-kick barely over the crossbar. The opening goal arrived in the 36th minute when Danic took down a cross from Mater and found the back of the net with a shot from close range. The final action of the half saw a shot from Plasil draw a good save from Valenciennes GK Penneteau. The second half opened with a header from Modeste that went wide, and in the 59th minute ben Khalfallah was denied by another save from Penneteau. Les Girondins looked to be in difficulty in the 59th minute when Danic completed his brace by taking a pass from Cohade and dribbling past Bordeaux GK Carrasso, but the latter exhorted his teammates to maintain their composure. The 81st minute saw hope arrive when a corner from Wendel was flicked on by Sane for a header from Jussie, and Ciani completed the comeback (winning the GSTGC award in the process) in the 84th minute with a header that looped over an embarrassed Penneteau.
Lyon 1-1 Rennes – In a draw the delighted those immediately above and below them in the table, it will be Lyon who feel that they let an opportunity slip away in this match after taking 17 shots but only putting 4 of them on frame (compared to 2 on goal out of 3 taken for Rennes). In a sign of things to come, the first action of the match saw Montano incensed when he had a goal disallowed (correctly) for offsides. That seemed to ignite Les Gones, who then went on to dominate the action for almost the entirety of the match. After Gomis sent a shot wide, Briand saw his header turned away by Rennes GK Douchez. The opening goal came in the 36th minute when a strike from Lisandro Lopez was turned into the goal by Gomis, although the latter actually looked as if he was attempting to get out of the way of the initial shot. The lead should have been doubled just a few minutes later, but some good work between Gomis and Lisandro Lopez was wasted when the latter sent his shot sailing over the crossbar. The second half opened with continued pressure from Lyon, as Lovren sent a header wide and Reveillere was denied by Douchez. The 65th minute saw Lovren and Montano entangled on a tackle, and the latter received a straight RC for his petulant rake/stamp of the former (who received a YC for his poor initial tackle). As is occasionally the case, being reduced to 10 men actually seemed to invigorate Rennes, and the greater space allowed them to press for the equalizer. A shot from Verhoek was spilled by Lyon GK Lloris, but the netminder was bailed out by his defense. That wasn’t the case, however, in the 87th minute when Theophile Catherine headed home a cross from Verhoek to steal a point from the match.
Sunday, March 20th:
Caen 2-0 Arles – Caen took little pity on bottom-dwelling Arles, as they desperately needed the points themselves to move further away from the relegation zone. After a shot from Ayasse was denied by Caen GK Bosmel, the latter’s teammates went to work applying pressure. Some good work down the channel from Mollo and El Arabi was wasted when the final pass saw a shot from Hamouma go wide of the mark. Shortly after the half-hour mark Rocchi slammed the crossbar with a hard shot, and the final action of the half saw Raineau send his effort spiraling wide. The second half began with a shot from Mollo that was cleared off the line by Arles midfielder Ayasse, after which the sides settled into a more measured pace. The opening goal didn’t come until the 79th minute, with Mollo finding the back of the net on a well-struck free-kick. The lead was doubled quickly, as in the 85th minute a cross from Nivet saw El Arabi cleverly flick the ball to himself past the defense and finish coolly. There was a final chance for Arles to avoid the shutout, but the free-kick from Kermorgant in the 89th minute went just over the crossbar.
Monaco 0-1 Nancy – The misery continues for the club from the principality, as they were unable to make any of their 12 corner kicks amount to anything and managed to put only 5 shots on frame (out of 19 taken overall). Nancy sent in a signal of intent early, with a lob from Jeannot in the 8th minute going over the head of Monaco GK Ruffier only to drift wide. The latter was left embarrassed again, this time with devastating results, in the 19th minute when he flailed at a corner from Feret to see Luiz head home the eventual match-winner. The netminder slightly made up for his error in the 31st minute when he turned away Feret 1-on-1, and his side were then gifted the opportunity for an equalizer. Shortly before the break Cuvillier was whistled for a handball in the box, but Park’s effort on the PK was turned away by Nancy GK Gregorini. After a shot from Traore was denied by Ruffier to open the second half, Monaco poured on the offense. The hour-mark saw a volley from Moukandjo elicit a good save from Gregorini, who then denied an effort from Lacombe in the 77th minute. The final action of the match saw Monaco denied yet again, as in the 89th minute a shot from Bonnart forced another good save from Gregorini.
Marseille 2-1 Paris Saint-Germain – A contentious Classico featured a dismal effort from PSG, who managed only a single shot on frame despite holding 58% of the possession. The pace of the match began slowly, as the sides seemed to circle one another warily, both knowing that the full points were vital to their season’s hopes. The opening goal arrived on a bit of brilliance from Heinze, whose free-kick left PSG GK Coupet (deputized in place of a faltering Apoula Edel) completely helpless in the 16th minute. That was followed shortly by a volley from Gignac that went sailing over the crossbar amidst a chorus of boos from the home supporters at the Stade Velodrome. They were left even more unhappy in the 27th minute when a shot from Nene caromed off the post and fell at the feet of Chantome, who fired in a low shot past the diving Marseille GK Mandanda. Les Phoceens didn’t wait long to regain the lead, with a cross from Gignac headed home by the brilliant Andre Ayew in the 35th minute. The final good chance of the half demonstrated that it was not to be PSG’s night as Nene stole a pass off the foot of Marseille defender Diawara, only to send his lob over an advancing Mandanda and wide of the goal with a frustrated Giuly screaming for a pass at the penalty spot. The second half opened with a blistering low shot from Andre Ayew that Coupet did well to keep out, while at the other end of the pitch Hoarau sent his shot straight into the arms of Mandanda. L’OM, for their part, also spurned their good chances, with Gignac sending another shot into Row Z with Valbuena unmarked at the far post. PSG were unable to threaten further, and the match ended with Coupet turning away a shot from recent victim Lucho Gonzalez (who knew that Marseille was the new Liverpool!?!?).
So, after Matchday 28 the top of the table looks like this: (1) Lille, with 55 points on a 15-10-3 record and a +22 goal differential; (2) Marseille, with 51 points on a 14-9-5 record and a +17 goal differential; (3) Rennes, with 50 points on a 14-8-6 record and a +11 goal differential; and (4) Lyon, with 49 points on a 13-10-5 record and a +21 goal differential.
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