Ligue 1

Who Will Win Ligue 1’s Europa League Battle?

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Despite their exit from the Champions League at the hand of Real Madrid, only a disaster can stop Paris Saint-Germain from clinching the Ligue 1 title.

Monaco and Marseille, 14 and 18 points behind respectively, will fight it out for the second automatic Champions League group stage place, with Lyon falling behind, five points adrift of OM in fourth.

However, with last season’s champions, Monaco, and PSG reaching the Coupe de la Ligue final, another Europa League place will fall to the team who finishes fifth and that is where a lot of the season’s dramatic finish will be focused.

From Rennes on 41 points there are seven teams between them and Saint-Étienne, who are 13th on 35 points.

That’s nine clubs, nearly half the league, separated by a couple of wins.

With ten games to go and everyone packed together, it’s difficult to asses who the favourites are to finish in the coveted Europa League spot.

We’ve taken the fixtures each side has left and ranked each team by how tough their run in is compared to their rivals’.

Bordeaux: 9th – 36 points
Average position of opposition: 11.6

Any team who can count on Brazilian star Malcom has a chance of finishing high up the table.

Former Sunderland and Brighton manager Gus Poyet has sparked a reaction at the Matmut Atlantique with Bordeaux winning three of their last six, but they have picked up just one point in their last three games.

Of the top four they only have Paris Saint-Germain to play and the game is at home, where they have only lost four times this term.

They will hope Metz, sitting last, are already down before their final game of the season.

Nantes: 7th – 40 points
Average position of opposition: 10.7

Claudio Ranieri, headcoach of Nantes during the Ligue 1 match between EA Guingamp and Nantes

Claudio Ranieri’s team have been in the top five for so long they would be hugely upset if they finished lower than their current position.

The Italian must find a way to turn their current form around. Although they have only lost twice, they have just one win from their last six games.

Emiliano Sala will be key; the Argentine forward has 11 league goals this term – just one behind his total from the previous season – and has an xG90 of 0.43. That is just behind Arsenal transfer target Nabil Fekir and PSG’s Ángel Di María.

Although they still have to face the bottom two, they must find a way past four of the top six. Starting with 40 points and the weakest run-in, Ranieri will rely on his tough defensive stance squeezing out enough points to climb back up to fifth.

Dijon: 10th – 36 points
Average position of opposition: 10.6

One of the surprise contenders are Dijon, boosted by the goals of Júlio Tavares and Wesley Saïd – one of the brightest young forwards in Ligue 1.

Despite losing 8-0 to Paris Saint-Germain in Paris, they have been doing well in the games which matter to their position and, amazingly, three wins from six ranks them as the fourth most in-form team in France.

They still have the worst defensive record out of all 20 teams, but Dijon only have to play against four of the other teams in this Europa League battle.

Caen: 12th – 35 points
Average position of opposition: 10.6

Damien Da Silva battles with Kylian Mbappé

The side from Normandy are the epitome of middle-of-the-road. They have won, lost and drawn two of their last six games and with just 22 goals – way below their xG of 34.2 – they are the lowest scoring team in the league.

What may count in their favour is they only have to face two of the clubs in this race. So they will be hoping the others take points from one another.

They will need more from top scorer Ivan Santini if they are to pull it off. The Croatian has eight goals to his name this term, but just two in his last seven games.

Montpellier: 6th – 40 points
Average position of opposition: 10.4

La Paillade, the 2012 Ligue 1 champions, have their destiny in their own hands. Starting in a very strong position, they face seven of the other teams in this fight over the remaining ten games.

Better still, they only have to take on one of the top four. With 40 points already on the board they must be confident.

They have a strong defence, built on young studs like Nordu Mukiele, Ruben Aguilar and Jérôme Roussillon, all 25 or younger.

Montpellier spread their goals around the team, which can be a positive and a negative with only 25 scored in 28 games.

Unbeaten in five games, they are one of the form options in this battle and Football Whispers’ pick to represent France in Europe this season. It would be their highest finish since they shocked PSG and picked up their first league title six years ago.

Guingamp: 11th – 35 points
Average position of opposition: 10

Guingamp's French forward Marcus Thuram (L) vies with Rennes' French defender Joris Gnagnon

Antoine Kombouaré’s side sit middle of the table with ten games left to make something magical happen. But they possess the fourth-toughest schedule and with games against Nice and Saint-Étienne over the next two weeks, the minnows from Brittany will need to get over their recent slump.

Jimmy Briand, now 32, is their top scorer with just six goals while 20-year-old Marcus Thuram has struggled to produce, finding the net just twice. They average just one goal per game and have won only one of their last six fixtures.

Already six points behind regional rivals Rennes, Guingamp must be considered outsiders to make a late push. A trip to Paris awaits, which could harm their goal-difference – already at minus ten – but they do have Marseille and Monaco coming to the fortress Stade de Roudourou.

Rennes: 5th – 41 points
Average position of opposition: 9.8

The Breton outfit are one of the most in-form sides in France. They have won three and drawn one of their last four fixtures, leaving them ahead of the other contenders.

Sparked by a wonderful 2-0 win over Lyon, they went on to beat Amiens and Troyes, games they would have expected to win.

They still have PSG and Monaco to play, which will count against them, but the fixture against the champions-elect comes with two games to go, so they will hope the league is sewn up by then.

Sunderland loanee Wahbi Khazri is back on the scoresheet, finding the net three times in the last four games. His arrival is one of the reasons they are back up the table and if he continues this run, they will be favourites to qualify for Europe.

Saint-Etienne: 13th – 35 points
Average position of opposition: 9.3

Saint-Etienne's French defender Mathieu Debuchy celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Lyon (OL) and Saint-Etienne

Although they start behind everyone else, you can’t count out Les Verts this season. They went big in January, picking up Paul-Georges Ntep, Yann M’Vila, Nevan Subotić and Mathieu Debuchy, and since the close of the transfer window, they remain unbeaten having bagged 12 points from a possible 18.

Late goals rescued draws against Marseille and rivals Lyon and with striker Robert Berić back in the goals, fans at the Stade Gefforoy-Guichard are brimming with confidence.

They take on Rennes this Saturday; another win point there and it may be hard to stop them the Green Army marching to Europe.

Nice: 8th – 39 points
Average position of opposition: 8.9

Disappointed to have fallen down the table after finishing third last season, Nice still have a chance to qualify for Europe. But with the toughest run-in out of all the teams in contention, it won’t be easy.

They still have to face five of the top six and Troyes are the only team in the bottom five they have yet to play twice.

However, in Mario Balotelli they have the top scorer outside the top four. Goals are often hard to come by for the teams around Les Aiglons and the Italian could be the game-changer they need to turn the odds in their favour.

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