Fierce finish expected in France

When in 2009 this season in Ligue 1 was much looked at like a bit of deja vu of last season, with Bordeaux being the most consistent team, after the turn of the year the tides have changed.

Before the winter break in France, Bordeaux lead the table with a massive 9 point gap ahead of in form Lille. 3 months and 9 rounds later, Montpellier, who at that time were 10 points of the pace, have caught up with last season winners and the title fight looks to go down to the wire with not only Bordeaux, Lille and Montpellier involved.

Lyon, after a shaky start to the season, have started to gather form, losing only two cup games since 2010 started and look the most likely to pip Bordeaux to the title, even though they’ve drawn their last two league games. A part of it of course has to go down to the massive result at Santiago Bernabeu. Tough times lay ahead of last season’s beaten champions with an away trip ahead to Marseille next weekend and a massive month in April. April starts with a trip to Rennes, a well known good home team. That match is followed by probably two of the biggest games of the season, against Lille and Bordeaux. In May, there are two direct opponents to take on – Montpellier and Auxerre.

The last mentioned, Auxerre, had a good period in late Autumn, but after that faded away. They are back now, though. A great run of 4 straight victories, including away triumphs to Lille and Bordeaux. In the last round they visited Montpellier and came back with a draw, 3 points slipping away only in the last minutes. And to think before the current unbeaten run, they lost to Grenoble 5-0! Auxerre doesn’t have a tough fixtures list as Lyon, with Marseille and Lyon themselves to play, but through out the season they’ve struggled against the so called lesser teams and that could come back to haunt them.

Montpellier have ride their luck in recent weeks, salvaging a point versus Bordeaux and Auxerre in the final minutes. And literally in the final minute against Bordeaux with Bordeaux’s goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso letting Alberto Costa’s free kick slip through his hands. Carrasso had a great night, saving two penalties, and as an Montpellier player, fan or anyone involved with the club, you have to rue the inability to win the match as that would’ve put them top of the table with 3 points, which currently looks like a enormous gap. Costa was also the saviour against Auxerre and these two last results still keep Montpellier’s fairy tale alive. I think Diego Maradona should look at more games in France, not Argentina. From direct opponents Montpellier only has to face Lille in a couple of weeks time and Lyon, which doesn’t look like a bad title run in, but recent results have sounded out a bit of a alarm that the good run, and it’s an incredible feat what Montpellier have achieved thus far being a promoted side, might just about to end.

Much like Lyon, Lille have to meet a number of title rivals in the remaining rounds. Starting with Bordeaux after a midweek trip to Anfield, plus Montpellier a week later. Also Lyon and, in the 37th round, Marseille. Lille was the name on everybody’s lips near the end of 2009 as the only one, who realistically could offer Bordeaux some threat, but after Gervinho went to the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast, the form hasn’t been very good. Gervinho is currently also out with an injury and the side with the best attacking record are clearly struggling,  the best example being the last match, only a 1-0 win over bottom team Grenoble.

Marseille, like Lyon, have kick started their season in 2010. With injury troubles, manager Didier Deschamps had to tinker with his line-up and formation to fit in record signing Lucho Gonzales, but now it seems everything has clicked, even though the last two matches have ended in 1-1 draw. Still they can praise the computer, which drew the fixtures list last summer. 7 home games lie ahead and only 4 away trips. At home they have to take on Lyon and trips to Auxerre and Lille make May a vital month.

Looking at title defender, Bordeux’s recent results, the question of what’s happened raises. Three match win-less run and they couldn’t beat Montpellier and Auxerre. They face Marseille, who they haven’t managed to beat this season withan away loss and home draw, in the league cup final at the end of the month. Before that, a vital match in the Champions League and Lille. In April it gets easier with only a trip to Paris to take on PSG as a potential up setter and Lyon at home. Though considering the recent form, Laurent Blanc must now be afraid of every fixture until the end of the season.

The top of the table currently looks like this:

Bordeaux 53 points
Montpellier 53 points
Auxerre 52 points
Lille 51 points
Lyon 51 points
Marseille 50 points

The chasing pack is now too much behind with a 7 point gap. A note to also take under consideration is that both Bordeaux and Marseille have played one game less. The fixtures list looks tough for a couple of teams, but I imagine no one will win all the games and it’s a ideal chance to win points beating your direct opposition. I feel the bigger effect will be European football. Lyon are through in the Champions League and Bordeaux look to follow them on Wednesday. Marseille and Lille have kept the Ligue 1 flag high in the Europa League, ready to beat Benfica and Liverpool respectively to get through into the quarter finals. Montpellier and Auxerre are duty free in Europe and a place there next season already looks like a great achievement, but could there be a shock winner this season in Frace? We’ll see in the middle of May.

Where Are They Now? - Vince Bartram
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