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Ligue 1 prepares to serve up last day thrills and spills

By Paul Myers - RFI
Football News REUTERS - STEPHANE MAHE
MAY 21, 2022 LISTEN
REUTERS - STEPHANE MAHE

For all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about the predictability of the French top flight, there's been some genuine intrigue in the closing stages of the 2021/2022 season.

True, there hasn't been much contest as to where the title has been heading. A side doesn't draft in Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi as well as Gino Wijnaldum to finish second.

Paris Saint-Germain pulled away light years ago to make the Ligue 1 story about the fight for the places in next season's European competitions.

PSG launched a separate saga on how to grapple with participation and humiliating elimination from the Champions League – the most prestigious of all those tournaments.

As champions of the 2021/22 season, PSG will claim the first automatic qualifying spot for the 2022/23 Champions League. As to who will gain the second automatic slot will be the focal point of the 38th and final round of games of this year's Ligue 1 campaign.

Monaco are second on goal difference ahead of Marseille.

After spendingthe vast majority of the campaign outside the European places, Monaco's rise has been as spectacular as unexpected.

Following a 1-0 defeat at Strasbourg on 13 March, Monaco were eighth. They were out of the Coupe de France and the Europa League and dribbling into obscurity.

Questions were being asked about the sense of sacking Niko Kovac for Philippe Clément.

But the Belgian has engineered a transformation: nine consecutive wins has propelled the side to the brink of a second place finish.

If Monaco were to win at seventh-placed Lens, they will seal the spot barring goal fest victories for their rivals.

"It's going to be a big match on Saturday ... esesntially a cup final. We've got to go for it. And if we're in with a shout in the last 10 minutes we'll know how we have to play."

Permutations

However, a win for Lens could take them into fifth – the slot for the Europa Conference League.

That position is held by Strasbourg who play at Marseille. The interconnectedness is a thing of beauty.

Nice, runners-up in the Coupe de France, could nick that Europa Conference League place with a draw at Reims even if Lens were to beat Monaco.

Rennes, who are fourth – the berth for the Europa League – need at least a draw away at Lille to make sure that a Strasbourg victory at Marseille or a Nice win at Reims doesn't them knock them out of the European places altogether.

Should Monaco and Marseille both lose, victory will catapult Rennes up to second. Possibilities and maybes on the eve of the action.

What is certain is that Rennes have a fight on their hands to keep several players who have caught the eye under Bruno Genesio.

"Holding onto some of our best would be a good start for next season, said Genesio after receiving the Ligue 1 coach of the year prize last Sunday at the UNFP awards.

"Next we've got to keep the flow going from the academy into the first team because that's part of who we are as a club and of course we'l have to bring in people where we have shortages.

"Not stars ... but players who'll fit in and would like to join the project that we have."

It's been a thrilling ride. Rennes have banged in 80 goals in their 37 matches. Only champions PSG have scored more. But that's not surprising. PSG boast Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Messi in their ranks.

Rennes' line-up is far more modest. But one point will assure them of the fifth consecutive year of European football.

At the other end of the food chain, with Bordeaux anointed for demotion, the only issue remains who will join them in the automatic drop.

Metz, who have 31 points, occupy 18th – the place which leads to a play-off for a place in next season's Ligue 1 against Auxerre or Sochaux who finished third and fifth respectively in Ligue 2.

Saint-Etienne, in 19th, also have 31 points but a far worse goal difference. They play at Nantes and might find the Coupe de France winners in holiday mode.

Metz will be at PSG who will be presented with the Ligue 1 trophy after the game. Such is the rancour between some of PSG's supporters' groups and the club's top executives that there are concerns that the presentation could end up with jeering.

If that were to happen in front of players that have just been dispatched to life in Ligue 2, it wouldn't exactly show Ligue 1's champion club at its classiest.

Perhaps the inevitable upshot of a monied outfit operating in a league all of its own for far too long in this year's competition.

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