PARIS: Lyon can wrap up direct qualification for next season’s Champions League group stage with a win when they entertain Monaco on the penultimate weekend of the Ligue 1 campaign on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Both sides are on course to finish in the top three in France but both are desperate to avoid ending the season in third spot, and thus having to come through two qualifying rounds to make the Champions League proper.
Lyon were the runners-up to Paris Saint-Germain last season, while Monaco came in third and ended up missing out on the Champions League group stage by losing to Valencia in a play-off.
The two teams come into the weekend level on points, but Lyon’s superior goal difference is such that a win in front of a near-60,000 crowd at the Parc OL would rule out Monaco catching them on the final day.
Lyon have the momentum on their side too, having closed the gap after being 10 points behind Monaco in late February.
Bruno Genesio’s side have won seven and drawn two of their last nine games, while Monaco have won just three times over the same period.
That has given Lyon the chance to claim the prize of best of the rest in France behind the utterly dominant Qatar-owned PSG, as OL’s outspoken president Jean-Michel Aulas has been eager to point out.
“It is good to have a final to the French championship because Qatar is not part of France,” the ever-provocative Aulas said.
“There will therefore be a French title up for grabs. That is what we need to get in our heads and it will be marvelous for whoever wins.
“We know that if we play with the necessary mental strength to win the game, we will be in the Champions League,” added Aulas, whose club is unbeaten at their impressive new stadium since its inauguration in January.
“We will see if our players, as well as being good footballers, are men with superior mental strength. We will also see if Bruno Genesio is capable of preparing the team for the Champions League because this is a Champions League game.”
Lyon is set to be without Corentin Tolisso but Mathieu Valbuena has returned to training after missing last week’s win against Gazelec Ajaccio.
Monaco have problems of their own, though, with Brazilian right-back Fabinho suspended and midfield duo Jeremy Toulalan and Joao Moutinho both struggling for fitness.
“This match is a final, it will be decisive,” admitted Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim, whose team will be supported in Lyon by Prince Albert.
“We want to finish second and qualify directly for the Champions League but they are a good team and are used to playing in big matches.”
If either team slips up, Saint-Etienne or Nice could yet snatch a podium place.
The sides meet on the Cote d’Azur with Les Verts four points back in fourth and Nice another point behind in fifth.
Both sides are looking to at least seal Europa League qualification but they are under pressure from Lille, who sit sixth and are in good form having gone eight league games unbeaten.
Frederic Antonetti’s side entertains Guingamp in far northern France but do so without Sofiane Boufal, who is out for the remainder of the campaign with a knee problem.
Champions PSG need just a draw away to relegation-threatened Gazelec Ajaccio to set a new record for the most points in a Ligue 1 campaign.
Marco Verratti is a doubt due to a thigh injury as PSG come up against a Gazelec side who lies one point above the relegation zone.
If the Corsicans claim a shock win, it could spell big trouble for the two teams below them, Reims and Toulouse.
Reims go to Marseille, while Toulouse are at home to already demoted Troyes.