Monaco secure final Champions League spot after Ligue 1 showdown

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In France's Ligue 1, it has come down to the last game of the season this year, in a thrilling three-way race for third place.

Before the last game, Monaco sat in third position on the table - the final Champions League qualifying berth - two points above both Marseille and Saint Etienne, with all three teams vying for their future in Europe.

Marseille and Saint Etienne both hosted mid-table opposition with nothing to play for, while Monaco played away at Lorient.  Monaco had experienced a shock 2-1 loss to Lorient in Monaco, on the first day of the season.

Before the final weekend, Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa summarised the hopes of the Marseillais - "Third has been within our grasp all season so we will be very disappointed if we don't manage it."  And as previously reported, it has been a tough fight for l'OM as they desperately kept the dream alive throughout the season.


It was set to be a climatic end to the Ligue 1 calendar in France then, when all games kicked off at 9pm local time on Saturday.  And it wasn't long before there were celebrations in Marseille.

After 14 minutes, Dimitri Payet, who leads the league table for assists, dummied a cross and went past the defender before taking on the keeper with a powerful strike at the near post. The goalie was visibly disappointed with his part in what should have been a save.

This put Marseille into third place in the league.  However elation, and their Champions League dream, was short lived when 6 minutes later Ferreira Carrasco scored for Monaco in Lorient.  In fairness, if Payet's shot should have been saved, the Monaco goal was one of the worst of the season.

Lorient, working through a hangover after escaping the relegation zone two weeks earlier, were completely void of defence in the move.  With three defenders bunched up on one side of the pitch, a cross-pitch ball easily picked out one of two Monaco players completely free and through on goal.  Yannick Ferreira Carrasco took the pass on his chest, then seemed to stall as he realised what a golden and unexpected opportunity the Lorient defence had gifted him.  With his new aim of placing the ball virtually anywhere in front of him apart from at the keeper, Ferreira Carrasco mishit the ball directly at the goalie, Benjamin Lecomte.  Lecomte was about to 'count' himself lucky, but was soon counting to 1-0 down, after the tame mishit came off the inside of his right leg, ricocheted off the back of his left calf and bounced benignly into his net.  Lecomte didn't look sharp there, and the whole move was woefully poor in every way.

Marseille went on to beat Bastia 3-0, keeping Saint Etienne below them despite their respective 2-1 win over Guingamp.  But sadly for both teams, despite all the efforts and hopes, they had to wait 90 minutes to get confirmation of AS Monaco limping to that 1-0 win in Lorient.

That secured the third spot for Monaco, meaning that they will get a pass into the third round of qualifying games for the Champions League next year, and realising the lucrative promise that they have only recently believed they could achieve.


Marseille will be bitterly disappointed.  While PSG secured their 8th league title in a row, Lyon impressed with a solid second place.  But Marseille, who spent 14 consecutive weeks at the top of the table, and didn't drop out of the top two between weeks 6 and 26, should have fared better.  Put into perspective, Monaco appeared to have no chance of a top 3 finish until week 32 of 38 and half of their season was spent mid-table.

Scenes at the Stade Velodrome two weeks ago, suggested the fans still had a strong belief in their team's chances to pull it back.

However, it is clear that their challenge for Champions League next year, and the Ligue 1 title, was upset by one month - February.  January had been hit and miss with two wins and two losses, but the following month saw them take only 3 points from four fixtures.  This included draws to lesser teams including eventual 15th placed Reims, and losing 3-2 to northern minnows Caen in the Velodrome.

Both Marseille and Saint Etienne will play in the Europa League next season, which is some consolation, but while there will be questions in Marseille as to whether Bielsa should stay on, the Argentinian manager is rumoured to already be looking for the door...


The mood in Monaco was substantially brighter last weekend, as they secured a successive campaign in the Champions League.  In contrast to Bielsa, there are very few rumours doing the rounds for Leonardo Jardim, and another year in the South of France seems certain for him.

Finishing a place lower than they did last year under Claudio Ranieri could be less than enviable for the financial giants, however it is tempered by the fact they weren't even in Ligue 1 the year before that.

Finishing 2nd and 3rd in years following promotion from Ligue 2, and now with a second Champions League campaign ahead of them, it is quite an astonishing story.  I would not be expecting a similar three year plan at Norwich, for example.

But focussing on the Champions League, Monaco over-achieved this year, and it will be very difficult to replicate that success - which included knocking out Arsenal and ex-Monaco hero Arsene Wenger in the last 16 match.  Jardim will want to try and reach the last 8 for a second time next season.


Monaco showed great resilience and versatility in those games against Arsenal and they were a testament to Jardim's strategy working.  Furthermore the team has been renowned across Europe for their defending, and for creating an impenetrable fortress at home - ironic for the team who are top of the league on away points.

While PSG scored 32 more goals that Monaco, the southerners conceded the least goals in Ligue 1, with 26 goals conceded in 38 games - that's 10 less than Paris Saint-Germain. 

This brings their deficits in stark contrast to their rivals, and while they will look to maintain the spine of the team, some changes will be inevitable up front.

Many of the squad will be considered sub-standard for a renewed Champions League bid, including elder statesmen such as Jeremie Toulalan (who looks about 40), Ricardo Cavalho (who nearly is 40), and the permanently aged Dimitar Berbatov.  And looking at going forward, they don't have any big goal scorers capable of rivalling Ibrahimovic or Gignac.  Which is something they will need, for league and Europe, going forward.

With substantial desire at Monaco, and motivation from the manager (he will be keeping a keen eye on what happens to Bielsa this summer), as well as substantial financial backing, they are likely to be doing some serious business in the transfer window, and they need to.

Improving their attacking threat, as well as their finishing (take note Ferriera Carrasco!), while maintaining their defensive capacity and organisation, Monaco could be set to make a bit impact next season in Ligue 1, as well as in Europe.

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