Marseille forced to disregard aches for Ligue 1's next round of high stakes

·5-min read

When Marseille's players stride out at the Vélodrome on Sunday night for their clash against Lyon, they face a test of character and stamina in their hunt for a place in next season's Champions League as well as a chunky European trophy in the shape of the Europa Conference League.

Jorge Sampaoli's side lost 3-2 to Feyenoord in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday night at the de Kuip in Rotterdam.

Marseille have a chance to overturn that deficit next Thursday. But before that European excursion comes the opportunity to take a big step towards the group stages of the Champions League – European club football's most prestigious tournament.

Rennes and Monaco – third and fourth respectively on 59 points – could draw to within three points of Marseille if Rennes see off relegation-threatened Saint Etienne on Saturday night, and Monaco defeat mid-table Angers on Sunday afternoon.

"It's a big game against Lyon," said Sampaoli after his side's defeat in the Netherlands.

"We've just come out of a tough, high stakes match. We've got another one because of what we want to achieve in Ligue 1 and then we've got the second leg in the Europa Conference League next week. It will sap our energies both physically and mentally."

Course

Rennes and Monaco possess no such worries. Their European adventures ended much earlier.

Leicester City accounted for Rennes in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League and Monaco lost to Braga in the last 16 of the Europa League in March.

And though Rennes seemingly have the least taxing encounter this weekend, head coach Bruno Genesio said he had told his players not to take Pascal Dupraz's side lightly.

"Saint-Etienne is a squad with quality players and they have a coach who is used to this kind of situation," said Genesio.

"Dupraz has this ability to motivate his troops and make them surpass themselves for a goal."

Saint-Etienne though are in dire straights. They occupy 18th place with 31 points from their 34 games.

Stakes

And should they stay there, at the end of the season they will contest a two-legged play-off with the winner of the Ligue 2 promotion play-offs.

The form book suggests Saint-Etienne face a bleak night. Rennes boast the second most potent offence in Ligue 1 behind champions Paris Saint-Germain as well as the second best home record – again after PSG.

Genesio's men have hit 46 goals in their 17 matches at the Roazhon Park where they've harvested 37 of their 59 points.

"We have to be careful, humble and well prepared," Genesio cautioned.

"We know that if we are on our game we have a great chance to take the three points.

"But if we let our guard down in any area we will be in trouble."

Chance

Should Rennes make it into next season's Champions League, they will be desperate to atone for the sins of their last venture in the competition.

Under then boss Julien Stéphan, they lost five of their six games in the group stages of the 2020/2021 competition to finish bottom of the pile.

Monaco – who failed to advance to the group stages of this season's competition from the qualifying rounds – must also erase the memories of their last time in the competition in 2018.

They lost five and drew one to prop up a group which included Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Bruges.

Fittingly, Marseille ended up at the foot of Group C in their 2020/21 campaign in the Champions League.

Consistency

And though PSG's ambitious owners QSI wail about the team's inability to lift the Champions League trophy, the club has been the most consistent of the Ligue 1 outfits in the tournament.

Lille, who reached the knockout stages in 2021/22 for the first time before losing to Chelsea, have no chance of returning to next season's fest.

And Lyon, semi-finalists in 2020, have four games – including Sunday's trip to Marseille – to try and capture Ligue 1's fifth place, which leads to a slot in next season's Europa Conference League.

It was almost with a sense of gallows humour that France's sports broadcasters scheduled Strasbourg against PSG as the first match of the 35th round.

The stakes for sixth-placed Strasbourg who came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3? A shot at the places in the Europa Conference League and the Europa League and the outside chance of third place which offers up the Champions League qualifying rounds.

For PSG? The chance to help Kylian Mbappé maintain his ascendance as Ligue 1's top marksman as well as the player laying on the pass to a goalscorer.

"I don't think there'll be any problem with the players trying to help Kylian obtain the individual awards," said PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino before the game at the Stade de la Meinau.

And Mbappé duly bagged himself a brace to take his season's Ligue 1 tally to 24 –three ahead of Rennes' Martin Terrier.

Mbappé also laid on the pass for Achraf Hakimi's goal to increase his "assists" to 15 – two ahead of his teammate Lionel Messi.

Ah, PSG's first world problems as Marseille et al scurry and scratch in an altogether different universe.

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