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French Ligue 1

Ligue 1 weekend preview

Title honours may be long since decided but Ligue 1 enters its final round of fixtures with a Champions League spot up for grabs - and the agenda dominated by the "Survival Final".

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Herve Renard (right): Has overseen Sochaux's remarkable revival

Herve Renard (right): Has overseen Sochaux's remarkable revival

Sochaux's remarkable revival under coach Herve Renard, who replaced Eric Hely in October, has taken them from the depths of despair to the brink of a remarkable escape from relegation.

They are just a point behind Evian - the team directly above the trapdoor and their opponents for Saturday's decisive match, the "finale pour le maintien" at Stade Auguste Bonal.

A spiky build-up has seen Evian coach Pascal Dupraz accuse Renard of trying to take his job but Renard said: "His comments do not interest me. What interests me is seeing a full stadium with probably 19,000 people supporting their team.

"Coaches pass. The match will be played between FC Sochaux and Evian-TG. Our opponents need a point, us a victory."

Dupraz is stressing passion rather than pressure as he prepares for the decider.

"On a personal level, I never feel pressure in relation to football," the Evian coach said. "Pressure is when you only earn 1,500 euros a month and you have a family to feed, or you are unemployed.

"For me, it is about passion."

At the other end of the table, St Etienne will be looking to snatch third place and Champions League qualification from Lille.

Les Verts, two points behind, have a superior goal difference and also the advantage of hosting relegated Ajaccio while Lille travel to eighth-placed Lorient.

ASSE coach Christophe Galtier, who has been linked with the upcoming vacancy at arch-rivals Lyon, is focused on his own team.

"I will only need to listen to the reaction at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard to understand if the situation turns in our favour," he said.

"Above all, we need to win against Ajaccio. That is the first condition."

Lille midfielder Florent Balmont said: "We deserve this third place over the course of the season. We have held it since October so you can imagine that we do not want to lose it on the final evening of the season. We have our destiny in our hands."

With champions Paris Saint-Germain having also won the Coupe de la Ligue, fifth place carries Europa League qualification and Lyon will need to defend that position from Marseille.

OM have brought themselves within a point after a seven-match unbeaten run including a 4-2 win over Les Gones, though disappointing away draws at Sochaux and Nantes have kept them down in sixth.

They host Coupe de France winners Guingamp at the Stade Velodrome while Lyon, looking to cling on after also losing to Lorient, travel to Nice for coach Remi Garde's last match in charge.

Garde has opted against extending his contract, which expires at the end of the season, and will look to end his reign the way he started it - with victory over Les Aiglons.

Midfielder Maxime Gonalons, who scored in that first game of Garde's tenure, told the club website: "I hope for the same thing. We will do all we can and search for that together.

"(The Europa League) is a magnificent competition to play in. Once you reach the last 16, the quarter-finals, it's on the level of the Champions League."

PSG and second-placed upstarts Monaco, then, will for once have to cede the limelight as they wrap up their triumphant campaigns.

The champions seek a 27th win of the campaign at home to Montpellier, while Bordeaux are the visitors as big-spending Monaco's first season back in the elite concludes at the Stade Louis II.

Relegated Valenciennes bring the curtain down on their Ligue 1 stay with a trip to Toulouse while Bastia host Nantes, who lie 12th despite a one-point deduction after an eventful first season following promotion. Reims host Rennes in the other fixture.

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S

terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

T

he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

N

o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
Townsend: I've silenced critics

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