Four teams vie for Christmas top spot
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Paris Saint-Germain and Lille are among the teams vying for topping the French league on Christmas day. AFP photoMontpellier, Paris Saint-Germain, Lille and Lyon will all be bidding to end the year on top of the French top flight in the final round of fixtures before the winter break tonight.
PSG was prevented from returning to the summit after being held to a 0-0 draw by Lille on Dec. 18, which left the team below leader Montpellier on goal difference.
Defending champion Lille and Lyon are two points back, in third and fourth place respectively.
Of the top four, Lille is the only side who face a home match tonight, as the team welcomes third-bottom Nice to Stade Villeneuve d’Ascq.
Montpellier visits Evian and Lyon are at Valenciennes, while PSG will take on Saint-Etienne -- who is unbeaten in six games -- at the imposing Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, in what will be the final Ligue 1 fixture of 2011. After a three-game losing streak in late November and early December, PSG had got its title bid back on track with successive wins over Auxerre and Sochaux prior to the stalemate with Lille on Dec. 18.
Should Montpellier fail to win at Evian, victory for PSG would give the team the honorific title of autumn champions, but coach Antoine Kombouare says his only motivation is to finish the year as strongly as possible.
“I don’t think about that,” he said. “What comes to mind is the need for recovery so that we can produce a great performance on Wednesday.”
Unbeaten in 16 matches and devoid of European distractions following its Champions League elimination, Lille looks well placed to mount a strong defense of its title in the second half of the campaign.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia, though, insists that the club from the capital remain the favorites.
“Looking at Paris’ investments, it’s normal that they should be aiming for the title and be at the top of the table,” he said.
“We sold lots of players and made few signings, and we don’t box in the same weight class.”
Garcia also warned that the draw at PSG would count for nothing if his side did not beat Nice, who moved to within a point of safety by winning 2-0 against Valenciennes on Dec. 17.
Montpellier has gone off the boil in the last fortnight, losing at Valenciennes and then being held to a 1-1 draw by Toulouse at the weekend.
Victory at Evian would crown a remarkable start to the season by Rene Girard’s men.
“Everyone would be happy if Paris were autumn champions,” said Girard. “But we’re only at the halfway stage and it’s not over.”