Montpellier on the brink of claiming first French league title
PARIS - The Associated Press
Montpellier will win its first league title with one point against last-place Auxerre. REUTERS photoMontpellier only needs to avoid a major slip-up in the final round on May 20 to stave off Paris-Saint Germain in their two-way duel for the French league title.
Montpellier holds a three-point lead over PSG going into the final games on May 20 and visits last-place Auxerre knowing that a draw will be enough to clinch the title. If Montpellier loses, however, PSG could snatch away the trophy by beating relegation-battler Lorient.
“That would be dumb to stumble over the last step,” Montpellier defender Henri Bedimo said. “We’ve done the bulk of the work but we must remain cautious. Paris can still overtake us on goal difference. We will need at least a point.” Montpellier has held the top spot for 18 rounds before this weekend compared to 16 for PSG.
After Lyon won the French title for seven straight years, Montpellier is looking to become the fifth different champion since 2008.
At the start of the season, Montpellier was not considered a contender after finishing in 14th place last year. It also flew under the radar with its frugal transfer policy, having spent only 2 million Euros on players this season compared to more than 100 million for PSG.
When it snatched the lead from PSG in late March, Montpellier was expected to crumble under the pressure of chasing its first league title. But the underdog has not cracked, and even defeated defending champion Lille last weekend in what looked like a handover.
“We had the impression of being champions when we saw the supporters’ reaction at the end of the match (against Lille),” Montpellier midfielder Benjamin Stambouli said. “We shouldn’t lose our focus. We still have a match at Auxerre which is not won yet.”
Auxerre will be relegated after 32 years in the top division. Now it has just pride to play for.
PSG needs a victory at Lorient to keep its slim title hopes alive.
“It will be difficult to win the title but it’s not over,” PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We’re still in the running. We still have a small chance and we will take it.”
PSG lost to Lorient in the opening round. Lorient sits in 14th place, just one point above the red zone.
“We are ready to fight to secure safety on Sunday night,” Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff said. “We often have our best games against the leading teams.”