Monaco hope to hold on to Champions League spot

Paris (AFP) –


Monaco must avoid a slip-up on the final day of the French season on Saturday or risk losing out on a Champions League berth at the expense of local rivals Nice.

The principality club have been in the top three since December but have stumbled in recent weeks and a 6-1 trouncing at Lyon last weekend effectively ended their hopes of finishing second and sealing automatic Champions League qualification.

Monaco host mid-table Montpellier at the Stade Louis II knowing that a three-point deficit to second-placed Lyon coupled with a far inferior goal difference means they must instead focus on making sure of third spot, which carries with it a berth in the Champions League third qualifying round.

Leonardo Jardim's side, quarter-finalists in Europe's elite club competition last season, must win to be sure of a podium place.

Otherwise, Nice, two points back in fourth with a better goal difference, can capitalise by beating Guingamp in Brittany.

"In the last match we took a big blow. We lost, that's the way it is, but we have remobilised and got back down to work," said Jardim, who insisted third place is where his team belong.

"Lyon finished second last year and are second now. Paris are first again. We would be doing the same as last year by coming third."

Jardim, who has this week seen injured midfielder Joao Moutinho return to training, denied his future at the club depends on securing third spot.

"For me, I will be here at the end of June to prepare next season. I have always had the full backing of those in charge," he said.

Nice have to win to stand a chance of overtaking their Cote d'Azur neighbours but coach Claude Puel hinted that his club would be better off going into the Europa League.

"It is important to hold on to fourth place but we need to keep going right to the end in case our neighbours stumble," said Puel.

"We are not going to focus on third place. If the chance presents itself we will say then how we feel about it."

Nice are likely to lose their star player Hatem Ben Arfa, linked to Barcelona, while Puel himself is soon out of contract and is said to be a contender to become the next Bordeaux coach.

A young side would surely struggle to reach the Champions League group stage, and if they did come third it could make life awkward for on-loan striker Valere Germain, another outstanding performer who is due to return to parent club Monaco.

Nice won 7-2 in Guingamp last season but have won just one of their last 11 away league games.

A point would almost certainly secure fourth spot, with Saint-Etienne hosting Lille in a straight fight for the final Europa League berth.

- Miracle escape? -

Sixth-placed Lille must win at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, otherwise they will only qualify for Europe if champions Paris Saint-Germain beat Marseille in the French Cup final.

At the bottom, Toulouse will secure a miraculous escape from relegation with a win at Angers.

They were 10 points from safety 10 games from the end of the season but climbed out of the bottom three with a win at home to Troyes last weekend.

"I believe more than ever," coach Pascal Dupraz told La Depeche as he hopes his players keep their cool.

"When you buy a new car, you are afraid of bumping it, so you get nervous and that is when you are most at risk of banging it. But you are used to driving. My players are the same: they know what to do."

If they slip up, either Gazelec Ajaccio or Reims could capitalise -- Gazelec visit Lorient while Reims entertain Lyon.

PSG will receive the Ligue 1 trophy after their final game against Nantes at the Parc des Princes.

Fixtures on Saturday (1900 GMT)

Rennes v Bastia, Troyes v Marseille, Caen v Bordeaux, Monaco v Montpellier, Guingamp v Nice, Saint-Etienne v Lille, Paris Saint-Germain v Nantes, Lorient v Gazelec Ajaccio, Angers v Toulouse, Reims v Lyon