Relegation-haunted Metz host Champions League chasing Marseille
It's crunch time for Metz and Marseille who meet on Friday night. Both sides need all three points. Metz are trying to stave off descent into Ligue 2 and Marseille want victory to maintain their hopes of a place in next season's Uefa Champions League.
More than 1,200 years ago, Metz was the birthplace of Gregorian chant. Legend has it that Pope Saint Gregory the Great was behind this particular form of worship in the Roman Catholic church. But the scholars believe that it arose from a fusion of Roman chant and Gallican chant.
One thing is for sure on 1 May 2015: the fans of Marseille and Metz aren't singing any more.
On 5 April, Marseille were in a three-way battle for the French first division title. That was when they hosted their bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain at the Velodrome. It ended 3-2 to the team from the capital.
Marseille's response to that reverse has been less than tuneful.
They lost 1-0 at Bordeaux a week later. On 17 April they went down by the same score at Nantes.
They then descended to a discordant nadir on 24 April losing 5-3 at the Velodrome to Lorient, twice equalising after being 2-0 and 3-2 down.
Marseille go into the 35th game of their 2014-2015 season with their title aspirations in tatters. They're 14 points behind PSG and down in fifth.
Marseille need some kind of result against Metz to arrest the slump of an appalling April.
They are five points off third place - the spot which leads to qualification for next season's Uefa Champions League. A month ago it was the glory of being crowned champions that motivated Marcelo Bielsa's men.
Now Monaco and Saint Etienne will have a say in whether Champions League nights will grace the Velodrome in the 2015-2016 season.
Naturally, after four defeats on the trot, Bielsa's tactical choices have undergone forensic scrutiny.
In the game at Nantes, the home side's coach Michel Der Zakarian put out a relatively conventional 4-4-2 which hampered Marseille's attacking elan.
Marseille's star midfielder Giannelli Imbula was neutralised and Florian Thauvin replaced him at half-time.
Mass tinkering marked Marseille's second-half. André-Pierre Gignac was forced to drop behind Michy Batshuayi.
The introduction of Lucas Ocampos on the hour in central midfield led to another realignment with Thauvin going out onto the wing and Gignac back to centre-forward. The musical chairs continued with the arrival of defensive midfielder Mario Lemina. The 1-0 loss was the least of Bielsa's woes.
It might just be the Europa League for Marseille and a sense of what could have been.
Metz would love to be supping on such crumbs. They're in the drop zone and despite a creditable seven points out of 12 in April, they're virtually doomed.
Metz are 19th - second from bottom with 30 points after 34 games.
They're eight points off the safety of 17th place occupied by Reims.
Defeat at home to Marseille and Reims wil travel to Guingamp on 2 May knowing a draw will probably secure their survival in the French top flight.
Despite the high stakes, Metz boss Albert Cartier says his players are handling the pressure.
"They don't seem tired or worn out to me," Cartier told reporters. "If anything they're looking fresh and really ready for the challenge. The fact that they've had to play against top sides like Bordeaux and PSG has got them buzzing.
"We took a point off Bordeaux, lost to PSG and now playing against Marseille helps to keep everyone motivated."
Cartier admitted that neither Metz not Marseille side could afford to be cagey. "Marseille are an attack-minded team and never seem to back away from that philosophy," said the 54-year-old former footballer. "We also have to go and attack."
There's been a blow for the strugglers. Guido Milan is out after twisting his left knee during the 3-1 defeat at PSG on 28 April. Chris Philipps has been drafted into the squad and Milan is likely to be replaced at centre-back by Jérémy Choplin.
The old saying goes that the league season is a marathon and not a sprint.
Come the end of what will inevitably be 90 very fast minutes at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, a group of men may well be bawling a plangent lament into the Lorraine twilight.
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