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Ligue 1 preview: Saint-Etienne to challenge for second

Saint-Etienne have the opportunity to put pressure on second-placed Marseille when they travel to Valenciennes on Friday.

Marseille face a tricky trip to Lille on Sunday and could see their four-point gap to Saint-Etienne shrink to one before they kick off at the Grand Stade Lille Metropole.

Saint-Etienne have not lost in any competition so far in 2013, with a 12-match unbeaten run in Ligue 1 having taken Christophe Galtier’s side to third on the table, thanks in no small part to on-loan winger Yohan Mollo.

Mollo, who joined from Nancy in January, has played every Ligue 1 fixture since moving to Saint-Etienne, scoring four goals and notching five assists from the left wing.

Lyon dropped below Saint-Etienne last week after their third defeat in a row but could also put pressure on Marseille before the south-coast club play Lille if they beat Toulouse earlier on Sunday.

With Paris Saint-Germain likely to extend their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to 10 points when they travel to bottom-placed Troyes on Saturday, the battle for qualification to the UEFA Champions League looks likely to be the most interesting aspect of the closing weeks of the season.

Just six points separate Marseille (57 points) and sixth-placed Nice (51), with those two clubs plus Saint-Etienne, Lyon and Lille, all in the hunt for second position’s automatic Champions League berth and third-place’s spot in the qualifying rounds.

Lille can strike a serious blow if they defeat Marseille, while Nice should be confident of improving their prospects when they host 16th-placed Sochaux.

Nice have not lost to Sochaux at the Stade Municipal du Ray since 2005.

At the other end of the Ligue 1 table, Brest, who sit second-to-last, host fellow strugglers Reims on Saturday in a classic relegation six-pointer.

Brest have lost their past four matches but if they defeat Reims they would ensure the 15th-placed club from France’s north-east remain embroiled in the relegation battle.

Another crucial clash in the lower reaches of France’s top tier will see 14th-placed Ajaccio host Nancy, who are four positions below the Corsicans in the drop zone.

In other Ligue 1 matches, Evian will host Rennes and Lorient are set to take on Bastia, while Bordeaux will face Montpellier.

Thu 11 April, 2013
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