If Marseille are to become French champions for the first time in 17 years, they must first dethrone reigning kings Lyon in a crunch clash at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.
Lyon, champions every year since 2002, have fallen off the pace this season; their title hopes hang by a mathematical thread and they are being pushed hard by Paris Saint Germain for the final Champions League qualifying place.
Marseille lead Bordeaux on goal difference with three matches remaining, after both sides won away from home in mid-week – Bordeaux coming from behind to beat Valenciennes 2-1 after Marseille had sunk neighbours Nice 2-0.
Outgoing Marseille coach Eric Gerets, who will be replaced by former club captain Didier Deschamps in the summer, said it was one of his side’s best away performances of the season, but warned that the race was far from run.
“I’m afraid that we’ll have to win our last three matches,” the Belgian said. “And even if we win them, we won’t be sure of being champions.”
Senegalese striker Mamadou Niang gave Marseille a 25th-minute lead on Wednesday and the injury-troubled frontman said he was prepared to play through the pain barrier in a bid to fire his side to the title.
“The adrenaline at the end of the season allows me to forget the little injuries, the little pains,” he said. “We have to keep a cool head, the games aren’t over yet.”
Lyon, third, lead fourth-placed PSG by a point going into the weekend’s fixtures, having consigned Nantes to second-bottom by beating them 3-0 on Tuesday. PSG won 1-0 at Le Mans the following day.
“Now we have to go to Marseille,” said Lyon’s Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom. “A game at Velodrome is always an experience and even more so when there’s so much at stake.”
Yoann Gourcuff was Bordeaux’s hero at Valenciennes on Wednesday, and not for the first time this term.
The on-loan AC Milan playmaker supplied the assist for Fernando’s equaliser and then conjured up a diving header with six minutes remaining to snatch victory.
Bordeaux host Le Mans on Saturday and appear to have the easier run-in of the two title challengers, with a home game to mid-table Monaco followed by a trip to struggling Caen on the campaign’s final day.
Coach Laurent Blanc was coolness personified after seeing his charges seal an eighth successive league win at Valenciennes.
“Marseille won away from home. Bravo to them. We won away from home. Bravo to us,” he said. “It was a match for nothing. But we’re getting closer to qualifying for the Champions League.”
At the bottom of the table, St Etienne hauled themselves out of the bottom three for the first time in two months and confirmed their hosts’ relegation to Ligue 2 with a 4-2 victory at Le Havre.
Les Verts take on fifth-placed Toulouse on Saturday, while third-bottom Caen welcome Sochaux to the north coast.
Saturday (1700GMT unless otherwise stated)
Bordeaux v Le Mans, Caen v Sochaux, Grenoble v Nancy, Lorient v Le Havre, Monaco v Valenciennes, St Etienne v Toulouse, PSG v Auxerre (1900GMT)
Sunday (1500GMT unless stated)
Lille v Nice, Nantes v Rennes, Marseille v Lyon (1900GMT)
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