Marseille keep title run on track
Classy midfielder Mathieu Valbuena kept Marseille's French title ambitions on track on Sunday with the only goal at the Stade Velodrome against strugglers St Etienne.
Valbuena's sixth-minute strike after good work by Brandao was enough to lift Marseille onto 71 points from 34 games for a seventh straight success. With just four games remaining they stand five points clear of Auxerre, who swept to a 3-0 win at Toulouse.
Marseille's last title came in 1992 - a year before they became the only French team to lift the European Cup and prior to a match-fixing scandal which saw them relegated as punishment. Now coached by French 1998 World-Cup winning skipper Didier Deschamps the Mediterranean club are making the most of some surprising slips by their rivals.
Reigning champions Bordeaux have slumped in recent weeks - Saturday's loss to Lorient left Laurent Blanc's side in sixth place, 11 points off the pace, two behind UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Lyon - allowing both Marseille and Auxerre to steal a march on them.
Lyon were not in action at the weekend as they prepare to overcome a 1-0 deficit in their Champions League semi-final return against Bayern Munich. "We are in first place with a five-point lead, but it will be tough for everyone," said Deschamps whose team face Auxerre next weekend.
Jean Fernandez's Auxerre have won eight and drawn three of their last 11 outings and Sunday's success over Toulouse was the perfect way to prepare for showdown with the leaders next week. Auxerre, who won the domestic double in 1996 under former coach Guy Roux, have just that one title to their name to date.
But in casting aside Toulouse with Benoit Pedretti's free-kick two minutes after the restart and then a double from Polish striker Ireneusz Jelen they showed they are not to be taken lightly. Yet defender Adama Coulibaly said the club would have to work furiously if they are to overhaul Marseille.
"Marseille will be a tough match - but there are four games to go and we'll take them one at a time. People aren't talking about us much and that will help us."
Bordeaux continue to stumble
Bordeaux's loss to Lorient - their fourth in five games - meanwhile had Blanc lamenting that luck appears to have deserted his side, whose recent slump coincided with their European exit to Lyon in the Champions League quarters.
"We lacked a little bit of luck, in the first half notably," said Blanc. "But nothing's going right for us now."
Lille have a whiff of a shot at the Champions League, meanwhile, after moving into third place after a 2-1 win Saturday at third-bottom Le Mans. French Cup finalists Paris Saint-Germain are still on the road to nowhere in the league at least after a 1-1 home draw with Rennes at the Parc des Princes left them 10th.
In Sunday's other early game, Lens, champions in 1998, are all but safe after a 1-1 draw with Valenciennes which left the "blood and gold" 12 points clear of the drop zone with Le Mans and Boulogne looking odds-on to join Grenoble in falling through the trap door.