Magnificent Montpellier defy the odds
Despite boasting only the 13th-largest budget in Ligue 1, Montpellier made light of the odds to win their first French title championship on Sunday. The southern club’s budget of €33m is smaller than the fee Paris Saint-Germain paid for their star signing Javier Pastore, the big-spending Parisians finishing three points off the pace in second.
Virtually all the key issues were decided on a nail-biting final day, one that yielded a season high of 34 goals. Needing only a point at already-relegated Auxerre to seal the title, Montpellier endured a nervous evening as incidents in the stands caused their game to be interrupted with the score tied at 1-1.
While Rene Girard’s men waited patiently for the match to resume, Paris Saint-Germain heaped the pressure on by completing a 2-1 win at Lorient, the PSG players then huddling round TV screens to see if Auxerre could do them a favour. It was not to be, however, as John Utaka steadied Montpellier’s nerves after the restart with his second goal to secure a championship-clinching 2-1 win.
La Paillade’s total of 82 points was the highest since Lyon’s 2005/06 haul of 84 and capped an exciting campaign that yielded 956 goals in all, the most since 1984/85, when 979 goals were scored.
Following an unbroken 12-year run in the UEFA Champions League, Lyon will have to content themselves with Europa League football next season after finishing fourth, the third and final place in the continent’s premier club competition going to Lille, who will contest the qualifying rounds. Joining l'OL in the Europa League are fifth-placed Bordeaux and Marseille, who finished well down the pack in tenth but qualify courtesy of their League Cup win.
Down at the other end of the table Dijon and Caen battled till the bitter end, but were ultimately consigned to join l'AJA in Ligue 2. Taking their places in the top flight are Bastia, Reims and Troyes.
Eden Hazard (Lille)
The Belgian international was one of only two players in Europe’s major league championships to complete the double of 15 goals and 15 assists during the course of the season, Lionel Messi being the other. Coupled with his second consecutive Ligue 1 Player of the Year award, Hazard’s tally of 20 goals and five less assists (the highest in the league) has seemingly set him on course for a move to England. The highly rated 21-year-old ended his five-year association with Les Dogues just as he started it, with a game against Nancy, Hazard being entrusted with the captain’s armband by his team-mates and responding with the first hat-trick of his hugely promising career.
Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)
In only his second season in the elite, the tall left-footed striker established himself as one of the best French finishers around. The season’s joint-leading marksmen with 21 goals, Giroud had a big hand, along with young Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda, in Montpellier’s unexpected title win. Hard-working and selfless, he also served up nine assists, including the pass that teed up Karim Ait-Fana for an all-important stoppage-time winner against Lille in the penultimate week of the season.
Nene (Paris Saint-Germain)
The 30-year-old Brazilian enjoyed a productive season, tying with Giroud as Ligue 1’s top scorer and chipping in with ten assists. That said, Nene’s occasional preference for shooting instead of passing to unmarked team-mates earned him criticism in some quarters, though PSG would have never have pushed Montpellier so close had it not been for his exploits in the box.
64 - The number of seasons Sochaux have now contested in the top flight, a French record and one they will soon add to thanks to Sunday’s 1-0 defeat of Marseille. Floundering in the danger zone since the end of last year, Les Lionceaux secured their status thanks to Ryad Boudebouz’s sweetly struck half-volley, which flew past l'OM keeper Steve Mandanda and into the top corner.
24 September 2011: A brace from the inspired Pastore gave Paris Saint-Germain a comprehensive 3-0 win at Montpellier, taking them above the southerners and into top spot. When the two sides met again at the Parc des Princes on 19 February, La Paillade stood firm to secure an ultimately crucial 2-2 draw.
12 February 2012: One of the games of the season as Bordeaux won 5-4 at Lille. Trailing 4-1 with an hour gone, Les Dogues mounted the most unlikely of comebacks to level things up with a minute remaining, only for Ludovic Obraniak’s left-footed strike to secure the points for the visitors in injury time. The Poland international, who scored one of his side’s earlier goals, had only left Lille for his new employers a month earlier.
2 May 2012: Marseille’s 1-0 defeat of Nancy ended a 13-game winless run in the league, one that began in the wake of their first-leg defeat of Inter Milan in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. Prior to defeating the Italians, l'OM had gone unbeaten for nearly three months, a successful streak that they triggered with a 3-0 victory over deadly rivals PSG on 27 November.