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Lille keeps sights on Montpellier, Ligue 1 title

Lille has eight wins in its last nine matches to join the Ligue 1 title chase, and can set up a monumental last week with a win at Montpellier on Sunday.

Defending champion Lille was an afterthought just months ago, but with 24 out of a possible 27 points over its last nine matches, has closed to within just two points of second-place PSG and five of leader Montpellier.

Lille secured Champions League play with a 3-0 win over Caen in its last game and the pressure is now off entering the final two weeks of the season, coach Rudi Garcia said.

"Now that we're assured of at least third place, our appetite is growing. We want to do even better and we'll give all we've got to clinch second place, or even jump right into the lead," Garcia said.

Garcia was comfortable with his club being on the outside looking in with just two matches left in the season, as the pressure is on PSG and Montpellier, not his side.

"The difference from last season is that we're not in the lead, even though we have practically the same number of points. It's out of our hands, even though we're playing a direct rival on Sunday," Garcia said.

"Obviously, there is less pressure on us. We haven't sat any higher than third place all season, and it's about time we did."

Montpellier still clings to a three-point lead over PSG, and could lock up its first-ever title this weekend with the right results. But its a thin line with PSG and Lille so close, and nothing is guaranteed at this point.

Its hopes got even tougher Thursday, when playmaker Younes Belhanda was handed a three-match ban that will end his season. He received a red card last week.

PSG could be under the most pressure Sunday, when the entire league plays, as it spent well over $100 million on summer and winter transfers but could miss out on any trophies this season.

The Paris club hosts fifth-place Rennes, and will need a fourth win from its last five games to keep the pressure on, or possibly even go top. It could be in third with a draw or a loss, however.

The rest of the drama is on the other end of the table, where nine clubs have two weeks to escape relegation.

Last-place Auxerre is in the worst shape on 34 points, but it sits two points from safety ahead of a trip to Marseille on Sunday.

Dijon is just one point off the bottom and hosts Toulouse, while another side just one point off the basement, Brest, hosts Valenciennes, which is five off the bottom three.

Sochaux visits Caen in a relegation battle, as the duo sit just one and three points off the bottom three, respectively. Ajaccio, two points off the drop zone, hosts Lyon, and Nice hosts Evian with a three-point cushion on the drop.

Lorient also enters the next-to-last weekend in danger, but with a four-point cushion on the relegation zone, can secure safety with a win at Bordeaux.

Nancy hosts St. Etienne with both clubs trying to secure a better position in the final two weeks. Nancy is 11th, but could sneak into the top half and St. Etienne is sixth and level on points with fifth-place Rennes.