Montpellier, PSG resume Ligue 1 title race

Montpellier and PSG resume their Ligue 1 race Sunday with trips to relegation-threatened sides, as leaders Montpellier take a three-point lead to Lorient and second-place PSG visits Auxerre.

Montpellier separated itself from PSG on Wednesday with a 3-1 win at Marseille in a make-up game, leaving the clubs both on 31 matches. Montpellier's win was its third straight, and it has lost just once over its last 12.

"I had thought of the match as a 'bonus match'," said Montpellier manager Rene Girard, "so it's great to have taken something from it, especially as it means we have put Paris three points behind us.".

With goal difference also on its side, Montpellier has the pole position for a surprise title this season. And even if Montpellier should falter late, it has all but secured a top-two finish and Champions League play next season.

Girard realizes the importance of Champions League play, because Montpellier's rise to the summit has also put its top players, such as 19-goal scorer Oliver Giroud, on the radar of Europe's elite clubs.

"If we qualify for the Champions League," Girard said, "our star players will think twice about leaving, but it's true that we may still have a lot of trouble hanging onto them."

Montpellier leads third-place Lille by 10 points with seven matches remaining, so even a mediocre finish would be enough. But with the title in sight, Girard and Montpellier will also try to hold off free-spending PSG.

Lorient is 18th and in danger of relegation, but drop-threatened clubs always provide a tough test, especially late in the season.

While Montpellier is weary of Lorient, it hopes Auxerre - bottom of the table and six points from safety - can surprise PSG.

PSG ended a three-match slide last week with a 2-1 victory over Marseille, but showed in its previous three games - a loss and two draws - it is vulnerable.

Auxerre defeated Valenciennes two weeks ago to start its ascent, but lost last week for the third time in its last four. A win over PSG would provide a spark for Auxerre, while a loss could doom the club to relegation.

"Everyone has been affected by the fact that the club are bottom of the table and have been going through a bad patch for some time," said interim Auxerre coach Jean-Guy Wallemme.

"We want to put smiles back on peoples' faces and instill some confidence. With so little time, we are going to have to win most of our games."

Lille hosts relegation-threatened Ajaccio on Sunday, when it hopes to maintain or extend its three-point cushion over Lyon for third and the Champions League qualification spot.

Lyon is unbeaten in seven straight in all competitions, and plays Marseille in the Coupe de France on Saturday ahead of its visit to Toulouse on Wednesday in a key Ligue 1 clash.

Toulouse is just three points behind Lyon in fifth, and could climb level with Lyon on points for the only Europa League spot. Struggling Marseille will host Caen on Wednesday.

Also Sunday, 19th-place Sochaux will try to make a move toward safety against Dijon, St Etienne hopes to boost its European hopes against 15th-place Brest, Valenciennes hosts Evian in a mid-table clash, and Nancy hosts Bordeaux.

On Monday, sixth-place Rennes will try to overtake Toulouse for fifth place when it hosts 13th-place Nice, which is just two points above the drop in the tightly-packed standings.