Saint-Etienne aim to bring the Green Cauldron to Europe's top table
Paris (AFP) –
Saint-Etienne are homing in on a first ever appearance in the modern Champions League as they prepare for the visit of Montpellier on Friday, aiming to snatch third place in Ligue 1 from arch-rivals Lyon.
Saint-Etienne are France's most decorated side with 10 league titles and six French Cups but their last major trophy came way back in 1981, when -- led by Michel Platini -- they last finished top of the pile.
Les Verts have not graced Europe's leading club competition since the following season, when they were knocked out of the European Cup preliminary round by Dynamo Berlin, and in the last two decades have had to watch Lyon become both a force in French football and regulars in the Champions League.
However Sunday's 3-2 triumph at Monaco was their sixth win in a seven-game unbeaten streak that has taken them to within a point of inconsistent Lyon, who are third and were held 2-2 at home by second-placed Lille, themselves six points clear of Lyon and almost guaranteed direct passage to the Champions League group stage ahead of Sunday's match with Bordeaux.
That point left Lyon, whose coach Bruno Genesio will leave at the end of the season after falling out with fans over a disappointing campaign, staring at the prospect of their local rivals pipping them to Europe's top table.
Saint-Etienne boast some of Europe's most passionate supporters and host two matches at their Stade Geoffroy-Guichard -- nicknamed the 'Green Cauldron' -- in their final three fixtures, with Friday's clash with Europa League-chasing Montpellier followed by another home game with Nice and the season-ender at mid-table Angers.
"We've got two home games coming up, and we know that our fans will give us a big push for these two real finals at the Geoffroy-Guichard," said Saint-Etienne coach Jean-Louis Gasset.
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A win or draw on Friday would put Gasset's side temporarily in third place and the final Champions League spot ahead of Lyon's trip to Marseille, who are level on 55 points with fifth-placed Montpellier and seven behind Saint-Etienne.
Lyon then host relegation strugglers Caen before travelling to Nimes on the final day. Given the apparent ease of Lyon's closing two fixtures, this weekend could be the decisive one for the chances of a grand old club making their return to the big stage.
Elsewhere Paris Saint-Germain are looking for a morale-boosting win at Angers after a miserable run of form that has dampened celebrations of their sixth title in seven years.
Thomas Tuchel's side have won just one of their last six matches and threw away a two-goal lead to lose last month's French Cup final on penalties to Rennes, as France's dominant force failed to get over being dumped out of the Champions League by Manchester United.
They will be missing Ligue 1 top scorer Kylian Mbappe, suspended after being sent off for a horror tackle towards the end of the cup final and absent in last weekend's dismal 1-1 draw with Nice, in which Edinson Cavani missed a last-gasp penalty to seal an undeserved three points.
They are also awaiting sanctions against star attacker Neymar for hitting a Rennes supporter in the aftermath of the spot-kick defeat.
At the bottom of the table Guingamp can be relegated if Caen, in the relegation play-off spot, beat Reims on Saturday and they lose at Rennes the following day.
Meanwhile 2017 champions Monaco -- who have picked up just three points from the last 18 -- hover perilously above Caen ahead of their trip to Nimes on Saturday.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Saint-Etienne v Montpellier (1845)
Angers v Paris Saint-Germain (1500), Caen v Reims, Dijon v Strasbourg, Nice v Nantes, Nimes v Monaco, Amiens v Toulouse (all 1800)
Rennes v Guingamp (1300), Lille v Bordeaux (1500), Marseille v Lyon (1900)
? 2019 AFP