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Resurgent Monaco back in Champions League reckoning

That Paris Saint-Germain would win the Ligue 1 title this season was never really in doubt at any point, but behind them the battle for European places remains open with a resurgent Monaco now hoping to snatch Champions League qualification.

PSG clinched their eighth title in 10 years, and a record 10th French championship altogether, with four games to spare last weekend thanks to a 1-1 draw against Lens.

Their season effectively over, the capital club are now fully focused on trying to persuade Kylian Mbappe to sign a new contract and stay, while the superstar striker’s former side motor towards a return to Europe’s elite club competition.

Monaco, the club owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev and where Mbappe broke through and won the title in 2017, were eighth in the table in mid-March, nine points adrift of the top three.

The decision to sack coach Niko Kovac midway through the season and replace him with the Belgian Philippe Clement appeared to have backfired, but then they beat PSG 3-0 and everything changed.

That was the start of a winning run which stretched to six matches when the principality side beat struggling Saint-Etienne 4-1 last week.

With only the top three going into the Champions League, Monaco are now fourth but sit behind Rennes only on goal difference. They have the momentum and should be too strong for struggling Angers this weekend.

“We are reaping the benefits of all the hard work we have been putting in but there is still lots to do and we have four finals still to come,” said Aurelien Tchouameni, the France midfielder.

Monaco’s slow start this season may partly have been down to their efforts in the Champions League qualifying rounds, when they lost in the play-offs to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Only the top two in France go automatically into the Champions League group stage and, behind PSG, Marseille appear poised to take second as they lie six points clear of the chasing pack.

However, they face old foes Lyon this weekend in between the two legs of their Europa Conference League semi-final against Feyenoord.

Rennes will hope to hang on to third as they host struggling Saint-Etienne, while sixth-placed Strasbourg could do with getting a result against PSG to keep their own hopes alive.

Nice were clear in second after beating PSG in early March but a poor run of form since has seen Christophe Galtier’s side drop to fifth and the danger is that their focus is already on the upcoming French Cup final against Nantes.

Player to watch: Matteo Guendouzi

The indefatigable midfielder has played in all 51 games for Marseille this season since signing on loan from Arsenal. Instantly recognisable with his floppy long hair, the 23-year-old’s energy levels show no sign of dropping and he will expect to again start when Marseille host Lyon on Sunday in a key game for both sides as they chase European qualification.

Guendouzi, who has broken into the France squad this season, started as Marseille lost 3-2 to Feyenoord in Rotterdam in the first leg of their Conference League semi-final on Thursday.

Marseille, Champions League winners in 1993, must overturn that deficit in next week’s return at the Velodrome if they are to reach next month’s final in Tirana.

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