Pitchside

Saint-Etienne and PSG set sights on Champions League

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A rare win against their bitter rivals means Saint-Etienne can continue to dream of playing in next season's Champions League, while Paris Saint-Germain's focus is on winning through to the semi-finals of Europe’s leading club competition for the first time since 1995.

It is more than three decades since Saint-Etienne last took part in the European Cup, at the end of their glory days. But Christophe Galtier has revived Les Verts since becoming coach just over four years ago and Sunday night's 2-1 win away to Lyon was the latest memorable moment of his tenure.

The game at the Stade de Gerland was the 108th Rhône derby, the biggest regional rivalry in French football and a fixture that has been utterly dominated by Lyon in recent times. Indeed, before Sunday, Saint-Etienne had beaten Lyon just once in the last 20 years, when Dimitri Payet's free-kick gave them a 1-0 win at the Stade de Gerland in September 2010.

Back at the same ground, they repeated the feat, giving their supporters the bragging rights once again. After Mevlut Erding's opener had been cancelled out by Alexandre Lacazette's 20th goal of the season, the diminutive Max-Alain Gradel, once of Leeds United, came off the bench to clinch a 2-1 victory.

Not that the Saint-Etienne supporters were there to savour the moment. There should have been more than 3,000 of them gathered behind the goal where Gradel netted the winner, but instead the away section of the Stade de Gerland stood empty after a controversial decision by the local authorities to ban travelling fans from attending. Nevertheless, around 1,000 of them welcomed the team back to Saint-Etienne in the early hours of Monday, flares lighting up the night sky.

Galtier, the former Lyon assistant boss, was ultimately justified in his decision to play three central defenders, including the Chelsea-bound Kurt Zouma. The visitors had luck on their side too though, with referee Ruddy Buquet failing to award OL a penalty for a handball by Moustapha Bayal Sall in the second half.

"The system worked because the players are intelligent," said Galtier. "It was important to win against a direct rival, but it was also important to win for our fans. This victory is dedicated to them."

For Lyon, the disappointment was bitter. Bafétimbi Gomis was unable to get his 100th Ligue 1 goal against the club where he started his career, and things boiled over at full-time as the Saint-Etienne players wound up the home fans and Lyon vented their fury at the referee.

Rémi Garde's side lost more than just the derby, with the fragile Yoann Gourcuff having to come off injured at half-time, and their selection problems are mounting ahead of a tough run of fixtures - in the next three weeks they play Juventus in the Europa League quarter-finals and PSG twice, including in the League Cup final.

Not that Saint-Etienne will be worrying about that. They are now six points clear of Lyon with seven games left, and thus on course to finish above their great rivals for the first time since 1993. Champions League qualification remains a very real possibility too, with the gap to Lille in third just three points and their run-in looking kind.

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Meanwhile, PSG safely negotiated a tricky fixture of their own, beating Nice 1-0 away to set themselves up for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Chelsea at the Parc des Princes.

It was a record seventh consecutive Ligue 1 win - and ninth straight victory overall - for the capital club, given to them by a second-half Timothée Kolodziejczak own goal. They never really had to exert themselves against mediocre opposition, and sports daily L'Equipe described it as PSG's worst performance of 2014. But despite that, they are now 13 points clear at the top of the table after Monaco's surprise defeat to Evian, and therefore just three more wins away from retaining their title.

However, coach Laurent Blanc later admitted that the most important thing was to come away from Nice without any injury concerns ahead of the Chelsea clash. And from that point of view it was job done. Captain Thiago Silva wore a mask to protect the cheekbone he fractured a week earlier at Lorient and he will be fine to face the Londoners, although Gregory Van der Wiel again missed the match with a knee problem.

"We avoided any serious injuries and we got the essential done. It wasn't a great match from us but we can be satisfied. The best preparation was to win, (but) against Chelsea we will certainly have to produce a better performance,” said Blanc.

By Andy Scott - on Twitter @andpscott

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