Last-chance saloon for Nantes: French powerhouse fighting relegation on final day

PARIS (AP) — There is still a glimmer of hope at Nantes that the eight-time champion can avoid relegation, 11 years after its last season in the second-tier of French soccer.

Nantes hosted last-placed Angers in their final match of a dismal season on Saturday. The Canaris are in a two-way fight with Auxerre that will determine which club goes down alongside already-relegated Troyes, Ajaccio and Angers.

Four teams are being demoted because the number of clubs in the top-flight will be reduced to 18 from next season.

After winning just six matches, Nantes has two less points than Auxerre and is guaranteed to finish with its lowest tally since returning to the French top-flight in 2013. To stay in Ligue 1, Nantes should win against Angers and hope Auxerre does not prevail against second-placed Lens.

On paper, the scenario is likely. But recent results don’t bode well for Nantes.

Since losing to Toulouse 5-1 in the Coupe de France final, Nantes has lost four games and drawn one while scoring only once. Its last win in the league dates to February.

Looking for a late spark to the season, Nantes fired coach Antoine Kombouaré last month and replaced him on a temporary basis with Pierre Aristouy. The move has not brought the crucial points the club management expected.

In terms of play, however, some improvement was noticed in the 2-1 loss to Lille last weekend, with the return from injury of midfielder Pedro Chirivella playing a big role.

“I saw players fighting, and not afraid, organized and not stuck,” Aristouy said after the game. “The most important thing was to rediscover this rigor and state of mind before Angers.”

For Auxerre, the good news is that Lens has already secured the runner-up spot behind Paris Saint-Germain that guarantees Champions League football next season. Lens will travel to Burgundy with pride at stake, as third-placed Marseille trails by eight points and can’t bridge the gap even with a win at Ajaccio.

But looking at the verve and enthusiasm with which the side coached by Franck Haise has displayed throughout the season, it’s unlikely Lens will slow down in its final game.

“It’s our last chance,” Auxerre coach Christophe Pelissier said. “It’s up to us to achieve the feat of beating Lens. If we win, we’ll stay up. Our fans will push us. Many had buried us but we’re still there.”

At the top of the table, PSG will celebrate its 11th title with fans at the Parc des Princes against Clermont.


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