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Football | France

Tensions rising as French race heats up



Paris Saint-Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti's rare outburst after drawing at Auxerre to waste another opportunity to put pressure on French leaders Montpellier highlights the rising tensions in the title race.

PSG conceded a late equaliser against last-place Auxerre last Sunday, missing the chance to move level on points at the top after Montpellier's loss at Lorient.

The usually calm Ancelotti openly criticised his players, questioning whether they are mentally strong enough to lead PSG to their first league title since 1994.

"We have to show more character sometimes. We know that every game's going to be difficult," Ancelotti said. "We were complacent and you can't win matches if you're complacent."

With six rounds remaining, second-place PSG are only two points behind Montpellier but have a worse goal difference.

The 1-1 draw was the third time in five games that PSG have dropped points after letting in a late goal, making the home game on Sunday against Sochaux an an oportunity for the team to soothe their fraying nerves.

Ancelotti's coaching was widely criticised after the Auxerre match. He reshuffled his back four with 10 minutes left, inviting pressure on a shaky defense. A chaotic last few minutes ensued, leading to Auxerre's goal.

"We gave Montpellier a gift," PSG defender Milan Bisevac said.

Former PSG coach Antoine Kombouare, who was fired to make way for Ancelotti, has good cause to feel aggrieved.

At the midseason winter break, PSG were three points clear of Montpellier at the top with his team averaging 2.11 points per game. Now, under Ancelotti, the side is two points adrift and averaging 1.85.

By the time PSG face Sochaux, Montpellier could have opened up a gap of five points by beating Valenciennes at home on Saturday.

"We're on the verge of something big," said Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud, the league's top scorer with 20 goals. "I really think we can go and win the title. I firmly believe that."

Defending champions Lille are still in contention, although they will probably have to win every match to close the seven-point gap on Montpellier. The team still has to play Montpellier and PSG.

"We need both of them to lose," Lille midfielder Joe Cole said. "If we win our last six matches then it's possible."

Led by dynamic winger Eden Hazard, who has 15 goals and 12 assists, Lille will be confident of winning at Dijon on Saturday.

Lille are in a strong position to finish third for a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds, since they lead both Lyon and Toulouse by six points.

Lyon were beaten by Marseille in last weekend's League Cup final to Marseille and then lost 3-0 to Toulouse on Wednesday. The team hosts Lorient on Sunday.

Lyon have been boosted by the return of playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, who has been sidelined with a groin injury for the past two months, and he needs to find his form.

"It's good to be back but obviously I would have liked a win," said Gourcuff, who came on in the second half against Toulouse. "We still have a lot to play for."

While Gourcuff returns, Toulouse midfielder Etienne Didot is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Toulouse travel to Evian on Saturday.

In Saturday's other matches, it is: Brest v Rennes; Caen v Saint-Etienne; Nice v Auxerre and Bordeaux v Marseille.

Marseille ended a run of 12 matches without a victory by winning the League Cup for the third straight year last weekend, salvaging a miserable season by earning a place in the Europa League.

But Marseille drew 1-1 at home with Caen on Wednesday, and coach Didier Deschamps' team still hasn't won a league match since January 29.

To make things worse for Deschamps, top scorer Loic Remy is in doubt for Saturday's match after hurting his ankle against Caen.

Ajaccio host Nancy in Sunday's other game.

FIXTURES

Saturday
Montpellier v Valenciennes
Brest v Rennes
Caen v St Etienne
Nice v Auxerre
Dijon v Lille
Evian TG v Toulouse
Bordeaux v Marseille

Sunday
PSG v Sochaux
AC Ajaccio v AS Nancy
Lyon v Lorient

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