High-flying Brest faces Lyon with chance to move closer to first-ever Champions League spot

AP , Thursday 11 Apr 2024

With the traditional powerhouses taking a rest, it's a mouthwatering contest between surprise package Brest and a resurgent Lyon side in the French league spotlight this weekend.

Rennes Romain Del Castillo, left, duels for the ball with Marseille s Duje Caleta-Car during the League One soccer match between Rennes and Marseille, at the Roazhon Park stadium in Rennes, France, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. AFP


Following its dramatic 4-3 win against Metz last week, second-place Brest can edge even closer to qualifying for next season's Champions League for the first time in the history of the small club from Brittany, which has one of the league's smallest budgets.

“Brest second in the league with six rounds left to play, I don’t think you’d have put much money on it,” coach Eric Roy said. “Me neither.”

With Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille and Lille all engaged in European competitions this week, the league has modified their schedules to give them more time to recover before the second legs. PSG, which lost 3-2 to Barcelona on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, was set to play at Lorient but the match was pushed back to April 24. Monaco vs. Lille and Marseille vs. Nice will take place on the same day.

Only PSG — which has a 10-point lead at the top of the table — has more wins than Roy’s side this season (18 against 15). It's a remarkable achievement for Brest, whose stadium holds 15,000 compares to PSG’s capacity of nearly 49,000 at Parc des Princes, while PSG’s annual budget of 700 million euros ($752 million) compares to Brest’s 48 million euros ($52 million).

The win against Metz equaled Brest's best-ever tally of victories in the league, achieved during the 1989-90 season. According to statistics from the French league, Brest needs only two points to beat the club's points record reached in 1986-87 after 38 top-tier matches.

Roy, who took over last season with the club fighting relegation, has built a team that defends extremely well but is also one of the most exciting sides to watch, with hard-working midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou and striker Romain Del Castillo praised for their decisive input.

Brest has lost just one of its last 17 league matches ahead of Sunday's trip to 10th-place Lyon, which has produced a remarkable turnaround under coach Pierre Sage following a catastrophic start to the season.

The seven-time French champions have won 10 of their last 14 league games and have qualified for the French Cup final against PSG on May 25.

Sage was initially hired as an interim coach but convinced his bosses he was the right man for the long term. Despite his lack of experience, he was given a chance to put the team back on track. Sage quickly created a positive dynamic within the team, helped by the club's savvy moves — including Gift Orban, Malick Fofana and Said Benrahma — during the winter transfer window.

Lyon spent an estimated 55 million euros ($59 million) during that window, with the arrival of experienced midfielder Nemanja Matic greatly improving the team's quality. Former Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette has rediscovered his scoring mojo and is the league's third best scorer, with 14 goals, behind Jonathan David and leader Kylian Mbappe.

Only six games will be played this weekend, with struggling Metz kicking off the 29th round against Lens on Friday.

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