Lille strengthens grip on 2nd place; Balotelli scores again
PARIS (AP) — Lille strengthened its chances of qualifying automatically for next season’s Champions League, moving seven points clear of third-placed Lyon with a 1-0 win at Saint-Etienne in the French league on Sunday.
Lyon dropped points on Saturday when it drew 2-2 at Strasbourg after leading 2-0 and has 10 games left to catch Lille, which was almost relegated last season. Defending champion Paris Saint-Germain is the runaway leader and is 14 points ahead of Lille, having played two games less.
Striker Nicolas Pepe once again made the difference for Lille, scoring in the 88th minute after going on a run down the right wing, cutting inside and firing a shot which deflected off defender Neven Subotic.
It was Pepe’s 17th league goal, level with PSG striker Edinson Cavani in second place in the scoring charts behind PSG’s Kylian Mbappe on 24.
Pepe is expected to join a top European club this summer and could have had more goals, only to be denied several times by goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier.
Sixth-placed Saint-Etienne had defender Mathieu Debuchy and forward Wahbi Khazri sent off during injury time.
BALOTELLI SCORES AGAIN
Marseille striker Mario Balotelli punished his former teammates with the only goal in a 1-0 win against Nice.
The Italy striker made it five goals in seven games since joining when he headed in Japan right back Hiroki Sakai’s cross in the 62nd.
Fourth-placed Marseille has kept four straight clean sheets at home and is now only three points behind Lyon. Next up for Marseille, however, is a far more difficult game at PSG next Sunday.
Nice, meanwhile, is in ninth place and struggling to score goals.
Balotelli left Nice in January after being dropped by coach Patrick Vieira, having failed to score in 10 league games. Former Nice teammate Malang Sarr said Balotelli lacked respect toward the end of his stay, having been top scorer in the previous two seasons.
Sarr said Balotelli wasn’t involved enough with the team and “knows full well” that “he could have handled things differently.”
The two players had a heated argument shortly after Balotelli’s goal.
Montpellier threw away a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 home draw with Angers.
Andy Delort’s 10th goal of the season and midfielder Ellyes Skhiri put Montpellier in control after 16 minutes.
But Montpellier’s defense let in two goals in the last 10 minutes even though Angers was playing with 10 men following Croatian defender Mateo Pavlovic’s 73rd-minute red card.
Montpellier is in seventh place, Angers is 12th.
After beating Arsenal 3-1 in the Europa League on Thursday, Rennes did the same to Caen and moved into eighth place.
Midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud, who opened the scoring for Rennes against Arsenal with a fine strike, equalized with a low free kick after striker Casimir Ninga put Caen ahead.
Following defender Yoel Armougom’s sending off in the 35th, Bourigeaud netted five minutes later. Forwards Adrien Hunou and M’Baye Niang scored after the break.
Striker Yaya Sanogo’s first-half goal was enough to give Toulouse a 1-0 home win against last-placed Guingamp, which had midfielder Marcus Coco sent off in the 44th.
Toulouse moved into 15th spot.