Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 16:34 | By Agence France-Presse

French league climax focuses on quest for Europe, avoiding drop

The curtain falls on the Ligue 1 season this Saturday but the stage is set for a thrilling final weekend in France with European places and the fight against relegation still to be settled.

French league climax focuses on quest for Europe, avoiding drop

Lille's Florent Balmont (L) fights for the ball with PSG's Marco Verratti during their French Ligue 1 match, at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille, northern France, on May 10, 2014 - by Denis Charlet

Lille have stuttered down the stretch allowing Saint-Etienne, unbeaten in eight matches, to claw to within just two points of the third and final Champions League spot.

Rene Girard's side need a victory at Lorient to assure themselves of a place in next season's third qualifying round, but anything less would open the door for Saint-Etienne, who host rock-bottom Ajaccio, to pip them at the post.

"We know what we have to do Saturday to finish in third, a position we've occupied for a large part of the season," said Girard.

"In the event that we miss out on third, we could talk about disappointment, but not failure, because don't forget that at the start of the season we weren't forecasted to finish this high."

Saint-Etienne must beat Ajaccio and hope Lille slip up if they're to clinch their highest finish since ending the 1981/92 season as runners-up.

"The prospect of finishing in third place is a source of extra motivation. The stadium will be full, and the crowd will be our 12th man. We want to make sure we win so that there can be no regrets when we find out how Lille do away to Lorient," said striker Mevlut Erding, who leads Les Verts with 11 goals this campaign.

- Race for the Europa League -

Meanwhile, successive defeats for Lyon has paved the way for Marseille to potentially snatch fifth place and a berth in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Remi Garde will take charge of Lyon for the final time in Nice having opted not to renew his expiring contract due to "family and personal reasons", while Marseille host Guingamp needing to better Lyon's result to leapfrog OL.

Jose Anigo is also on his way out at the Stade Velodrome with Marcelo Bielsa to take over at Marseille next season, and the outgoing OM boss wants to bow out on a high note.

"We don't have our destiny in our hands but hopefully our friends at Nice will get a result against Lyon," said Anigo.

"We're at home and we'll try to finish with a flourish. If we can do that it'll be very nice for everyone."

- Relegation shootout -

Sochaux and Evian meet at the Stade Bonal in a straight shootout to avoid relegation.

17th-placed Evian are one point above their rivals but Sochaux are unbeaten in seven matches and have turned their home ground into a fortress of late, taking 20 points from a possible 24.

"We have no choice but to win," said Sochaux coach Herve Renard. 

"If we keep playing like we have in the last few games, we can make it. 

"If we are not able to do it here, then it will mean that we don't deserve to stay in the top division," added the former Zambia manager.

Despite the tricky trip awaiting his players Evian boss Pascal Dupraz sounded confident of survival.

"Don't forget that we're one point clear.

"You don't know the history of our club. I do. I know what we're made of. I know we'll do it," said Dupraz.

Elsewhere, champions Paris Saint-Germain can establish a new record for most wins in a season should they beat Montpellier.

Laurent Blanc is expected to rest several of his World Cup-bound stars as PSG go in search of win number 27, which would surpass the previous mark held by Reims, Monaco and Nantes.

The Claudio Ranieri era at Monaco is likely to draw to a close when the principality side host Bordeaux with Sporting Lisbon coach Leonardo Jardim hotly-tipped to replace the Italian at the Stade Louis II.

Fixtures (kick-off times all 1900GMT)

Bastia v Nantes, Lorient v Lille, Marseille v Guingamp, Monaco v Bordeaux, Nice v Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain v Montpellier, Reims v Rennes, Saint-Etienne v Ajaccio, Sochaux v Evian TG, Toulouse v Valenciennes

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