Monaco take big step towards Champions League return

champions leagueMonaco moved a step closer to a return to the Champions League on Sunday with a comfortable 3-0 win away to a Lens side who are now all but relegated.

Yannick Carrasco, Anthony Martial and Bernardo Silva got the goals for the principality club at a rain-soaked Stade de la Licorne in Amiens as Monaco reclaimed the third place that had briefly been taken from them earlier in the day by Saint-Etienne.

Leonardo Jardim’s side, who were eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage by Juventus on Wednesday, have been outstanding in Ligue 1 since December, losing just once and conceding a miserly five goals.

This result leaves them two points clear of fourth-placed Saint-Etienne and five ahead of Marseille in fifth in the race to secure third spot, which carries with it a place in the third qualifying round of next season’s Champions League.

But it also keeps alive their chances of finishing in the top two and qualifying directly for the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition, with the gap to second-placed Lyon three points before OL visit Reims on Sunday evening.

A Carrasco free-kick, intended as a cross, hit the woodwork before the Belgian opened the scoring nine minutes before the break after taking advantage of a lucky ricochet off Lens defender Abdoul Ba.

France under-21 striker Martial then increased the lead a minute before the interval, running through to score after the Lens defence was undone by a long ball forward by Carrasco.

It was Martial’s eighth league goal of the season, and his seventh in his last eight games.

The visitors then made sure of the points with 18 minutes left when Portuguese dynamo Silva converted a Geoffrey Kondogbia cutback from close range for his fourth goal in three games.

Lens, who have won just once in 2015, remain rooted to the foot of the table and are now 12 points adrift of safety with only 12 points left to play for.

Earlier, Saint-Etienne moved above Marseille into the top four as they extended their unbeaten run to nine league games with a 1-0 defeat of Montpellier at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

The in-form Max-Alain Gradel scored the only goal of the game in the first half for his eighth in eight league appearances since helping the Ivory Coast win the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Lyon travel to Champagne country later to face struggling Reims knowing a win will move them back to the top of the table on goal difference from Paris Saint-Germain, albeit having played a game more.

PSG bounced back from their Champions League exit to Barcelona by beating 10-man Lille 6-1 at the Parc des Princes on Saturday with Ezequiel Lavezzi scoring a hat-trick and Edinson Cavani netting twice after Maxwell had got the opener with just 25 seconds on the clock.

Marseille’s hopes of qualifying for Europe suffered a blow as they collapsed to a 5-3 defeat at home to Lorient on Friday, the loss their fourth in succession. There were also wins for Rennes, Guingamp and Evian on Saturday.

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