European football can be classified roughly into three to four categories: title contenders, teams competing for the other Champions League spot(s), teams competing (or avoiding) for the Europa League spots and teams trying to survive relegation.
As the season moves closer and closer to its conclusion, the relegation fight gets more and more important.
In the beginning parts of the season teams in the bottom half are more or less the whipping boys for teams fighting in the top tier, but as the season goes along they get their own spotlight and even half decent punditry in TV segments when surviving the drop becomes a tooth and nail scenario.
Ligue 1’s relegation fight this season has been intense though at times downright putrid in terms of the quality exhibited (as is the case with most relegation scraps).
To illustrate the tightness, tenth place Nantes and eighteenth place Evian TG are only separated by seven points. That’s nine teams that have ranging odds of being demote alongside probable relegation victims in nineteenth place Metz and twentieth place Lens.
I grouped together the nine teams into three categories in terms of where they stand: relatively safe, should be sweating, panic attack.
It is pretty easy to say that two of the three teams with the highest points should be relatively safe, but sometime easy is the logical route to go.
Nantes have the highest predicted points according to my model so far from the nine teams at 42.1 points, the second highest shots on target rate and the second highest expected goal ratio.
They held Marseille to six shots total two weeks ago, one of the best defensive performance in Ligue 1 this season (it also helps that Marseille at this point are a circus).
Their defence ranks fifth in expected goals defensively and eleventh in Team Ratings. Nantes do have to play Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux in the next two weeks but their defense should propel them to another mid table finish.
Guingamp have been a great story this season, particularly with their performance in the Europa League.
It’s no secret that Ligue 1 sides have done poorly in that tournament over the past five or six years and it’s an incredible achievement that they made it to the knockout stage considering they were the smallest club in the tournament.
Their main striker Claudio Beauvue has arguably been a top three to five striker this season in France and has been a fulcrum for their success.
Their statistical profile is lower mid table in terms of shot quality, shot on target ratio and PDO (proxy for luck).
Finishing in tenth to twelfth place would be another massive achievement for Guingamp and though they have to play PSG and Saint Etienne on the road, Guingamp should be able to finish in the lower mid table.
Lorient might come as a shock seeing as they were just in eighteenth before their wild 5-3 win versus Marseille, but Lorient weren’t really ever that bad and suffered from bad luck.
I’ll save you the gory details but I like Lorient and would like to see them survive the drop, mostly because their style of play is fun. Their performance versus Marseille was one of the better random explosions offensively that you’ll see – five goals on only eleven shots.
Lorient’s remaining four games are very doable and their away match at Nantes in the penultimate week could be a season defining game for both them and maybe even Nantes if they lose to both PSG and Bordeaux.
Should be sweating
Remember when Caen gained 19 out of a possible 21 points between weeks 21 and 27, defeating Saint Etienne and Marseille (poor Marseille are a fixture in this) in the process? It all seems like a distant memory.
Caen were dead last in Ligue 1 in week 20, five points from safety, before their improbable hot streak got them as high as twelfth in the league.
They were playing at a breakneck pace on the counter, looking like the French version of Dortmund half the time.
It was maybe the best spectacle to watch in Ligue 1, mostly because there was no in between when it came to their style.
Sadly the novelty is starting to wear off and we’re seeing more of a return to the Caen side we saw in the first 20 weeks.
Caen has only gained four points in their last six games and their underlying data in this last stretch is cause for concern:
The good news: Caen get to play Nice, Bastia and Evian TG in three of their final four games this season. It’s a favorable schedule and their destiny is in their hands.
You could make a strong case that Nice should be in the relatively safe category seeing as they’re four points up on Evian TG.
I chose Lorient because of their superior statistical data and took a bet that it would finally push them into safety, but Nice should be okay.
Though their shot on target rate is cause for concern, Nice’s overall data this season is a lot like Guingamp and Nantes. Plus Nice get to play Caen/Toulouse/Lens in three of their final four games, which should get them enough points to safety.
Toulouse’s struggles this season had a lot to do with having the worst save percentage in Ligue 1. It was below 60%, which will sink a team hard no matter the quality.
Whether it’s the new management effect or simply Toulouse’s goalkeeping talent not being horrifically bad, they’ve only conceded five goals while recording a 77.3 save % which over a full season would rank 1st in Ligue 1.
As long as Toulouse can get decent goalkeeping, they should also survive.
It would’ve been interesting to see how many more points Bastia would have right now if they had sacked Claudio Makelele sooner. Bastia have been better defensively since he was let go but their attack is still pretty bad.
They rank dead last in expected goals attacking wise this season and only generated 4.71 expected goals for in their last six games, which is the worst mark of the nine teams in question.
They have to play Saint Etienne, a streaking Rennes side and Marseille on the final day of the season, an ugly proposition.
Evian have frankly been pretty poor through the majority of the season though they’ve perked up a bit over their recent six game stretch.
They have the highest conversion rate in Ligue 1 this season at 41.4%, an astronomically high rate that somehow hasn’t declined. This is even more startling considering their expected goals for ranks second last in Ligue 1 this season. They are the epitome of a team that’s been taking their chances when they come.
Reims are very bad defensively, and their recent showing versus Lyon yesterday is an example to how easy their defense can be picked apart.
Reims are second last in expected goals defensively this season and they’ve given up the most goals this season.
Their second half against Lyon was admirable but it was too little too late. Reims are third last in predicted points in Ligue 1, 3.2 points back of seventeenth place Toulouse.
If Reims can’t get three or four points from their next two matches against Guingamp and Evian, they could be the team that finishes eighteenth in Ligue 1 this season.