PARIS – Lille stand tantalisingly close to a first Ligue 1 title in a decade, but Kylian Mbappe is convinced that Paris Saint-Germain will only have themselves to blame if they fail to retain their crown.
PSG have won the French title in seven of the last eight seasons and were fully expected to do so again this year given the huge financial advantage the Qatar-owned club enjoys.
Despite possessing the two most expensive signings in football history in Mbappe and Neymar, Mauricio Pochettino’s team find themselves second, three points behind Lille with two games remaining.
PSG’s 1-1 draw at Rennes last weekend followed a 3-0 victory for Lille at Lens, and left the northern club requiring four points from their last two outings to be sure of becoming champions for the first time since 2011.
It would be a remarkable success story for Lille, but also a damning indictment of PSG’s failings in a campaign in which they have lost eight times already, as many as in the last two seasons combined and the most they have suffered in a single season since 2010-11.
“If we don’t win the league it will have been us who failed to win it rather than them who won it,” Mbappe told Eurosport after PSG beat Montpellier on penalties in midweek to reach the French Cup final.
After his comments caused a backlash, Mbappe took to social media to explain himself.
“Lille would make for great champions if they are crowned but with eight defeats, if we lose the title we will be fully responsible,” Mbappe wrote alongside the hashtag #Respect.
Lille, who took four points out of a possible six against Paris this season, could even win the league with a game to spare this Sunday.
In the seemingly unlikely event that PSG fail to beat mid-table Reims, Christophe Galtier’s Lille will be champions by bettering the capital side’s result when they host Saint-Etienne.
PSG fans will of course disagree, but a Lille success would certainly be a shot in the arm for the French game four years after Monaco — with a young Mbappe in their ranks — took the title away from Paris.
Pochettino’s team could still end the season without a major trophy, and could even miss out on a top-three finish and Champions League qualification with both Monaco and Lyon just behind them.
However, they could also still finish with a domestic double following their Champions League semi-final loss to Manchester City. As well as trying to reel in Lille they play Monaco in the French Cup final next Wednesday.
Player to watch: Burak Yilmaz
The veteran Turkish striker has been the driving force behind Lille’s title charge. His tally of 15 goals this season is the second highest for a player aged 35 or older in any of Europe’s five leading leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (27).
Yilmaz, signed for free from Besiktas, is one of five nominees for France’s player of the year, voted by his fellow professionals. He has stiff competition in Neymar, Memphis Depay, Wissam Ben Yedder and, above all, Mbappe. Despite that Yilmaz would surely deserve the award if Lille do take the title.
4 – Lille need four more points to be certain of winning their fourth French league title.
3 – Pochettino has lost three of his nine home Ligue 1 games in charge of PSG. That is as many defeats as Thomas Tuchel had in 42 home matches and as many as the previous two coaches — Unai Emery and Laurent Blanc — had in 95 home league games combined.
17 – If Lyon avoid defeat in Nimes they will equal the French top-flight record of 17 away league games without losing in a single season, matching their own achievement from 2005/06 and that of Saint-Etienne in 1980/81.
Fixtures on Sunday (all 1900 GMT)
Bordeaux v Lens, Dijon v Nantes, Lille v Saint-Etienne, Lorient v Metz, Marseille v Angers, Monaco v Rennes, Montpellier v Brest, Nice v Strasbourg, Nimes v Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain v Reims.BSS/AFP