By A. Scott
AS Monaco are not safe from the threat of relegation just yet and they will need to find a way past the in-form Stéphane Ruffier on Sunday as their ex-goalkeeper returns to the Stade Louis II with AS Saint-Etienne.
AS Monaco – AS Saint-Etienne
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Ruffier’s superb penalty save from Max-Alain Gradel last weekend summed up how well things are going for him and his team at the moment, as Les Verts beat Toulouse FC 2-0 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
Jean-Louis Gasset’s team have taken 16 points from the last 18 available, comfortably the best record in the division in that time. They have won their last three matches, all without conceding a goal, to sit just three points behind their bitter rivals Olympique Lyonnais, who are holding onto third but have a difficult assignment against second-placed LOSC later on Sunday.
“We are on a run of five wins and a draw but what sticks with me from the last three matches is that we have not conceded a goal. That is good. Even when there is a penalty, we have an extraordinary goalkeeper,” said Gasset.
Highlights: Beric brace sees Saint-Etienne beat Toulouse
Ruffier’s consistency has been remarkable. He has made more than 400 Ligue 1 Conforama appearances, and has missed just 10 league games for Sainté since signing from Monaco back in 2011. The three-times capped goalkeeper left the principality club in the wake of their relegation, and a return to the Stade Louis II is always special for Ruffier, who made his top-flight debut as a 20-year-old substitute for Flavio Roma as Monaco played FC Metz back in August 2007.
Now he is hoping to lead Saint-Etienne back into Europe, and a five-point advantage over both Olympique de Marseille and Montpellier Hérault SC below them coming into the weekend means a return to the UEFA Europa League looks lkely at the very least. Gasset insists that the fact fifth place will not be enough to qualify for continental competition this season changes nothing for his side.
“Not at all, but it is true that we would have liked an extra place. It is a while since finishing fifth or sixth was not enough to get into Europe. It doesn’t change anything. We are carrying on our way. Once we have won, we look at what the others have done, but we need to win first of all,” he said.
Highlights: Falcao helps Monaco salvage draw at Rennes
Ruffier surely regrets leaving Monaco on the sour note of relegation, but the reality is that a victory for his side on Sunday would leave his old club still at risk of a return to the second tier.
Falcao fired up
In the years since he left Monaco, the principality club have won a league title and reached a Champions League semi-final, becoming regular challengers at the top of the table. Yet they needed a second-half brace from a fired-up Radamel Falcao just to earn a 2-2 draw away at Coupe de France winners Stade Rennais FC on Wedesday.
Two years on from beating Saint-Etienne 2-0 in their penultimate home game of the season to celebrate winning the title, that point moved Monaco just four points clear of the bottom three. They have now gone five games without a win and have managed a solitary victory in their last eight outings. However, in a campaign marred by injuries, at least they have Falcao, whose brace in Rennes took him to 14 league goals for the season.
“He has so much experience. He knows Monaco are not used to having a season like this. Like everyone at the club, he is not happy, but with his experience he probably feels it even more,” said coach Leonardo Jardim. “Now we have another huge battle coming up against Saint-Etienne.”
Monaco: To follow
Saint-Etienne: To follow
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