Ligue 1 outsiders Brest bounding towards unlikely Champions League place

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Ligue 1 outsiders Brest bounding towards unlikely Champions League place

Brest manager Eric Roy is leading his side to a top four finish
Brest manager Eric Roy is leading his side to a top four finishAFP
While some of France's biggest names struggle, unfashionable Brest are enjoying their best-ever season and are on course to crown it with qualification for the Champions League for the first time.

As Lyon lie in the bottom half of Ligue 1 and Marseille struggle to keep up in the race for Europe, Brest have emerged as the closest challenger to leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Nobody in the Brittany port city, situated on France's far western tip in the rainy department of Finistere - which translates as "End of the World" - is imagining their local team can bridge the nine-point gap to PSG.

However, the fact that France will have four representatives in the expanded Champions League next season - up from the current three - may play into the hands of a club that has never before featured in Europe.

Brest come into this weekend's trip to Lens sitting six points ahead of fifth-placed Nice and on a club-record run of 13 top-flight games without defeat.

They have conceded only five goals in that time, two of which came in a 2-2 draw at PSG, with Brest building their success on a solid defensive foundation.

Ligue 1 top five
Ligue 1 top fiveFlashscore

The closest thing Brest have to a star player is midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou, who scored their winning goal last weekend against Le Havre.

Thirty-year-old former Nice player Lees-Melou, who had a season in the Premier League at Norwich City before joining Brest in 2022, was a target for Brittany rivals Rennes in the January transfer window.

"For me, in his position, there is nobody like him in France. He could play anywhere and deserves to be capped," said coach Eric Roy.

Brest refused to sell Lees-Melou in January and also managed to keep hold of defender Lilian Brassier amid interest from Monaco.

Instead of being weakened mid-season, they appear to be going from strength to strength under Roy, who took over a team that was in relegation trouble midway through last season and immediately set about transforming their fortunes.

Former Marseille and Sunderland midfielder Roy, 56, had not coached since leaving Nice over a decade earlier but has done so well in Brest that fans last week unfurled a banner in his honour at their Stade Francis-Le Ble which called him "King Eric".

The club where David Ginola briefly played in the early 1990s have never previously finished higher than eighth.

European qualification may present problems for an outfit with one of Ligue 1's smallest budgets.

They may not be able to play European matches in their ageing stadium, which is soon due to be replaced by a brand-new 15,000-seat venue.

But reaching Europe's elite club competition would be an incredible achievement.

"Our objective was to avoid relegation which we have already gone well beyond. We are hungry for more and we going to try not to have any regrets," Lees-Melou told radio station RMC.

Player to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille)

Marseille's form has picked up since veteran Jean-Louis Gasset replaced Gennaro Gattuso as coach, and Aubameyang is flourishing arguably more than any other player under the new boss.

The 34-year-old was a high-profile summer signing on a free from Chelsea but had a terrible start, scoring just once in his first 12 Ligue 1 appearances.

However, he has found form through the winter and scored four in Gasset's first three games in charge to climb to 19 goals in all competitions before Thursday's Europa League meeting with Villarreal.

Only Kylian Mbappe has more among players in France's top flight this season.

Aubameyang's stats in Ligue 1 this season
Aubameyang's stats in Ligue 1 this seasonFlashscore

Key stats

13 - Brest's 13-game unbeaten run is a club record in Ligue 1

34 - Mbappe has 34 goals in 34 games in all competitions for PSG this season

6 - New Lorient signing Mohamed Bamba has six goals in his first six Ligue 1 appearances

Follow all Ligue 1 fixtures here with Flashscore.

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