Lille began the Ligue 1 season sluggishly but once again they have built up momentum and are fifth in the table ready for a final sprint to a European spot.
Northerners Lille, who take on Lorient on Sunday, were 15th in the standings after seven rounds of matches but with eight games to play they trail fourth-placed Saint-Etienne, who occupy the Europa League qualifying spot, by one point.
Lille have 49 points and second-placed Olympique Marseille, whom they entertain in the following round of matches, occupy the Champions League qualifying berth five points ahead of them, with third-placed Olympique Lyon on 53.
"We've been maintaining the gap with OM. What is interesting is that we're one point behind the fourth-placed team," coach Rudi Garcia told the club's website.
"We now need to make the most of our two home games against Lorient and Marseille. The idea is to take part in the final sprint."
Lille, who have won six of their last seven league matches, have been in the leading pack at the end of the last three seasons, snatching a total of 64 points in the final 10 games the past three years - more than any other side.
They could welcome back influential midfielder Rio Mavuba at some point as the France international is expected to be fit again by the end of the month after having knee surgery in January.
"My goal is to be back in two or three weeks," Mavuba told the club's website.
Leaders Paris Saint-Germain, who sit on a seven-point cushion, travel to mid-table Stade Rennes on Saturday for a game sandwiched in-between Tuesday's 2-2 draw in their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Barcelona and next Wednesday's return leg at the Nou Camp.
With one hand on the Ligue 1 trophy, PSG could make do without some key players with coach Carlo Ancelotti possibly giving some playing time to striker Kevin Gameiro and centre-back Mamadou Sakho.
Lyon, who slipped down to third after back-to-back defeats against Bastia and Sochaux, travel to strugglers Stade Reims on Sunday while Marseille take on Girondins Bordeaux in Friday's curtain raiser.
OM are sweating on centre-back Nicolas N'Koulou's fitness after the Cameroon international sustained a thigh injury in last weekend's 1-0 win at Nice.
"It's getting better and better. I felt a sharp pain and I did not want to force it. I'm treating it and I hope I will be available for the game," he told the club's website.
Saint-Etienne, who are unbeaten in all competitions in 2013, have the easiest game on paper as they host strugglers Evian Thonon Gaillard on Sunday.comments