Angers: The early Ligue 1 Surprise Package

Ligue 1 new-boys Angers SCO have had a surprising start to their 2015 campaign. Promoted from Ligue 2 for the first time in several years, they have taken 8 points from a possible 12 in their first four matches putting them in fourth place, and perhaps making a statement that they can accomplish more than the expected relegation dogfight come next May. Owing in part to a number of contributing factors, let’s look at what has propelled Angers SCO, thus far, to a place in the top-half of the Ligue 1 table.

What of their fixture list?

The season is still young and with 34 matches left to play, it is still early to make any sound judgments, but the first four games have seen Angers take points from 2014 mid-table finishers Montpellier as well as newly promoted GFC Ajaccio, who will surely be this year’s Ligue 1 whipping boys, while matches against Nantes and Nice have played out as low-scoring draws.

However, generally as in any of the top five leagues, any team can triumph over any other, as shown by a Stade de Reims side who appear to be in a solid run of form, taking a provisional first place on the podium. This week, les Angevins continue their easing into the 2015 campaign against a FC Lorient side desperately hoping to improve upon their dismal attack, scoring only twice in four matches, having not yet found an attacking solution after losing Jordan Ayew to Aston Villa in the recent transfer window. December will be a tough month for the les Angevins, hosting perennial favourite Paris Saint-Germain as well as Girondins de Bordeaux, and travelling away to Lyon and Saint-Etienne.

All four of these teams have qualified for a European competition this year PSG and Lyon in the Champions League and Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne in the Europa League. This however could play into Angers’ favour, as come December these teams will be deep into their group-stage matches and perhaps experience a run of fatigue and lack of depth that plagued PSG’s advances last winter. Only time will tell how Les Blancs and Noirs will progress, but a solid set of fixtures in the next two months against some of the mid-table finishers will bode well for confidence and team-building.

Team Spirit and Solidarity:

Having bounced around between Ligue 2 and National since 1981, and one nightmare season in the top tier in 1993/94, Angers have never reaped the financial benefits of France’s top tier until now.Nor have they have ever really had a star player that they could cash-in on, that was until Jonathan Kodjia’s departure this summer, who was Ligue 2 player of the year last year, and was promptly sold to Bristol City for around £2.1m.

While having one or multiple star players can put a Ligue 1 side on the road to success(see PSG, Monaco), the smaller squads without adequate funds need to find adopt a different approach. At Angers under president Saïd Chabane, with one of the smallest budgets in Ligue 1, this side is relying on the close-knit squad, solidarity and unity to provide them with points this season.

Their head coach Stéphane Moulin is a shining example of the aforementioned attributes. He came through the ranks of Angers, first as a player and eventually as a coach, where he took over the reserve squad in 2005, and knows the ins and outs of the ambitions, and sporting objectives of the club. Now that they’ve made it to France’s top flight, Moulin has convinced his squad that solidarity and cohesion will lead them to success.

Supporting the strategies taken by Chabane, Moulin was quoted in an interview with France 3, “Evidently, there is, I believe an understanding when it comes to that [solidarity] – we can’t arrive without it, and its this state of mind that reigns at every level of the club…Its necessary that everyone decides to get along, they must be solidarity. There must be an osmosis to get results, because we have zero margin for error.” But at least Moulin is a realist, conscious of the limitations of his club, and states that if nothing else, he wants Angers SCO to be “les champions de France de l’état d’esprit.”

Despite their restrictions financially and with an unproven plan in Ligue 1, les Angevins, have turned heads in the beginning stages of this year’s campaign. If they can earn points in the matches they need to, fend off the big-budget clubs, and stick together, Angers SCO may just be able to avoid the relegation zone, and continue their top flight dream.

Alex Weil

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