In a brand new column, French football expert Eric Devin writes about five major talking points following each Ligue 1 weekend. In the second piece on Week 27 of French football top flight play, he asks what the answer could be to the for an out-of-form Nantes side.
2) Can controlled aggression be the answer for Nantes?
In Sunday’s early game, visitors to the Stade de la Beaujoire were treated to a high-intensity, if not high quality match that resulted in the home side’s first league win of the calendar year. After myself having previously anointed Michel Der Zakarian as one of the early front-runners for Manager of the Year, I was disappointed to see Nantes slide from 7th to 11th over the course of 2015’s first two months. Granted, a congested fixture list (seven cup and league matches in four weeks in January) was never going to be easy for such a small squad, but after a bit of a bobble in early December, Les Canaris had entered the winter break in good form, having toppled Bordeaux, Metz and Lorient in the space of a week, scoring eight goals in the process.
However, conceding four away to Montpellier and two at home to Bastia (a result that is looking a little better as of late) will never be a formula for success, especially for a side next to last in goals scored. Granted, the absence of Papy Djilobodji, who has been so impressive this season, but was away in January at the Africa Cup of Nations, was problematic, as was a knee injury to Kian Hansen, but as I mentioned in my piece on Der Zakarian, Nantes’ solidity isn’t necessarily down only to their back four, but to a cohesive team effort, with all eleven players working hard and running to stay behind the ball, pressure the full-backs and generally thwart their opponents as a collective.
One of the hallmarks of this ethos has been to not only pressure the ball but to get stuck into tackles, almost as a way of creating a fear within their opponents, as for Nantes’ regular players, perhaps only Alejandro Bedoya, Jordan Veretout and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou would not be considered physically imposing, but even those three have shown they are rarely loath to snap into a challenge.
Having established this style as a precedent to not only project a physical dominance but also to rile the crowd at home, Nantes were back to their bone-crunching best on Sunday, earning six yellow cards (two for Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, with the second regrettable) as the Beaujoire crowd roared its approval.
As Vizacarrondo (and Fernando Aristeguieta against Bastia) have demonstrated, while this aggression can sometimes have negative consequences, it is nevertheless impossible to underestimate the role that a vociferous crowd has played in helping Nantes avoiding the relegation scrap this season, and if the players, who are mostly veterans, can keep their heads about them while showing just enough of their pugnacious side, Nantes should continue to stay well ahead of any danger.