French football writer Eric Devin‘s new Ligue 1 Talking Points column took the plaudits last week and he returns with five more reflections on last weekend’s top flight action.
3) Bordeaux on the rebound with defensive solidity
When leading scorer Cheick Diabate was lost for what was presumed to be the season in January, heads dropped around Bordeaux, as the Malian’s goals had been key to the club’s challenge for European places. Part of a devil-may-care attack that conceded and scored with aplomb, Diabate had scored eight goals in fifteen matches, a figure overshadowed only by Alexandre Lacazette and Andre-Pierre Gignac at the time. With the news coming hot on the heels of a demoralising 5-0 loss to Lyon at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, it appeared that the gains made under Willy Sagnol were in very real danger of slipping away; with yet another mid-table finish, that hallmark of the post-Blanc era, on the cards.
Upon returning from the winter break, Bordeaux managed to beat Toulouse in the Coupe de France, before playing out a dour scoreless draw with Monaco and losing to 2-1 at home to Nice in the league, a result which saw Les Girondins slip to 7th place, with one point from four matches. A scoreless draw at Bastia followed, and now it was two points from fifteen, and while relegation has never been a worry, the team’s form was dire enough to make some question the decision to hire the inexperienced Sagnol, especially in light of his comments about African players earlier in the season.
Seen in retrospect, however, the Bastia result seems to have sparked somewhat of a revival in the southwest, as it started a run of what is now, with victory over previously high-flying Caen at the weekend, a seven-match unbeaten streak.
What is surprising about this run, however is not that it is happening, as Bordeaux, despite the loss of Diabate, have one of the deeper squads in the league. While Lyon’s youngsters have been getting all of the attention, 21-year-old Diego Rolan has contributed nine goals up top, linking well with attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri and easing the pain of losing the Malian to some degree.
Rolan, though, for as well as he has played this season, had exhibited this form to some degree in last year’s run-in, and the recent upswing is not down to the attacking players in any event, but rather to the defence, whose newfound solidity has been a shock, especially after being one of the worst in the league during the first half of the season, with 27 goals conceded.
A result against Lyon skewed this statistic to a small degree, but Bordeaux, despite sitting sixth at the time, had a negative goal difference, and to think that their contention for Europe could continue with a such a leaky defence was brave if nothing else.
Recognising this, Sagnol has made improving the defence a priority in 2015, and after switching among a wide variety of formations earlier in the season, has settled on minor variations of a 4-3-3/diamond 4-4-2 hybrid, playing captain Lamine Sane at the base of midfield, rather than as a central defender.
The skipper has had his wobbles in the new position, but like the acquisition of Clement Chantome from Paris Saint-Germain, the move has done much to adding to the side’s solidity. With Gregory Sertic and Jaroslav Plasil likewise canny operators in the middle, the openness that had characterised Bordeaux’s play earlier in the campaign is now a thing of the past, and with only four goals conceded in this unbeaten streak, the club now sit sixth, just two points off of Monaco in fourth.
With PSG to visit on Sunday, Sagnol’s charges still have much to do to improve on last season’s finish, but a solid performance against the capital club would be a real statement of intent with just ten matches to go. As their fellow European hopefuls (Saint-Etienne, Monaco) are still involved in other competitions, Les Girondins may at last be ready to return to the heights of five or six years ago.