Paul Bathurst has been installed as the new Get French Football News Talking Points writer, looking at five of the most interesting topics of debate within the French football world each week.
This week, we look at the rapid rise of Rennes youngster Ousmane Dembélé, PSG’s recent drop in form and what that could mean for their fixture against Chelsea, Marseille manager Michel’s apparent lack of control at the Southern France club, Lyon’s resurgence and why it is almost certainly too little, too late at Toulouse despite Pascal Dupraz’s recent appointment.
Is it far too early to be talking about France for Ousmane Dembélé?
Certainly one of the brightest young prospects in France, Ousmane Dembélé is already showing his considerable talent on a consistent basis. With pace in abundance and a keen eye for goal, Dembélé is set to be a worry for any defence.
A quick fire first half hat-trick from the teenager ensured that Rennes took the points in a 4-1 victory over Nantes on Sunday. Les Canaris, a side who had previously gone 13 games unbeaten in Ligue 1 were dismantled single handedly by the guile and poise of young Dembélé.
Already with 9 goals to his name this campaign, the starlet is undoubtedly establishing himself as the key man for Rolland Courbis. At the tender of age of just 18, Dembélé was the man who stepped up to take an 89th minute penalty away at Lille.
Nerves would have undoubtedly played on most 18 year old’s minds in such a situation, but if they did in this instance for Dembélé, then they didn’t show.
Dembélé dispatched the spot kick in an assured manner, which ensured Rennes took a vital point on their travels. These kind of moments highlight that despite being so inexperienced and contrary to previous French wonderkids, Dembélé seems to have a mature and responsible head on his shoulders.
With Rennes up to fifth in the table and just one point from third placed Lyon, SRFC fans could be forgiven for dreaming about Champions League football next season. One of the strangest seasons in Ligue 1 history has allowed for teams outside of the so called elite to be in serious contention for the lucrative opportunity that is continental football. Dembélé is the man who can make the difference.
With the European Championships just around the corner, is it unthinkable that Dembélé could be in Deschamps thoughts? If one has the talent and can display it on a consistent basis, then one’s age should be irrelevant.
Having only featured for France at Under 17 level, eyebrows would certainly be raised if Deschamps did indeed select him. A gamble therefore which would be heavily questioned, but a gamble which could prove to be a stroke of genius from the manager, especially if teams set-up to frustrate France’s attacking potential at EURO 2016.
Dembélé could act as the perfect super sub in unlock some of Europe’s more staunch defences in the summer.
Will PSG’s domestic stuttering have an impact on their Champions’s League game vs Chelsea?
Whilst it is still not mathematically assured, PSG have already won the Ligue 1 title once again this season. Monaco would need to win all their remaining games, whilst PSG would need to lose all of their final nine league games; it is just not going to happen.
It would be fair to assume therefore, that the time has come for head coach Laurent Blanc to turn his focus to the Champions League. With a massive trip to Chelsea on the horizon this week, PSG need to be at their best to ensure that they do not crash out despite taking a 2-1 lead to London.
Whilst we can accept that rotation played a key part in PSG drawing 0-0 at home to Montpellier, we cannot shy away from the fact that they were outplayed by Lyon just seven days ago. A side in Lyon that finished bottom of their group in the Champions League, managed to defeat the riches of PSG in a surprisingly, relatively easy fashion.
Chelsea are a better side than Lyon, and whilst the London club struggled earlier in this season, they are now a different prospect entirely under the know-how and guidance of wily Guus Hiddink.
PSG did claim a victory in midweek at Saint Étienne, but you do have to wonder if there has been some form of psychological impact inflicted on Les Parisiens following their first domestic defeat of the season when they paid a trip to the Parc OL just over a week ago.
Seven days ago it would have been unthinkable for PSG to drop points at home to Montpellier, even more unthinkable that they would fail to score at home. As mentioned, rotation is probably the main factor for their struggles, but complacency could be another.
If the French champions turn up at Stamford Bridge with the assumption that they are going to waltz into the quarter finals, then they could be the latest French side to be left with a sour taste in Europe.
PSG must go to London in a professional frame of mind and with the desire and belief to win the 2nd leg outright. After all, they have won just one of their last four league matches.
Has Michel lost control at Marseille?
Yet another horrible week for Marseille fans as their side failed to beat a doomed Toulouse side at home. Questions have been in the process of being asked for a long time now among the OM faithful, but the fact remains that there has been no improvement, with Marseille sat in an embarrassing 13th place.
After suffering a monumental blow just 10 days ago when they crashed out of the Europa League to Athletic Bilbao, Marseille could only draw 1-1 with 19th placed Toulouse.
In fact, it was a game that Marseille probably deserved to lose, with Scotsman Steven Fletcher cancelling out Ben Yedder’s 55th minute opener.
Marseille are now 6 months without a win in Ligue 1 at the Stade Velodrome, but this particular performance was especially horrendous, and could prove to be the result that definitively turns fans against manager Michel.
Toulouse had lost their last 5 away games prior to this encounter, but even they probably did not even fear the trip to the once mighty Marseille. Fingers have to be pointed at Michel once again, his tactics left everybody scratching their heads, even his own goalkeeper.
Steve Mandanda is at the centre of the latest Marseille controversy after he basically took over managerial duties during the game. The long serving French stopper visibly told his teammate Florian Thauvin to warm up during the game in order to come on as a substitute, something that should definitely be a duty that the manager has total control of.
It is clear that both the players and the Marseille faithful do not trust in Michel. The Spaniard and former Olympiakos manager’s fate is unlikely to be decided during the ongoing campaign, but his prospects are exceedingly bleak if he hopes to be employed by the French side come next season.
Despite this short-term job security, it is still an unenviable position for Michel, as it leaves him open to continuous scrutiny. Just two wins from 15 matches at the Velodrome in the league during this campaign is completely unacceptable, but is a statistic that merely typifies a vast and deep web of issues surrounding the club at present.
Lyon’s resurgence is better late than never
Yet another famous club in France which has struggled domestically this season. Lyon did so well last season, which left plenty of fans expecting even more from them this term.
Finishing rock bottom in a more than opportunistic Champions League group was probably the biggest disappointment, whilst sitting 8th domestically at the turn of the year was not much better.
Thankfully for the Lyon faithful, things have improved dramatically following the inauguration of their new stadium, the Stade des Lumieres.
Bruno Génésio has now seen his side collect 15 points from their last 6 games in Ligue 1, which has propelled his side up to a more respectable 3rd place. This is certainly a real positive for Lyon, not just the form of the side, but the fact they look like they will have another shot at the Champions League next season.
The previous Sunday saw Lyon hand PSG their first defeat domestically this season – a more than deserved victory – this was then built on with a 5-1 thrashing of Guingamp.
Key man Alexandre Lacazette grabbed himself a brace, whilst talented youngsters Ghezzal and Cornet were both once again on the scoresheet.
Whilst they simply cannot compete with the riches of PSG, Lyon are at the forefront of developing youngsters in France.
We have seen various talents come through this season at Lyon, with the likes of Maxwell Cornet and Rachid Ghezzal being just two of many youngsters to get their chance on centre stage.
Champions League football is imperative if Lyon are to continue building for the future, without their young stars seeking pastures new to further their careers.
A very poor season by the high standards of Lyon, but thanks to their late flurry, not a damaging one by any stretch. Génésio has turned things around with great effect, which is likely to see Lyon end the campaign with the big prize of Europe next season.
Dupraz in, but is it too late?
Dominique Arribagé was the latest managerial casualty in Ligue 1 just last Tuesday. The former Toulouse manager was replaced by Pascal Dupraz, but is it too little to late for TFC who languish in 19th position, and sit a significant six points from safety.
It must be said that his first game in charge coincided with a dramatic improvement in performance from his players. A 1-1 draw at the Stade Vélodrome seen Toulouse end a terrible run of five away defeats on the bounce. Unfortunately for Dupraz, he wasn’t able to sit in the dugout in this one due to illness suffered during training. He will no doubt however be comforted a little by the capable performance his side produced.
With three of Toulouse’s next four games coming at home, this is quite possibly the last chance for them to get themselves into a position which would give them a chance of survival. Even their away game to Lille must be considered winnable for Dupraz, but more so the home games which are against Bordeaux, Caen and Bastia.
If Toulouse can pick up at least 8 points from these four, they are without doubt going to have an opportunity of survival. The side above them, Gazelec Ajaccio, face three of the top seven in their next four games, plus a visit from Marseille during that time.
If Dupraz can implement his ideas quickly to this Toulouse side, they certainly are in with a chance. With the ability of Wissam Ben Yedder amongst others, Dupraz’s men can prove a challenge for most. Getting his side to play well consistently is likely to be the key factor in Toulouse’s battle to avoid the drop.
The club have acted in a situation that was necessary, but have they done so too late? This managerial change could have been made earlier during the season, allowing more time for Dupraz to get his feet under the table. A sluggish decision therefore and one that could ultimately leave Toulouse paying the highest price of all.