Adam White and Eric Devin’s weekly column is here after an explosive double-trouble set of French top flight action.
1 | Florian Thauvin is the silver lining in the dark cloud that is OM’s season…
“This is a serious business we’re in here, it was funny on the first day of the season, it’s not funny any more. Look at Nyom run past Thauvin. You might be able to do that in the French League, you can’t do that in the Premier League.”
Although Alan Shearer’s knowledge of what’s acceptable in Ligue 1 may be questionable at best, he had a point. When the Newcastle legend berated Florian Thauvin’s attitude, work-rate and tuxedo-wearing on Match of the Day last season, the £14m signing’s form was non-existent, his demeanour arrogant and his play was completely devoid of intensity.
By January he had returned under a cloud to Ligue 1 on loan. However, after an up and down start to his second spell at OM, Thauvin is finally starting to show signs of flourishing. He was the standout player in the first half of the Sunday night encounter with Nantes and has been slowly proving that he may still have the gumption and desire to become the player his talent once dictated.
His dogged, direct and creative performance in the 2-1 win supplemented encouraging outings against Lorient and Nice as examples that his talent prevails and he may yet grow into the talismanic force that the Marseille faithful once expected him to be and light up what has been a depressing season so far. – A.W.
2 | New-Look Montpellier Turn to Shkiri
When Montpellier sold experienced central midfielders Jonas Martin and Bryan Dabo over the summer, there was obviously much hand-wringing for La Paillade’s supporters. The pair were some of the club’s most consistent performers, but MHSC were force to choose between selling the two or creative lynchpin Ryad Boudebouz. The club’s hierarchy opted to keep the attacking player, with his assists having been so crucial as the club picked up form to finish twelfth.
There are understandably some doubts as to the club’s potential to avoid relegation, sitting sixteenth as they are. However, when you compare the situation to this time last season, when they had only accumulated a solitary point, perhaps things are a little more rosy.
The loss to Metz will certainly sting, but aside from the defeat to Lyon mid-week, Montpellier have generally been much more impressive this season despite their turnover. Morgan Sanson’s return to fitness has been integral in that, but the season’s real surprise has been Ellyes Shkiri, the club’s 21 year-old Tunisian midfielder.
A tall, wiry presence who combines his physicality with a knack for starting counter-attacks, Shkiri has been ever-present in the club’s first seven matches. He leads Ligue 1 in interceptions, and is superb in the air as well.
With Daniel Congre and Hilton not getting any younger, Shkiri’s energetic two-way presence has been, more than the flashy play of Boudebouz, the real driving force behind Montpellier’s start. Should the club retain their top-flight status, Shkiri’s recently-signed contract extension could very well become one of the league’s savviest deals. – E.D.
3 | Why AS Monaco should remain confident, despite derby day slip
Fielding a makeshift eleven ahead of a crucial trip to Germany in the Champions’ League, Monaco’s win over Angers was, to be charitable, fortunate. Angers had been in fine form, and even without the injured Billy Ketkeophomphone, looked to be a real threat to hand the club another setback following the midweek loss to Nice.
An Angers own goal and a sloppy prod home from Kamil Glik at a corner provided ASM with the win and the three points will do much to aid Monaco’s confidence, as well as that of their young players.
If any team are to provide Paris Saint-Germain with a realistic title challenge, it will likely be the Monegasques. That said, given the team’s focus on European competition and squad depth, some lucky results will be necessary, and Saturday’s match was a prime example.
A win like this can do much to inspire the team, given that the capital club had stumbled on Friday. Nice still lead the league, but another win for Monaco’s B string gives Jardim confidence in calling on the likes of Kevin N’Doram and Abdou Diallo (both just 20) more often ahead of key European fixtures.
With the confidence that a win can be conjured even in seemingly adverse circumstances, Monaco have proven that they find the necessary balance to compete both domestically and in Europe – E.D.
4 | Dominique Arribage is in part to thank for Toulouse’s success…
November 28th 2015. Toulouse are without a win since the opening day of the season and have have conceded 7 goals without reply in their last two games, which included an embarrassing 5-0 thumping in Paris.
For the game with Nice that weekend, then manager Dominique Arribage added 16 year old goalkeeper, Alban Lafont, and 18 year old defender Issa Diop to his starting 11 for the first time. Toulouse won 2-0 and embarked on a mini revival which saw them lose just once in the next two months.
Despite Arribagé’s eventual sacking and the Pascal Dupraz-inspired escape from relegation, Dupraz has his predecessor to thank for bequeathing him two of his greatest assets as TFC coach.
Lafont, although sometimes unorthodox, has grown into an assured, reliable and cat-like keeper. At still just 17, three remarkable saves gave his team the platform on which to construct their 2-0 win over Unai Emery’s PSG.
They may have got some luck in Aurier’s plenty concession and eventual sending off but the Toulouse players in front of Lafont they were aggressive, composed and generally excellent in their all round play. In other words, they fully deserved their win and post match victory lap.
Another key to this display was Diop. The French U19 centre back has been monstrous this season, as he continues to develop into the complete defender. The youth international is exceptional in the air, great on the ball and regularly proves that his decision-making is amongst the best in the league.
Without Arribage’s willingness to promote youth (Alexis Blin, Yann Bodiger also beneficiaries) Dupraz might not now be hailed as the remedy to all TFC’s issues. – A.W.
5 | Cool-(ibaly) as you like from SC Bastia’s alliterative duo
Bastia have a fine reputation as a club that develops young talent; the likes of Ryad Boudebouz, Florian Thauvin and more recently Francois Kamano are all fine examples at a club that is unafraid to give youth its chance.
That many of the club’s players are of foreign extraction is a fact not to be understated as well, and in young Malian Lassana Coulibaly, the club’s scouts have unearthed another gem.
Bastia of late have staked their reputation on a combative midfield, the veteran partnership of Mehdi Mostefa and Yannick Cahuzac playing the roles of twin destroyers. The pair are effective, if limited, but recently Coulibaly has replaced Mostefa in Francois Ciccolini’s 4-2-3-1.
The new pairing has added a surprising thrust to the team’s attack; Coulibaly is much more adept with the ball at his feet than the former Lorient player. With Saido Diallo willing to drop to cover Coulibaly’s runs, the team can get numbers forward much more effectively than with Mostefa in the team, stretching play to get the best out of loan signings Enzo Crivelli and Allan Saint-Maximin.
Cahuzac stays behind to protect the back four, allowing the youngster to support the attack. It’s not a perfect system, as Coulibaly’s discipline and positioning still need some polishing, but the budding partnership has real potential.
As Bastia seek to build on last season’s top-half finish, Cahuzac and Coulibaly will continue to provide the foundation and the impetus for the team going forward. – E.D.
6 | Captain Lecomte instrumental in Lorient’s mini-turnaround
Alban Lafont may be getting the plaudits after keeping Paris Saint-Germain at bay, but for the keen observer, the performance of Benjamin Lecomte against Lyon was a superior one.
Les Merlus had only just recorded their first points of the season and still propped up the table following a loss to Guingamp. Lyon were injury-hit and likely focused on their trip to Sevilla, but the string of saves pulled off by Lecomte were simply outstanding.
Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso are both in fine form at the moment, but neither were able to breach Lecomte’s goal, giving the hosts a second win in three matches and a moment’ respite for manager Sylvain Ripoll.
Lecomte has had to battle to win his starting position since arriving from Niort as a teenager, including a season on loan at Dijon, but after his success with Les Rouges, he was given the club’s backing and responded with a strong season, despite the sale of Lamine Koné and a lengthy injury lay-off for Wesley Lautoa.
Now the club’s captain, Lecomte’s confidence must surely be boosted once again. Having turned 25 in April, though, it is perhaps time to ponder his future, having essentially outstripped Lorient’s level.
Most top clubs in France have established no. 1 ‘keepers, but a move abroad could yet prove interesting.
For the time being though, the team will hope to continue to rely on his brilliance; despite the win against Lyon, the club remain just one place above the relegation zone ahead of a tricky trip to in-form Nice on Sunday. – E.D.
7 | Bordeaux less predictable than Donald Trump
After the shambles of last season, the 16/17 campaign is shaping up to be another unpredictable one for Les Girondins. So far they have been rampant in the first hour against St Étienne, completely disorganised in the 4-1 Garrone derby defeat at Toulouse, blunt in attack in the 1-0 loss at home to Angers and fluid in their 3-1 victory at Parc OL.
This weekend their game with Caen showed that they can also be completely devoid of ideas; a Jaroslav Plasil header, free at the back post, being only opening of a dire 90 minutes of football.
Bordeaux have a lot of promise and have shown that they have many good qualities but are yet to put in cohesive consecutive performances or string their positive aspects together with any real consistency.
With Menez and Rolan in attack they have goals, with Malcom and Ounas in wide areas they have pace and unpredictability, with Plasil and Toulalan in midfield they have creativity and guile on the ball and in Pallois, Carrasso and Sertic they have a strong defensive core.
When they finally find way to coerce these areas of undeniable quality into a consistent, harmonious team, they will be a force to be reckoned with. But, until then, their season and their form will continue to be a rollercoaster ride. – A.W.
8 | Valentin Eysseric the perfect 2nd string player for OGC Nice
With Nice minus Balotelli, Seri, Koziello and Belhanda and Nancy adopting a defensive 5-3-2 set up in recent games after a rather porous start to their return to Ligue 1, goals looked like they were going to be hard to come by at the Stade Marcel Picot on Sunday afternoon.
And so it proved with Alassane Plea assuming responsibility in his Italian partners’ absence to poke home the only only goal of the game on the hour mark for Nice to maintain their surprise early lead at the summit of Ligue 1 table. Despite Plea’s astute run and neat finish, the goal was all about Valentin Eysseric.
Eysseric showed in brief spells at St Etienne last season that he had the ability to break open a rigid Ligue 1 defence with his sharp footwork and eye for a pass.
His delightful dink of a through ball for Plea’s goal showed that, although he may not start every game, with Nice’s busy Europa League schedule Eysseric will prove himself to be an asset for Favre’s men this season, notably in the “second string” lineups that Favre is deploying immediately before and after Europa League clashes in Ligue 1 so far this season. Eysseric could make the difference and allow Nice to challenge on both fronts. – A.W.
9 | Dijon’s dangerously underrated midfield
Dijon’s 3-0 demolition of Rennes showed that, like fellow promoted side Metz, they are a team ready to make of fist of life in the top flight. Loris Diony will rightfully garner the headlines, but like an award-winning actor, he certainly has a lengthy list of thank-yous in order.
His manager, Olivier Dall’Oglio, is chief among these, as his 4-1-4-1 worked to a tee against Rennes. Moving from what had been a more orthodox 4-4-2, with the bulky Julio Tavares alongside Diony, the veteran striker’s injury forced a change, and the results speak for themselves.
There were seeds of this in evidence against Paris Saint-Germain a week ago, with the team opting for a 4-5-1, but the current approach strikes a better balance.
Mehdi Abeid acts a deep-lying playmaker, and the industry and energy of Florent Balmont and Jordan Marié ahead of him provide a perfect cover. Pierre Lees-Melou and Frederic Sammaritano are thus given space to cut inside, linking play with the pacy Diony while also being able to shoot.
The narrowness of midfield then allows the solid Fouad Chafik and Arnold Bouka-Moutou space to push into in wide areas, completing a team whose aggressive style is certain to provide Ligue 1 with a few more surprises before the season’s end. – E.D.
10 | Robert Beric is potentially prolific
Robert Beric is the quitenssital fox-in-the-box.
He is adept at playing within the width of the six yard area and poaching his, and many other’s, fair share of goals. His 30 in 38 games during the 14/15 league season at Rapid Vienna and his turn and chip over Enyeama as he wriggled away from Crivelli in St Etienne’s 3-1 win over hapless Lille this weekend evidencing this.
There is one catch to Beric’s talents however. That is really all that he is capable of. He will not be found running the channels or chasing the ball towards the corner flags or dropping deep to dictate or looking to feed others.
He is an out-and-out finisher and he needs chances made for him. The issue here is that in a Christophe Galtier side which oozes pragmatism and solidity, these chances are hard to come by in a league that is already often sparse in its distribution of goals.
Galtier has a goalscorer in Beric but he needs to play to his strengths. The addition of Jordan Veretout to a midfield devoid of guile was a step in the right direction but more must be done. That is to say: Beric needs crosses, through balls and someone to play on his shoulder.
With the pace of Monnet-Paquet and Tannane in wide areas and the creativity of Romain Hamouma, who’s never looked like a winger, in behind, Galtier may be able to mould his front four into a cohesive, effective attacking unit.
But should he persist with three workmanlike, defensive midfielders and three isolated forwards with no scope to express themselves, ASSE’s goalscoring issues (the main barrier to any progression) may continue for a while yet. – A.W.
Team of the Week: Benjamin Lecomte, Lorient FC; Francois Moubandjé, Toulouse FC, Christophe Jullien Toulouse FC, Zargo Toure, Lorient FC, Hiroki Sakai, Olympique de Marseille; Mehdi Abeid, Dijon FCO, Lassana Coulibaly, SC Bastia, Yann Bodiger, Toulouse FC, Ellyes Shkiri, Montpleiier HSC; Bafetimbi Gomis, Olympique de Marseille, Lois Diony, Dijon FC
Goal of the week: Robert Beric, AS Saint-Etienne
[PHOTO: Dijon FCO / Vincent Poyer]