The Ligue 1 Review – Week 12

Adam White and Eric Devin run the rule on all of the action in the French top flight from week 12.

1 | Jardim has finally found his formula at Monaco making them genuine title challengers…

In 2015/16 Monaco finished third in Ligue 1 with 57 goals scored, an improvement on the 51 goals scored in also finishing third the previous season.

Just 12 games into this campaign, Les Monegasques are already just 14 strikes short of that 2014/15 total. They are the currently the leading scorers in all of Europe’s top 5 leagues, with a higher goals per game ratio than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool.

Arguments about relative quality of opposition aside, Monaco now pose a considerable attacking threat in what is often a defensively minded division.

Falcao, when fit, is looking sharp with 8 in 9 across all competitions this season, Bernardo Silva continues to realise his considerable talent after flattering to deceive at times last season while, still just 23, Fabinho is threatening to become one Europe’s premier midfield performers.

Having kept faith with Jardim throughout his first two seasons, he’s finally hitting his stride in his third and Monaco look well equipped to challenge for both the Ligue 1 title and in latter stages of the Champions League as one of the most exciting attacking units on the continent. – A.W.

2 | Montpellier: Entertainers and European Hopefuls? 

Over the last four league matches, Montpellier have scored ten goals and recorded seven points. Yes, they’ve also conceded eleven, but six of those were against the buzzsaw that is currently Monaco, and only Nice, Paris Saint-Germain and Guingamp racked up more points in that span.

It is a spell of matches which coincides with the debut of Stéphane Sessegnon, who has started in all four, and a purple patch from Ryad Boudebouz, who has four goals in that time. Montpellier have the league’s fifth-best attack, but their mid-table status is a result of a woeful defence. Is there any hope they could tighten things up at the back?

The answer here is a decided yes; the team have had to make do with the callow Dylan Saint-Ruf alongside Hilton, and the Brazilian’s regular partner, Daniel Congré has been a huge miss.

Saint-Étienne did thump La Paillade 3-1 when he was in the team, and there was also a 5-1 loss at Lyon that saw the team finish with ten men, but aside from that, the team haven’t conceded more than a solitary goal in his other appearances, including draws with Guingamp and Nice.

The defender rejoined training this week, and should be fit after the international break. Admittedly, there are still questions surrounding the team, notably at right back, but on the whole there is a great deal of optimism for an outfit that sits just five points outside of European places and are in good form. Injury-hit Bastia and hapless Nancy are next, possibly precipitating further progress up the table. – E.D.

3 | Stepinski saves Girard but the stay of execution may be short lived…

Nantes’ lack of goals is becoming almost laughably endemic. The lowest scorers, save for hapless Troyes, last season despite challenging for Europe for much of the campaign and bottom in the Goals For column during for the previous season, Les Canaris are currently only outscoring a dire Lorient side in 2016/17 and can look little further than a relegation battle this year.

The addition of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, a marquee signing and a striker of international pedigree, last summer resulted in just a handful of extra goals and a swift exit to Galatasaray while his wayward partners, Sala, Bammou and co, continued in their regular failures with barn door and banjo.

Volatile president Vladimir Kita blamed previous boss Michel Der Zakarian and a tumultuous relationship ended in ignominy and MDZ’s exit. Enter Ligue 1 winning coach Rene Girard with the remit of cultivating the attacking football craved by the fans and the president but so far Nantes’ form has only deteriorated.

Where MDZ had an efficient, workmanlike side, Girard’s Canaries lack the defensive cohesion of the past and the midfield guile provided by Alejandro Bedoya and Adryan, both oddly allowed to leave in the window, while their troubles in front of goal continue.

18 strikes in 39 Ekstraklasa games for Ruch Chorzow pinned Polish forward Mariusz Stepinski with the task of revitalising Ligue 1’s most economic of attacks and 3 goals in his first 9 games is by no means a disgrace in French football.

However, Stepinski has regularly gone missing this season and his trio of strikes are his only real highlights to date leading to his benching this weekend. His scuffed injury time equaliser against Toulouse may have saved Girard for now but the wider issues continue.

Having reportedly told his players before the meeting with Bastia at the start of last month that he would be sacked if they lost, Girard may not be far away from a similar statement after the international break. Nantes have only regressed under their new boss and Kita’s trigger finger remains an itchy one.

4 | Will the real Bordeaux please stand up?

Guingamp aren’t the only team on a five match unbeaten run, as Bordeaux have crafted one of their own, albeit with quite a few more draws than the Breton club. Indeed, a loss away at Paris Saint-Germain on matchday eight is Les Girondins’ sole setback in almost two months, and the team have slowly risen to eighth, just two points behind fourth.

That said, identifying the reasons for the team’s success is somewhat challenging. In some weeks, Cedric Carrasso is magnificent in goal. In others, he relies upon the physicality of Nicolas Pallois and Igor Lewczuk. Is this team solid defensively, or dependent on a rampant attack?

There is no consistent answer to these questions, and manager Jocelyn Gourvennec likewise seems at a loss for his tactical decisions, rotating players in and out and at different positions at will, especially among his young attackers, with Francois Kamano the latest to see his star rise.

The former Bastia player has been an afterthought in the season’s early going, but since scoring against Chateauroux in the Coupe de la Ligue, has started every match. The young Guinean is undoubtedly talented, but caught more notice receiving red cards in successive matches than he did for his attacking prowess.

Just as Adam Ounas and Malcom have been seen as the focal point going forward in the recent past, he now takes up the mantle, with more change sure to come.

The talent at Bordeaux throughout the team is undeniable, but for now, the brilliantly ragged start to Kamano’s time with the club serves as the ideal microcosm of the team’s season, an exercise in frustration that could legitimately challenge for Europe, if only they could decide how. – E.D.

5 | Favre and Nice come up short for the first time in 2016/17…

Coming into this weekend Nice were undefeated.

9 wins and 2 draws from their first 11 Ligue 1 games gave them a record that had resulted in it’s holder winning Ligue 1 on the previous two occasions it had occurred. However, with the chance to maintain their 6 point lead over the break away to a Caen side whose start to the season has been well below par, Nice and new boss Lucien Favre came up short for the first time.

This season many a side have decided to tackle the proposition of PSG’s glittering forward line by moving a 5 man defence and hitting the Parisians on the counter attack, a strategy that has seen generally positive results.

Patrice Garande’s Caen took the surprising step of extending this to idea to combat Nice’s on form strike force for Ligue 1’s Sunday lunchtime clash. 90 minutes, a Ronny Rodelin dive and a stout rear guard performance later Caen had their three points and Nice, for the first time, had run out of ideas, Favre disappointingly enacting just one change in personnel with just 2 minutes to play.

Nevertheless, Nice are still 3 points clear at the top and Balotelli was a post’s width from a deserved equaliser, making this result little more than frustrating for now. However, it does provide a blueprint for the rest of of the league to take points from the pacesetters and, much like Dupraz and Toulouse, they will have to adapt if they are to maintain their justifiably inflated status. – A.W.

6 | Antonetti’s negativity is threatening Lille’s Ligue 1 existence

Three weeks ago, Lille had recorded two wins in three matches, and an encouraging attacking performance against a resolute Bastia side had pulled them out of the drop zone. Now, they find themselves back inside it, the Corsican club and Nantes their closest rivals.

Neither one of those two is having a great season, as suspensions and injuries have ravaged Bastia, while Rene Girard has struggled to settle on his preferred system and personnel. Still, though, both of those teams are dangerous at home, playing in fantastic atmospheres, and having exciting young attacking talents.

Lille, perhaps with the possible exception of Rony Lopes, who is currently injured, are wholly lacking in any similarly redeeming qualities.

Week after week, match after match, Frédéric Antonetti continues his unreasonable obsession with negative tactics, whether used in the 4-3-3 he deployed against Angers this weekend, or in the 5-4-1 that lost to Paris Saint-Germain.

Injuries have played a part, to be sure, but how does the manager justify leaving Julian Palmieri on the bench after the little left back had given Thomas Meunier fits a week earlier? Youngster Yves Bissouma has shown an inventiveness lacking elsewhere and had turned in a fine performance against Bastia, but has played just 22 minutes of football over the past two matches.

Time and again, the manager shows bizarre loyalties to players who are past it, (Morgan Amalfitano, Frank Beria, Rio Mavuba) his preference for experience and caution blunting the potential of what could be an attractive team to watch. Things won’t be any easier as the team host Lyon Friday week, but Antonetti needs to reverse course before the team’s slide goes any further. – E.D.

7 | Tannane’s poor attitude is starting to cost Galtier points…

Oussama Tannane’s presence in the St Etienne’s 11 is becoming a hindrance to the team’s success. Tannane made the somewhat ill advised statement this summer that he didn’t want to be at ASSE for very long and that we would be hoping to sign for an English or Spanish club (or perhaps PSG) sooner rather than later.

Although career progression in terms of size of club is of course something that almost every player aspires to, to make such an overt, blunt statement was disrespectful and puerile.

Since then the Moroccan’s displays have regularly lurched from wayward to appalling. His decision making is terrible and his attitude is even worse, regularly running down blind alleys while he can often be accused of selfish play.

His negative influence reached new heights on Sunday as two rash and naive first half tackles within seconds of each other resulted in two equally deserved yellow cards, leaving his team clinging to a point for the better part of an hour.

In a crucial season for Galtier and Sainte, he may now be proving that, despite his undoubted ability, his continued inclusion in the side could be more trouble than it’s worth. – A.W.

8 | Guingamp battle back

For the second time in three weeks, Guingamp came from behind to earn a result. This time, it was an entertaining, if disappointing draw away to Dijon. The draw was not enough to significantly widen the gap between themselves and fellow European hopefuls Rennes and Toulouse, both of whom dropped points at the weekend, but it does speak to the spirit with which Antoine Kombouaré has his team playing.

Young winger Marcus Coco has drawn praise for his goals, and the manager’s shift to a 4-3-3 has been key to an unbeaten that has now reached five matches in all competitions.

More than that, though, this team have shown a fighting spirit. On the road and twice two goals down, not once did Guingamp’s heads drop. Instead, the group of players, a mix of experience and youth, pulled together and battled for a draw.

Jimmy Briand, so often an important creative piece, had struggled against Dijon’s defence, and Yannis Salibur, in a fine vein of form, was forced off through injury. But it mattered not, as substitutes Alexandre Mendy and Nill de Pauw scored the goals that drove the team’s comeback.

Kombouaré has shown no shyness about rotating his revamped squad, he has struck the balance perfectly to the extent that players coming off the bench are hungry to make an impact, rather than sulking about not starting.

Retaining fourth place may seem a long shot at this point in time, but in a league table lacking its usual hierarchy, the energy and verve of the team from Ligue 1’s smallest city may be enough to power another European adventure. – E.D.

9 | PSG finally look like themselves again but the hype surrounding Cavani and Rabiot of late is a little unjustified…

Laboured would be the word that characterises PSG start to the French season so far. The fact that they are now just three points of Nice and level with an in from Monaco is immaterial, by their standards, their start has been poor as Emery’s method are yet to perpetuate any real improvement.

However, the PSG that put 4 past (an admittedly lacklustre) Rennes on Sunday night showed signs that the more expressive PSG of the Blanc era (especially at home) is still in there somewhere. Their dominant, pacey and confident display marked a huge improvement on their recent performances.

However, I would still urge caution in certain areas. Emery continues to insist that Adrian Rabiot is a key part of his plans but, despite the team’s excellent display overall, Rabiot again proved that he is still learning his role in midfield and is perhaps still a little raw after some sloppy and complacent errors.

Despite his first France call up, he is still only 21 and has a way to go yet before he is deserving of a place in either the Paris of Les Bleus midfield on a regular basis.

Cavani meanwhile is steadily improving. After his terrible displays against Metz and Arsenal earlier in the year, El Matador is starting to peek out from under the shadow left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his superb trademark header which lead to the first goal and his sublime lob for the second attest to that but he also has someway to go before he can be considered ‘back to his best’.

Despite his healthy goal record in 2016/17, the Uruguayan continues to miss simple openings that should they come in bigger, tighter games, would make a much more notable difference to the overall outcome of the match. Steadily improving are PSG, but nothing yet to write home about. – A.W.

10 | Lyon win, but questions continue to arise

Two wins in Ligue 1 and a draw against Juventus; not a bad week for Lyon given how badly the club had slumped of late.

There will be, of course, plenty of doubters, and they will certainly be given credence; three points this weekend were down to a specious penalty and a slightly questionable sending off for Bastia’s ‘keeper, Jean-Louis Leca. For all of Lyon’s possession and movement, their finishing when in good positions was poor, and their work ethic similarly so.

Rather than trying to work the ball against an opponent playing a makeshift back line, a man down and a second string goalkeeper, Lyon were too often impatient, dragging their shots wide or without the power necessary to beat Paul Charruau.

Leca’s deputy was making his first Ligue 1 appearance, and had surprisingly little to do, a thorough and definite indictment of the team’s play. There was some hope that Lyon’s new look double pivot 4-4-2 could provide some answers as it sparked those results.

However, despite the upswing in performance that has come with it, Lyon fans will be wary, as yet another formation from Bruno Genesio is starting to smack of a manager full of self-doubt over the team’s tactical identity.

He had used a 4-3-3 to great effect last season with essentially the same personnel, but a home loss to Guingamp seemingly took away his faith in it. Whatever he decides is optimal this season, he needs to show belief in his tactics and his players’ abilities.

For now, with his constant tinkering, the story of Lyon’s uneven start to the season is becoming more one of Genesio’s naivete than of an injury-ridden but talented team. – E.D.

Team of the Week: Remy Riou, FC Nantes; Serge Aurier, Paris Saint-Germain, Christophe Kerbrat, EA Guingamp, Ismael Traoré, Angers SCO, Benjamin Mendy, AS Monaco; Tiemoué Bakayoko, AS Monaco, Adrien Rabiot, Paris Saint-Germain, Morgan Sanson, Montpellier HSC; Ryad Boudebouz, Montpellier HSC, Radamel Falcao, AS Monaco, Ronny Rodelin, SM Caen.

Goal of the Week: Diego Rolan, Girondins de Bordeaux

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