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The Ligue 1 Review – Week 2

In a new feature, Get French Football News writers Eric Devin and Adam White combine forces to produce a set of ten talking points, with a focus on each of Ligue 1’s matches

1 Canny loanees spur impressive Bastia

While the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Enzo Crivelli have failed to pull up any trees with their parent clubs, (Monaco and Bordeaux, respectively) if Saturday’s result is anything to go by, Bastia have done exceptionally well in the loan market this summer. Subdued against Paris Saint-Germain last Friday when used as a lone striker, his physical power overwhelmed by that of Presnel Kimpembe and David Luiz, Crivelli sparkled against Lorient, even if his penalty miss denied him a hat trick.

Dropping deep to get the ball or acting as a hold-up threat for the pacy likes of Saint-Maximin and Thievy Bifouma, Crivelli was an ideal fulcrum for Bastia’s attack. As fine as he was though, he was easily outshone by Saint-Maximin, whose stunning goal was icing on a dynamic performance.

Some younger attacking players when sent on loan are often all too eager to neglect their defensive duties, but given Bastia’s stern ethos it is unlikely that the club could afford to have a passenger in attack and the youngster and Bifouma were both eager to track back and help their midfield.

Granted, the dismissals of Didier Ndong and Benjamin Jeannot mean this performance must be taken with a grain of salt, but these early performances, some fine defending against Paris Saint-Germain last Friday included, have the team off to a very impressive start. ED

2 Wissam Who?

With the club ten points from safety and just ten games to play, the situation was desperate for Toulouse. Enter Pascal Dupraz; the new manager’s success rate had been inconsistent and his time at Evian ended unceremoniously after relegation but, as the TFC fans pointed out with their bizarre Tinder themed tifo ahead of Saturday’s Garrone derby with Bordeaux, Dupraz and Toulouse are a perfect match.

Key to their survival hopes was Dupraz’s ability to get the best from their star frontman Wissam Ben Yedder. The former Futsal player had been wayward and disinterested for much of the campaign but it was his 17 goal haul, 8 in the last 10 games, which largely accounted for TFC’s survival. With Ben Yedder finally getting his move to Sevilla and no adequate replacement in sight, Toulouse fans could’ve been forgiven for feeling pessimistic ahead of the season. Following their promising opening draw at the Velodrome and the 4-1 demolition of Jocelyn Gourvennec’s exciting new Bordeaux side, their mood will be somewhat brighter, mainly thanks to Martin Braithwaite.

The Danish international has shuffled across to take WBY’s place as both centre forward and club talisman. A deft free kick put the game beyond FCGB at 3-0 before turning Fred Guilbert inside out to make it four while his constant harrying and pressure turned out to be too much for Nicolas Pallois; a stray arm from the centre back lead to his second yellow. Braithwaite ran the show and Toulouse will be ever more confident that survival is not all the can hope for this season, even without Ben Yedder. AW

3 Guingamp’s (partial) Youth Revival

The appointment of Antoine Kombouare was seen as a major coup for the Breton club this summer. His time at Lens had disappointed to some degree, but his role in the development of Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Wylian Cyprien was paramount, furthering his reputation as a manager skilled in developing youth.

Marcus Coco had been a fitful present last season under Jocelynn Gourvennec, and Ludovic Blas impressed this summer at the European U-19 Championships, but neither had made much of an impact at club level.

This season, Coco has been impressive in wide areas in Kombouare’s 4-4-1-1, creating space for the likes of Jimmy Briand or cutting inside with the ball at his feet. Blas, seen as a natural successor to the departed Younousse Sankhare, hasn’t featured as much, but not down to his own doing.

As much as Gourvennec trusted in veteran players, he sometimes took that approach to an extreme, the likes of Lars Jacobsen and Thibault Giresse probably used past their best. Kombouare has hit on the right balance, then, with Lucas Deaux replacing Sankhare in central midfield and Jordan Ikoko playing at right back.

The former Nantes midfielder is often thought of for his rather dour style, as able to play center back as central midfield, but his brilliant overlapping run on Sunday shows the multivalence of his style, and he has established a good understanding alongside Mustapha Diallo.

With Nico Benezet still to return, and creditable results against Marseille and Monaco on the books, Kombouare’s balance of old and new looks impressive indeed. ED

4 Cavani’s Confidence

The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic no longer looms over the Parc de Prince. With the mercurial Swede enjoying life in Manchester, everyone connected with PSG has been able to start afresh under Unai Emery.

Everyone accept Edinson Cavani, that is. During King Ibra’s reign, the Uruguayan was often marginalised; moved out of position to accommodate Zlatan and his ego with his outstanding Napoli form and goalscoring exploits fading rapidly. With the big man gone, this was supposed to be Cavani’s season; playing through the middle with the Ligue 1 top scorer title there for the taking.

After injury prevented his inclusion against Bastia, Cavani’s return came on Sunday night against Metz and he will be more than disappointed with the results. A mistimed free header, a tame shot easily saved by Didillon when clean through and getting the ball stuck under his feet with the goal gaping only for it to ricochet off a defender onto the post were lowlights of a less than clinical first half for PSG’s number 9.

Although he will likely be given time to find his form again, the signings of Ben Arfa and Jese may not be enough to cover the central striker role and Emery may now be more inclined to delve into the transfer market again to at least add some genuine competition for Cavani who, as his sliced shot with Didillon stranded late in the second half proves, is devoid of confidence and struggling to rediscover his form. AW

5 Lyon’s Selection Dilemmas

The injuries to Jeremy Morel and Christophe Jallet have prevented the two French fullbacks from being available to Bruno Genesio at present, but upon their return, the manager will have some tough choices to make. Maciej Rybus had an assured debut against Caen on Friday, displaying a conservative, no-nonsense approach.

The youngster Yann Karamoh got the better of him on a few occasions early on, but the Polish international came to grips with the speedy winger soon enough, even getting forward himself a few times.

When compared to Jeremy Morel having last seen being torched by Paris Saint Germain, the former Terek Grozny player presents Genesio with a more suitable option against high-quality opposition, particularly in the Champions’ League.

On the other flank, Rafael has been at his swashbuckling best this season in the league, but given his performance in the Trophee de Champions, there is something still lacking in his defensive abilities, particularly against top opponents.

Christophe Jallet turns 33 in October but his tenure in Lyon has been as similarly industrious as Rybus’, getting forward when necessary, but also allowing the front three to attack without worrying about opposing fullbacks. With the likes of Nabil Fekir and Maxwell Cornet needing that sort of freedom to be at their best, might Genesio re-examine his options in defence? ED

6.Monnet-Paquet’s Potential

In a league often characterised by conservatism, Christophe Galtier stands out, his teams seeming to define the word functional. Often favouring a 4-3-3 setup with three central players who rarely exceed the “holding” tag and less than ambitious full backs, Galtier has managed to grind his way to a European place in each of the last four seasons.

However, to gain the progress the fans crave and the stature of the club demands, in both Ligue 1 and Europe, he may have to shift toward the expansive and dispense with one of his three stewards solemnly guarding the back four sooner rather than later.

The signing of Bryan Dabo’s dynamism was a step (albeit a small one) in the right direction but to really assert pressure on weaker sides and dominate games, he needs more pace and a more forward thinking outlook.

Could Kevin Monnet-Paquet provide the answer? With the talented but unreliable Romain Hamouma injured, KMP proved that he could be the direct, pacey winger that Galter needs (working in tandem with Oussama Tannane) to stretch teams and commit defenders. His speed and intensity were assets to St Etienne in their 3-1 win over Montpellier on Sunday afternoon, Monnet-Paquet proving his worth with a snap half volley to pull his side level early in the second half.

Les Verts would look far more balanced with KMP and Tannane either side of the more creative (and slowing) Hamouma in support of striker Robert Beric, perhaps affording the side the guile to unlock more defensive teams where in the past, they had fallen short. AW

7 Monaco’s Strength in Depth

In between two legs of a tricky Champions’ League tie against Villarreal and with a massive match against Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend, a trip to the Stade de la Beaujoire was a less than ideal match for a Monaco side that had stumbled badly in losing to Guingamp last weekend.

Nantes’ home ground is always an epicentre of fervent fan action, and Saturday was no exception. Under Rene Girard, the team have also endeavoured to be more purposeful in attack, surely a worrying sign for a Monaco back line that would be rotated in anticipation of Tuesday’s second leg in the Champions’ League. However, as the visitors’ 1-0 win proved, Leonardo Jardim need not have worried.

Buoyed by strong performances from the trio of 20 year olds who had a combined total of two starts between them, (Gabriel Boschilia, Abdou Diallo, Kevin N’Doram) Monaco were resolute in defence and opportunistic in attack.

Boschilla did spurn a chance on the counter, but his movement and pace created some strong interplay with Ivan Cavaleiro, playing as a nominal center forward in a 4-3-3.

Marcel Tisserand, deployed at centre back after a season on loan with Toulouse, likewise wasn’t perfect, as he was perhaps lucky to avoid conceding a penalty, but his combination of physicality and pace made him a fine partner for Kamil Glik. Matches like these will allow these youngsters the time necessary to develop and gain confidence; should they continue to deliver, Monaco’s league form need not suffer at the expense of their European involvement. ED

8 De Preville to succeed Boufal…?

The emergence of Sofiane Boufal at LOSC last season was one of the stand out stories from Ligue 1 last season, the cocky, prodigiously talented forward tore apart French back fours for fun at times and almost single handedly dragged his side by their shirt collars into the top 5.

Unsurprisingly, however, his displays were noticed by a number of clubs from across the channel and with Lille needing the cash, Boufal was expected to leave this summer. A meniscus injury may have delayed the inevitable but Lille will need a successor, whether that be now, in January or next summer.

Signed from Reims, via Oostende, Nicolas De Preville could be that man. After his surprise inclusion in the Lille eleven to face Dijon, he was only able to provide glimpses of his undoubted quality in the opening hour but the building blocks remain in place for him to assume Boufal’s mantel; his verve, style, creativity and delivery point to him being a prominent weapon for Lille this year.

But whether he can mirror his Moroccan counterpart will be an intriguing ongoing side story as the campaign unfolds. He has much work to do. AW

9 Angers’ New Look Goes Awry

As much as Romain Saiss and Thomas Mangani were key to the functionality of Angers’ resolute 4-5-1 last season, there was still something of a thought that the system was at least as important as the players, and that the pair’s absences wouldn’t be keenly felt.

However, in an attempt to provide some semblance of attacking impetus, manager Stephane Moulin has ignored just how important the two midfielders were last season. Saiss’ energy in front of a superb back four and Mangani’s elegance drove the team’s surprise season, and while goals were something previously lacking, Moulin’s new approach in this regard has something of the child who wants to use all of his toys at once, and it was once again on display in a 1-0 loss to Nice.

Moving from the 5-4-1 that was adept at playing on the counter to a more dour 4-3-3, the manager’s insistence on playing all of Karl Toko Ekambi, Famara Diedhiou and Gilles Sunu has led to a slow-footed front three much less suited to the lack of possession so prominent in Angers’ style.

The best exponents of 4-3-3 of late (Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain) generally play with much of the ball, the passing vision of the midfield creating opportunities for the forwards. Billy Ketkeophomphone was played in midfield Saturday against Nice, but despite a strong match, the former Tours player’s defensive responsibilities meant he wasn’t able to truly stretch play as he did so last year.

A diamond 4-4-2 with Ketkeophomphone behind two strikers or Toko Ekambi (a quicker alternative to Diedhiou) in a 5-4-1 might yield better results. With Dijon and Metz in the club’s next two matches, the team desperately need to take advantage of their fixture list. ED

10 Tough Times for Nancy

Two games, five conceded, no points and no goals. The Ligue 2 champions have had a poor start to their return to the French top flight and despite the new relegation playoff between third bottom in Ligue 1 and third top in Ligue 2, their chances of keeping their head above water are looking slimmer already.

Despite the fact that they have had two trying tasks so far (home to Lyon and away at Rennes), their squad has barely been improved upon from that which won promotion in May. Angers proved that Ligue 2 talent can be enough to keep your side afloat in Ligue 1 but Stephane Moulin made sweeping changes to his first 11 over the summer months of 2015; Saiss, Ndoye, Ketkeo, Capelle, Sunu, Traore and Andreu were all parachuted into his first choice team come August. Nancy seem to have followed a path similar to that of the woeful Troyes side who were so readily cut adrift last season.

Apart from the acquisition of former Guingamp forward Christophe Mandanne, who spent an unsuccessful year in the UAE, they have gone little further than the signing of promising forward Anthony Koura from Nimes and 19 year old Ajaccio prospect Vincent Marchetti.

Although budget constraints play a considerable part in this case, as they did with Jean-Marc Furlan and Troyes, Pablo Correa has a significant task to make his Nancy side competitive this year. Without reinforcements or some form soon, it could be a long season for the new boys. AW

Team of the week: Kevin Trapp, Paris Saint-Germain; Kevin Malcuit, AS Saint-Etienne, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, FC Nantes, Nicolas N’Koulou, Olympique Lyonnais, Layvin Kurzawa, Paris Saint-Germain; Angel Di Maria, Paris Saint-Germain, Allan Saint-Maximin, SC Bastia, Oscar Trejo, Toulouse FC, Yannis Salibur, EA Guingamp ; Martin Braithwaite, Toulouse FC, Kevin Monnet-Paquet, AS Saint-Etienne

Goal of the week: Allan Saint-Maximin, SC Bastia

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