The Ligue 1 Review – Week 3

Adam White and Eric Devin return with their talking points column, spanning Ligue 1 with insights from each of the ten matches, as well as their team of the week and goal of the week.

1 | Cabella a Surprising Source of Inspiration 

Even during his best days at Montpellier, Remy Cabella could have never have been accused of being a hardworking player. Undoubtedly talented, he used the platform provided by the likes of Jamel Saihi and Benjamin Stambouli to be an incandescent attacking presence, but left any defensive work to others.

His talents deservedly earned him a handful of call-ups to the French national team, but a subsequent move to Newcastle looked to have firmly exposed his flaws. Following an indistinguished year in England, he returned, humbled to Marseille last season, initially on loan, but is now a permanent member of Les Phoceens.

His performances last year under Michel were often underwhelming as well, even when played in his preferred number ten role, as opposed to being played on the wing as he often had at Newcastle.

However, if the energy and passion with which he played on Friday evening can be continued, the club may have a player whose impact might begin to approach that of three seasons ago. His willingness to drop deep and win the ball not only led to Bafetimbi Gomis’ goal, but also allowed youngster Karim Rekik more protection at left back.

Given his uneven play, (he was nowhere near that level against Toulouse) some doubts will certainly linger, but on a (largely) young team, Cabella has real potential to be once again among the best in Ligue 1. – ED


2 | Golden oldies steal the show in Nancy…  

A South American football fan friend of mine recently told me: “South America is full of young hot prospects and returning, aging heroes, with a lot of dross in the middle.”

France is not at this stage just yet but with the sale of many a more established 24 and 25 year old player to the Premier League and further afield, the youthful hotshots and golden oldies continue to play an increasingly prominent role. Two of these aged stalwarts caught the eye on Saturday night at the Stade Marcel Picot: AS Nancy Lorriane’s Benoit Pedretti and Guingamp’s Thibault Giresse, both now 35.

The last of Pedretti’s 22 caps for Les Bleus came over a decade ago but he is still Nancy’s main man. An expertly flighted free kick crashed off the bar in the second half, unlucky not to give his side a fighting chance of taking something from the game while his considered passing, Ligue 1 experience and guile on the ball will continue to be assets for the new boys as they look to avoid relegation. Giresse on the other hand has always been one of my favourite players in the league.

The way in which he glides around the pitch and effortlessly carries the ball are reminiscent of Andres Iniesta, especially with his diminutive stature and a notable balding head.

Giresse, son of one quarter of France’s famous Magic Square which propelled the French to home Euro 84 glory, Alain, has been a cornerstone of Guingamp’s squad for the better part of a decade and effectively won the game on Saturday evening with a typically discreet run into the box to tap home. Both men will be pivotal if their sides are to have good seasons in 16/17. – AW


3 | Hungry Substitutes the Difference for Dijon

Dijon’s return to Ligue 1 was marked by an aggressive transfer window. The club brought in an exciting mix of veterans with Ligue 1 experience (Marvin Martin, Florent Balmont) and some of the best from Ligue 2 (Fouad Chafik, Yunis Abdelhamid).

With this quartet, it seemed certain that the club had bought well in as they sought to stay in France’s top flight. In their momentous win over Lyon on Saturday, though, it was two less celebrated arrivals that made the difference, and in spectacular fashion at that.

In a veteran-laden squad, manager Olivier Dall’Oglio, playing with little margin for error, has repeatedly opted for trusted players, like the aforementioned quartet (minus the injured Martin) and Frederic Sammaritano, giving short shrift to callow arrivals. However, with the match on the line against Lyon, he made the brave choice of turning to Dylan Bahamboula, a Monaco academy product signed this summer, and Pierre Lees-Melou, who was playing in France’s fifth division two years ago.

Lees-Melou responded with a stunning goal, while Bahamboula also scored. By Ligue 1 standards, neither are exactly young (Lees-Melou is 23, Bahamboula 21) but with a chance to claim a huge scalp for the club that showed faith in them when few others would, both responded brilliantly. If Dall’Oglio can balance his squad well, wringing this sort of hunger from his charges on a weekly basis, Dijon could very continue to be a unwelcome visitor across the ground of Ligue 1. – ED


4 | Angers can’t go another season without a striker…  

After promotion from Ligue 2, Angers were miraculously in the hunt for Champions League places at Christmas time. Their success was based on a direct counter attacking style, the ability to keep the ball well when needed (Ndoye, Magani and Saiss amongst the most effective midfield trio’s in France) and a staunch back four, Ismael Traore and Romain Thomas monolithic at its heart.

However, Stephane Moulin’s charges were Ligue 1’s fourth lowest scorers (17) at the halfway stage despite their lofty top three position and the lack of a genuine goalscorer or even a striker worthy of the name was glaringly obvious.

This season little has changed. The signing of Famara Diedhiou, last year’s Ligue 2 top scorer, seemed a wise move on paper but all bar one of the former Clermont man’s 21 strikes in 15/16 came before February and his current barren run reads as 1 goal in his last 18 games.

With Diedhou dropped for this weekend’s clash with Metz, Angers went back to their flat front three with a winger playing centrally. Last season Billy Ketkeo, Razza Camara and Mo Yattara shared the role, this time the central berth fell to Karl Toko Ekambi but once again, despite having a sizeable share of the ball, Angers were worryingly blunt in forward areas.

Metz took their chances, were dangerous from set pieces and ran out fairly comfortable 2-0 winners. With Traore’s form tailing off and Saiss’ likely to leave (with Ndoye possibly following), not to mention the losses of Camara and the excellent Ludovic Butelle in goal during January (a big factor in their late season downturn) Angers might not survive another year in the top flight without a consistent goal threat. AW


5 | Caen Get Back To Basics 

It was only natural, given the age of Nicolas Seube and the (now confirmed) departure of Andy Delort that Caen manager Patrice Garande indulge in some experimentation to help the club progress.

The first weekend’s match saw the club hold off Caen, 3-2 with new striker Ivan Santini notching a brace. Last week’s result wasn’t as sparkling, losing to Lyon 2-0, and Garande reacted with an approach that hearkened back to the club’s run of success some two years ago.

Damien Da Silva has become one of Ligue 1’s best central defenders, but Garande had played him further forward this season, replacing Seube in front of the defence in an archetypal 4-1-4-1. Da Silva had a raft of experience in the role, but his departure from the back line made things too open.

Against a Bastia side that have looked sharp to date, Seube came into the holding role, with Da Silva dropping back into central defence.

Rather than be torn apart by the tricky likes of Thievy Bifouma and Allan Saint-Maximin, the team turned in a vintage performance, with all of Seube, Da Silva and veteran attacking midfielder Julien Feret turning in impressive performances.

It is obvious that Garande can’t expect to rely on Seube on a weekly basis, a primary motivation in the signing of Ismael Diomande, but the team showed a much higher level of cohesion, especially with Da Silva in his preferred role in defence.

Should the manager be able to ration his appearances, Caen have every chance of once again being the side that occupied the top half of the table for much of last season. -ED


6 | Tannane needs to start showing some end product…  

“This year, I will stay at Saint Étienne but it is true that I do not want to stay at the club for a long time. I want a better club. I want to play football in a club of a great dimension. St Étienne is a great club to improve yourself but I want to go to England or Spain. Maybe PSG.”

A churlish statement of intent from St Etienne’s Moroccan forward, Oussama Tannane, upon his return to pre-season training with Les Verts. He would do well to remember that St Etienne are a grand club with a rich, vibrant history and a record number of Ligue 1 (10) titles.

During their heyday of the late 70s and early 80s, ASSE graced a European cup final and saw the great Michel Platini inspired vintage side regularly make waves both domestically and on the continent, not to mention that they are still one of the top five clubs in Ligue 1 with a strong following.

Aside from being arrogant and disrespectful, whatever Tannane’s supposed qualities, based on recent performances, his goal seems little more than a pipe dream. Tannane has shown himself to be quick, tricky and direct in spells since his January arrival in France but this season he has morphed into a wayward and selfish winger, devoid of any meaningful end product.

His display against Toulouse in Sunday’s drab 0-0 draw exemplified his poor start to the season; set pieces consistently hitting the first man, routinely greedily shooting from good crossing opportunities and losing the ball needlessly in positive positions. Tannane needs to reassess his attitude both on and off the pitch otherwise his wish may come true and his St Etienne career will indeed be short lived. -AW


7 | Emergency in Guingamp

Guingamp endured a fairly tumultuous summer, losing key midfielder Younousse Sankhare, ‘keeper Jonas Lossl and club stalwart Lionel Mathis. Antoine Kombouare was brought in as manager, though, brightening the outlook around a Guingamp side that had under previous manager Jocelyn Gourvennec been perhaps a bit too reliant on veteran players.

With the likes of Marcus Coco and Ludovic Blas waiting in the wings, this was to be a season of rejuvenation for the Breton club, with veteran experience in the former of Lucas Deaux providing a firm base for growth. However, over the Breton club’s last two matches, the focus has been on another, less heralded, addition to the side.

Reynald Lemaitre had been a fine servant for Guingamp, and Dorian Leveque had done a decent job last season, but the arrival of Fernando Marcal, on loan from Benfica, was seen as a bit of an emergency move on the part of the club, having discarded youngster Laurent dos Santos to Strasbourg in the summer.

After drawing with Monaco in the season’s opening match, Guingamp have won both of their successive matches, and in fine style, Marcal being a big part of that. His combination of pace, physicality and stamina make him an ideal fit for the often workman-like Ligue 1, but as he showed against Nancy, he is also a rather adept dribbler.

Able to work in close quarters or pull wide to deliver a cross, the left back, who has yet to feature for his parent club, could be one of the revelations of the season, with Kombouare and his charges an unlikely challenger for the European positions. -ED


8 | Lille to Languish?

After an underwhelming start to the season, Lille are still looking to find their rhythm. A disastrous exit from Europe to Azerbaijani side Qabala and twice throwing away the lead to succumb 3-2 at Metz on the opening day have barely made up for by the last gasp win over Dijon and the lethargic draw 1-1 at Nice this weekend.

Frederic Antonetti admitted pre-match he is still looking for the right formula, something that remains abundantly clear after the lacklustre attacking showing at the Allianz Riviera on Saturday evening.

Eder is the only viable option in the central striking role and the destructive presence of the Ibrahim Amadou, an Antonetti favourite, will be first choice at the base of midfield. However, the four positions between them remain in a state of flux.

Formation, as well as selection, provides Antonetti with a headache. His preferred 433 has been reliable and sturdy but a 4231 may fit his squad.

Given his more creative profile and the likely sale of the mercurial Sofiane Boufal, Nicolas De Preville would be would likely head the cue, Rony Lopes proved his worth in a central attacking midfield role at end of last season and Younousse Sankhare has shown his dynamism can be useful in driving the side forward alongside Amadou.

But doubts remain over the out of from Eric Bautheac and the slowing Morgan Amalfitano while experiments with Yassine Benzia in a deeper role have led to varied success. Club captain Rio Mavuba has seen his poor run diminish his importance to the side while Mounir Obbadi has been unable to build much momentum since his arrival last summer, even the erstwhile Ryan Mendes has started games.

With the possibility of Red Star’s Naim Sliti being added to the mix, Antonetti has some distilling yet to do. Without Boufal’s  brilliance Lille may be facing another uphill battle if their manager can’t mould his side into an effective unit soon. -AW


9 | Carrasso the Missing Ingredient 

The record wasn’t bad, a win at Saint-Etienne and a loss to Toulouse in a hard-fought derby, but Bordeaux under Jocelyn Gourvennec were unfortunately beginning to look the same as under Willy Sagnol. Six goals conceded, the worst defensive record in the league and another derby loomed, this time against an always-fiesty Nantes.

Under Michel der Zakarian, Les Canaris had firmly demonstrated all of Ligue 1’s negative stereotypes, but the arrivals of Nicolaj Thomsen and Lucas Lima, as well as academy product Amine Harit, have made the club a more thorny proposition against which to defend.

Things were far from perfect on Sunday, but in the end, Bordeaux earned a 1-0 win at the Matmut Atlantique, a result which not only sees them a point off the top of the table but also demonstrates the confidence a ‘keeper of Cedric Carrasso’s quality can instill in a defence.

Even with Jeremy Toulalan and Gregory Sertic deputizing in place of the preferred pair of Pablo and Nicolas Pallois, the defence was immense. Sertic was indomitable in the air and Toulalan, despite coming off, was class, but even with their veteran nous, the organization of Carrasso was key to the match.

Add in a handful of key saves as Nantes pressed in the match’s closing stages, and Gourvennec will be very glad to have his veteran ‘keeper between the sticks again. -ED


10 | When PSG are pressed, Ligue 1 is competitive

Last season PSG were omnipotent in Ligue 1. This was largely down to their vastly superior squad and seemingly unlimited resources, but it was also because sides allowed them to be.

PSG settled into a slow passing style in deeper areas, the midfield and back four were allowed decades on the ball to play it neatly around between themselves without any pressure as teams, fearing their abundance of attacking talent, understandably chose to sit back and park the bus.

This allowed Paris to pick inferior opposition (every other team in France) off, largely at will. Defensive units would be gradually sucked in, a forward would peel off an unsuspecting defender and look for a killer through ball either over the top or into the channel, a strategy that created many of their more dangerous situations.

But as Lyon showed in their 2-1 win at Parc OL in February, ending the Parisian’s unbeaten league campaign, pressing PSG high up the pitch can yield positive results. Chelsea were also able to get some joy in their Champions League encounter, Thiago Motta ambushed for Diego Costa’s goal at Stamford Bridge.

Despite swapping Blanc for Emery, it’s been more evolution than revolution so far in Paris and their style remains relatively similar for now. For the first hour of the showpiece Sunday night encounter, Monaco exploited this weakness wonderfully well.

The aging Thiago Motta, the rustiness of Marco Verratti, the nervousness in possession of Adrien Rabiot and David Luiz’s all round terrible decision making were all capitalised on. PSG weren’t allowed time to pick their passes, no one was allowed to settle, Monaco continually forced them into errors or risky passes and were worthy of their 2-0 half time lead.

They did start to tire around the 70 minute mark and were it not for the unfortunate Aurier own goal to make it 3-1 the final stages would have been far more frantic. Nevertheless Jardim and his side have proved that PSG are not invulnerable, here’s hoping the rest of the league will attempt to follow his lead. –AW


Team of the Week (4-2-3-1): Cedric Carrasso, Girondins de Bordeaux; Kevin Malcuit, AS Saint-Etienne, Gregory Sertic, Girondins de Bordeaux, Jemerson, AS Monaco, Marcal, EA Guingamp; Tiemoue Bakayoko, AS Monaco, Julien Feret, SM Caen; Joao Moutinho, AS Monaco, Remy Cabella, Frederic Sammaritano, Dijon FCO, Joao Moutinho, AS Monaco; Julio Tavares, Dijon FCO.

Goal of the Week: Pierre Lees-Melou, Dijon FCO

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