In Wednesday’s press conference, while fully aware of the magnitude of the task at hand, Oscar Garcia seemed confident and unwavering. He was quoted as saying, “in football there is nothing impossible.” As seen in the first three matches, Garcia has brought a different approach to Les Verts, which is also something he spoke about on Wednesday’s press briefing: “every week according to the characteristics of the opponent we can change our tactics.”
Garcia comes from the school of Cruyff, or at minimum, has taken some serious crash courses. Meaning, his love for attacking football is important, but you should also expect to see a studied approach to each match. His game plan is highly-dependent on his opponent’s weaknesses. Jonathan Bamba spoke about Garcia’s willingness to work with everyone at training. Even going as far as taking a 1 on 1 approach with individual players in times of apprehension. This strategy is designed to get the most out of his team and infuse individual skill with tactical precision. While Garcia may not have the roster to create a Mozart symphony, he has enough to put on quite the show.
The Christophe Galtier years (Saint-Étienne’s previous coach) were overall successful. However, the lack of goals his strategies produced led to Saint-Étienne finishing joint-second for the most draws by a club in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season. We thought a creative manager like Garcia would not have been enough alone to turn this carrier boat into a battleship. Particularly, with the losses of Kévin Malcuit, Jordan Veretout, Henri Saivet, and the failure to bring in further attacking options has left Saint-Étienne outgunned. However, if you ask Oscar Garcia, he has all the help he needs, even if Les Verts do want to add before the window closes.
Garcia has been outspoken about his young players, praising them in their early good form. Jonathan Bamba and Assane Dioussé have been nothing short of outstanding in this albeit brief spell since the Spaniard took over. Garcia has also re-introduced the once trouble-maker that is Oussama Tannane, who also looks reinvigorated in this new look Saint-Étienne side. The calm confidence of Garcia seems to have transcended to his team and now the league is taking notice.
Oscar Garcia will enter the Parc des Princes tonight expecting to compete with PSG. Make no mistake though, you will not see his usual style of play against PSG. For one, Garcia can’t afford that. Maintaining and winning back possession against PSG is not as easy a task as it is doing the same against Amiens. One should expect to see a defensive approach from Les Verts in a 4-3-3.
Using the youth, speed, and energetic play of Dioussé, Bamba, and Ronael Pierre-Gabriel to disrupt the PSG attack on the counter. You may even go as far to say Saint-Etienne have an advantage in the midfield with Verratti unable suit-up. If Saint-Étienne’s midfield trio, who have been the driving force of this early success, are able to keep the possession statistic from being lopsided then they definitely have a chance to walk away with at least a point.
Pierre-Gabriel has been another highlight of Saint-Étienne’s season and will clearly be a key man for success against PSG. Pierre-Gabriel is not only pivotal to the Saint-Étienne defence, but exactly what Saint-Étienne will need in the counter attack against PSG. Too many times Sainté found itself in self-inflicted, tough positions against Amiens. Off the mark passes and careless plays with the ball will not be so easily forgiven against Neymar and company.
Ligue 1 is positioning itself to be quite the competitive proposition at the top of the table this season. Predicting Saint-Étienne for a top 5 finish is still a bit farfetched and premature. However, we can say that Oscar Garcia was a great choice to take the team into the next era.
Friday’s match against PSG will be a great measuring stick of where they stand and where they can improve. You can expect Oscar Garcia to make every possible effort to prepare his club for battle, but inevitably resulting in Saint-Étienne going down swinging against PSG. Garcia is the type of manager who cares not just about winning, but how he wins. Over the season we may see high flying Saint-Étienne come down to earth, but at a minimum, this is the start to the brand of football Oscar Garcia would like to, and will continue to, produce. Ligue 1 is always better when the old giants are at their best. Let the Ligue 1 renaissance continue!