Ligue 1 Review | Brest make history while Champions League search continues

Eric Roy laid the facts out neatly as he basked in the glow of Stade Brestois’ breathtaking 5-4 victory over local rivals Stade Rennais. “Last year, we secured our safety with three games remaining. 12 months later, three matches from the end, we have qualified for a European competition.” It was a characteristic statement of the manager, a willingness even as records were being smashed to downplay the achievement. 

Brest had been one of the favourites to be relegated this season. They were a club that had spent the seasons since their promotion from Ligue 2 in 2019 in a constant state of survival. Somehow always doing just enough to keep their head above the water long enough that the drop could be avoided. The fact that they had managed to survive last year when the league restructured from 20 teams to 18 was considered a surprise, and one that was unlikely to be matched this season. 

One of the smaller teams in a crowded region of France consistently overshadowed and often forgotten next to the richer powerhouses of Brittany: Rennes, FC Nantes, and even FC Lorient. The glory years of Les Pirates are thin and forgettable outside the leaking temporary stands of the Stade Francis Le Blé, they’ve never played in a European competition, and until this season their best-ever finish to a campaign was a lone eighth place secured in the 1987/88 season. 

A former Rennes man to the rescue  

All Brest needed was a victory and they would have shattered their own history as they travelled to the Roazhon Park to play Rennes. However, the finish to the season has shown the jitters that can come with the weight of expectations. Brest came into the match on a two-game losing streak, and their defence which had been the tightest in the league had conceded nine in their last three (31% of all the goals they had conceded so far this season). 

By the 90th minute, it had looked like the opportunity was wasted for Brest as they searched for a desperate winner. They had come so close to securing European football on the grounds of their more fancied and richer rivals and watched it dissipate from their grasp. Les Pirates had battled back from 2-0 down within the first ten minutes to mount a 4-2 comeback, only to concede two more, leaving the scores level with little left to play. The last kick of the game saw Matthias Pereira Lage’s freekick find Lilian Brassier. 

The former Rennes academy player headed home the winner to ensure that the club would at the very least play in the Europa Conference League next season. It was probably not the career trajectory he had in mind when he first signed his professional contract with the Les Rouges et Noirs, most players imagine scoring that kind of goal for their formative club rather than against them in the local derby. 

Champions League in touching distance for Brest

The season is far from over even if the celebrations have already begun in Brest. European qualification is an achievement, but the Champions League remains the target with three games left to play and five points separating them from OGC Nice in fifth. Although Roy will never admit it, this has been the goal for much of the season, ever since their impressive start to the campaign proved to be no flash in the pan. 

The manager has made a concerted effort to lower expectations throughout the campaign. As far back as February, Roy was singularly keen to talk about survival when discussing his team’s prospects, and it was only once the club had met their preseason target of the 40-point safety net would he begin to admit that they could readjust their objectives. And with the chance of playing in the Champions League within touching distance, you can expect Roy not to mention their holy grail. 

The promised land has never been closer for the small club in Brittany, and with two more victories in their last three games, they’ll have secured their place among Europe’s elite. However, work remains to be done, and the jitters that have begun to creep into their game need to be settled. 

This week’s Ligue 1 subplots
  • PSG won the league for the twelfth time on Sunday night when AS Monaco dropped points to Olympique Lyonnais. The champions had battled to a 3-3 draw at home to Le Havre but faced fierce criticism from the Metz manager. Frustrated that their relegation rivals picked up points against a much-rotated side. Find out more HERE

  • PSG’s dominance in men’s football once again did not translate to their pursuits in the women’s game. Lyon remain the dominant force in French football after they defeated their rivals in the Champions League semi-final to set up a clash with Barcelona on the 21st of May. Read the match report HERE

  • The worst day of my career,” was how Will Still described it. Stade de Reims had collapsed to a 4-1 defeat against bottom-placed Clermont Foot. The Champagne club have been off the pace since January and the latest setback was just another sign that things are not right for the Anglo-Belgian’s squad. Read the full story HERE.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

More European Football News