A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Rich Allen analyses and gives his opinion here on the talking points in French football.
The past weekend saw Lyon emerge victorious against high flying Marseille, PSG are quickly overcoming talks about a crisis, Lyon’s problems and more talking points of last weekend’s footballing action are explored in this week’s French football column.
Lyon on the rise
As Lyon emerged victorious from Sunday night’s Olympico against Marseille, they now sit 3rd in the league. They put an end to Marseille’ run of eight straight wins with a disciplined performance which ticked all the important boxes: strong, determined, clinical and lucky. The spine of the team was the main reason behind the win with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, defender Samuel Umtiti, midfielders Maxime Gonalons and Yoann Gourcuff and forward Alexandre Lacazette at their very best. In the last few weeks it is these players who have really made the step up with their blend of strength, leadership, skill and finishing.
Early season jitters, injuries and doubts over new coach Hubert Fournier now seem a distant memory. Lyon are unbeaten in their last seven games, a run which stretches back to the end of August and includes wins over Monaco, Lille and Marseille as well as a draw in Paris. There is a growing feeling at the Stade de Gerland that last year’s indifferent season is behind them and with the likes of Gourcuff seemingly back to their best, a top three challenge is the least les Gones should be aiming for. They have a run of three games coming up that are eminently winnable in Nice, Guingamp and Bastia before their derby game against local rivals Saint-Etienne.
Crisis, what crisis?
For all the supposed problems that Paris Saint Germain have faced in the start to this season there are two important points to take note of. Despite the rather high number of draws, they remain undefeated this season. They have also almost quietly, considering the circus which follows them, risen to second in the table and will be in a much more positive frame of mind in the lead up to Le Classique in a couple of weeks’ time.
They have weathered their injury problems and their comfortable win over Bordeaux at the weekend saw the returns of both captain Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi. There were strong performances from Serge Aurier, who came on after Gregory van der Wiel was sent off, the ever reliable Blaise Matuidi and Lucas Moura who converted two penalties and in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has seemingly matured.
With Edinson Cavani to come back following suspension and the return of Ibrahimovic on the horizon, it seems the PSG juggernaut is picking up speed. One sour note for PSG from the Bordeaux win was that Thiago Motta picked up a booking that will keep him out of the Marseille game.
The Ligue 1 manager who is most under pressure at the moment is probably Lille boss Rene Girard. As Lille suffered their third consecutive league defeat away to Rennes on Sunday, les Dogues dropped to a disappointing 11th in the table. The big concern for Lille is their inability to find goals as they have found the net only eight times this season, the league’s worst record along with bottom of the table Guingamp. With Divock Origi inconsistent at best, possibly with his mind somewhere in Merseyside, Lille just don’t carry an ever present goal threat. Manchester City loanee Rony Lopes has looked dangerous at times but is currently out injured.
It is Girard’s insistence on playing a defensively minded midfield which generally includes a combination of Florent Balmont, Rio Mavuba, Idrissa Gueye or Jonathan Delaplace which whilst solid, doesn’t provide the necessary creativity to produce goalscoring chances. New signing Sebastian Corchia has proved disappointing at times, although this could in part be down to the fact that no-one seems certain where on the right side his best position is with right back, right midfield and right wing all positions he has occupied this season.
Last year, Lille could rely upon their incredibly solid defence to help grind out results. Unfortunately this same defence has struggled at times this season with seven goals conceded in their last three games. They still have one of the better defensive records in the league but with their backline not as reliable as last year and a distinct lack of goals, it looks like Lille will struggle to match their 3rd place finish.
Five star Eduardo
Not many will know the name Carlos Eduardo. The attacking midfielder, on loan to Nice from Porto, decided that Nice’s trip to Guingamp was the perfect time to rectify that. In a wonderful display, the Brazilian found the net an incredible five times in a 7-2 rout for the Cote d’Azur side. Eduardo had scored only five goals in 30 games for his Portuguese parent club before he secured a loan move to France. He opened his Ligue 1 account in the local derby against Monaco where he scored the winner for Nice and made himself an instant hit with les Aiglons faithful.
After Guingamp played out an encouraging draw away to Dinamo Minsk in the Europa League, many Nice fans may have felt a narrow win was the best they could hope for. 90 minutes later and those same fans would have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief as Nice and Eduardo went goal crazy. L’Equipe even awarded Eduardo a rare 10 out of 10 rating, only the eighth time they had awarded a player the top mark in their history.
Of course those ridiculously high standards will be impossible to keep up but with upcoming games against Metz, Evian Thonon Gaillard and Reims, Eduardo has every chance to keep his name in the spotlight.
Talent Radar Player of the Week
Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes): After many in recent weeks had accused Ntep of arrogant and selfish ways, the young winger came out firing in les Rouges et Noirs win over Lille. Ntep was at his best and despite missing a simple chance early in the game, produced a man of the match performance with two assists. He was a constant menace to the Lille defence and his assists really were a perfect display of what he is capable of. The first assist saw Ntep show off his electric pace as he beat Lille right back Frank Beria before delivering a perfect cross to cut out the Lille defence and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to leave Habib Habibou the simple task of heading home. His second assist saw Ntep break from deep in his own half, leaving the Lille players behind with his speed. He then cut inside and after a few stepovers which drew in three Lille defenders, played in the unmarked Abdoulaye Doucoure who coolly slotted home. A sparkling performance which saw him receive a standing ovation when substituted late in the game. Ntep made the Talent Radar Team of the Week for his performance.
Written by Rich Allen
- French Football Column: Lyon Stay on Top, Raphael Guerreiro impresses and more - January 21, 2015
- French Football Column: Lyon’s rise, Languishing Lille, 5 star Eduardo and more - October 29, 2014
- The Challengers to Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance in Ligue 1 - October 19, 2014