Last weekend saw a week off for Ligues 1 and 2, due to the programme of international matches. The league focus was therefore on the Championnat National and, serendipitously, the headline match saw a clash between the two teams sitting at the top of the table, each with five wins out of five.
US Créteil-Lusitanos began the day top of the table, the club from the Parisian suburbs ahead of FC Metz by one goal’s difference, and the match promised to be an interesting affair, between two clubs of differing history and styles: Metz, one of the few fully professional teams in the National, with their rich heritage and the recent trauma of having been relegated to the third tier for the first time; Créteil who had never reached Ligue 1 and last year finished only half-way down the National table.
Metz, the hosts for the evening, were expected to continue their early-season brand of attacking football, based around their young, speedy forwards, while Créteil would be continuing their more robust tactics and relying on set-pieces, delivered by the cultured left foot of midfielder Jean-Michel Lesage.
The match went according to type, particularly in the first half. Alhassane Keita sent the 10,000-strong Saint-Symphorien crowd wild as early as the second minute with the opener, but for much of the half, Créteil had the better of proceedings, and were unlucky to see a Cheikh N’Doye header come off the bar with Metz keeper Johann Carrasso (Cedric’s brother, on loan from Rennes) beaten. However, demonstrating the same réalisme, or clinical instinct, that they showed the previous week in dispatching Quevilly 6-3, Metz stretched their lead on 40 minutes, new signing Moussa Gueye marking his debut with a shot on the rebound after a parry from Créteil keeper Antoine Philippon. The visitors did pull a goal back on the stroke of half-time, Bagaliy Dabo sneaking in at the far post to meet another Créteil free-kick. However, the team’s good work was almost instantly undone, as Christophe Diedhiou was given a red card for remonstrating with the referee as the players left the pitch.
This allowed Metz to see out the second half relatively comfortably, particularly after attacking midfielder Bouna Sarr made the deficit two again, after a run from the halfway line, early in the second period.
So a 3-1 Metz victory provided a well-needed tonic to manager and club legend Albert Cartier, who was in hospital at the time with suspected appendicitis, and they remain unbeaten – in fact they are eight victories for eight so far this season, with two Coupe de la Ligue wins over Ligue 2 Sedan and Tours included – while Créteil suffer their first defeat but still look strong and well set for a promotion challenge.
In a couple of years’ time, Metz may have reason to come to see last year’s relegation as a blessing in disguise. It has given the club a chance to take stock, to make wholesale changes both on and off the pitch, and to give a very young, talented side – many of whom formed part of the Coupe Gambardella-winning side in 2010 – the chance to gain some experience at a lower level. It would be a disaster if Metz were to fail to gain promotion this season, and it is important that they retain their players (they remain a selling club and even last week lost young starlet Sadio Mane to Salzburg). But Albert Cartier will ensure that the players retain their focus – Carrasso noted in France Football this week that “he gives us the hairdryer treatment when needed, despite our winning streak”. And if they can keep their core, including talented centre back Romain Metanire, prodigal son and midfield lynchpin Gregory Proment (who confirmed, also to France Football, that he took a two-thirds cut in salary in order to be able to return to help his first club: “it’s for the love of the shirt that I’ve returned to Metz”), and exciting attackers such as Yeni N’Gbakoto, Sarr and Diafra Sakho, there could be positive times ahead for Les Grenats.
Elsewhere in the National, last year’s Coupe de France heroes Quevilly have come back to earth with a bump, rooted to the bottom of the table after defeat, 1-0, in a bottom-of-the-table clash against Luzenac. Friends of the site Red Star join the two of them in the relegation zone after a poor 4-1 reverse at Le Poiré-sur-Vie and Carquefou complete the bottom four after going down 2-1 to CA Bastia. Red Star’s Parisian neighbours Paris FC climbed out of the bottom four with a 2-1 victory over Lyon’s neighbours Bourg-Péronnas, while mid-table Cherbourg and Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël played out a 2-2 draw and Vannes defeated Uzès-Pont-du-Gard 1-0. Metz’s two fellow relegated teams are suffering mixed fortunes – Boulogne could only draw 2-2 at home to Epinal and are, albeit at this early stage in the season, only one point above the relegation zone, while Amiens make up the top three with Metz and Créteil after a good 2-0 win at Orleans. Another team which has begun well is SRC Colmar. They currently sit fourth, leapfrogging Rouen, whom they beat 2-1 away this weekend. Those in the Alsace-Lorraine region will be looking forward to a couple of Metz-Colmar games this year, having been starved of such regional match-ups since Strasbourg’s sad demise. If those matches could also be promotion clashes, further spice will be added.