OK, so (PSG aside) we don’t have the riches of the Premier League. And yes, Montpellier and Lille’s aggregate total of 1 point out of 24 so far in the Champions League isn’t ideal. But this season’s Ligue 1 is promising to be by far the most compelling league in Europe this year.
After this week’s round of matches, 2 points separate the top 6, 4 points separate the top 9 and it is also only the 4 points separating 10th place Reims and the first rélégable Sochaux in 18th. Add to this the fact that this week’s joint-season-high 33 goals scored have brought the season’s total up to 321 – the highest at this stage of the season in 28 years – and it’s fair to say this year has been a blinder so far. (Let’s face it – even the 40 red cards so far – whilst too high and surely saying more about the quality of refereeing than the dirtiness of the players – adds something to the excitement!)
On to the details of week 12. For the teams at the top, it was a week of missed opportunities, with first Marseille and Lyon, and then PSG, missing the chance to make a break at the top of the table, with draws – 2-2 at home to Nice, 1-1 away to Sochaux and 1-1 away to Montpellier (playing with poppies on their shirts) respectively. Toulouse, too, continued their choke from last week, surprisingly going down 4-2 to Ajaccio, thanks in the main to some awful defending (although defender Abdennour showed a striker’s composure in scoring the team’s second).
Obviously, missed opportunities by some must mean opportunities grasped by others. This week’s big winners were Saint-Etienne, who continued their recent good form with a routine 2-0 home win against Troyes, and Bordeaux, who ran riot, winning 4-0 at Lorient. Les Merlus’ great start to the season is looking like a distant memory, with their defence in disarray – 16 goals conceded in the last 4 games. Both Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux are now only 2 points behind leaders PSG and OM in 4th and 6th place and sitting in between them are VA-rcelona – Valenciennes playing some stunning football once again in their 3-2 win at Bastia.
Elsewhere, Lille have crept up to 7th with a 1-0 win against Brest – with Mavuba back and Martin and Kalou looking like they’re beginning to settle in, les Dogues will be expecting to go on a strong run now. Similarly, Rennes are in excellent recent form and complete the top 9 after their 3-1 win at rock bottom Nancy. Erding and Alessandrini are beginning to develop an excellent understanding (more on that later), although they were helped out in this match by some atrocious goalkeeping and by Nancy’s crazy decision to give a penalty – which would have made the score 2-2 – to someone who had been on the pitch for less than two minutes.
Nancy and Troyes are in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom, as they lie 6 and 4 points behind the two teams straddling the relegation zone – Sochaux, who followed their crucial midweek win against Evian with a well deserved draw against Lyon (it is no coincidence that Boudebouz starred in both matches), and Evian, who bounced back from that defeat with a surprise 2-1 win at Reims.
For the week’s awards we’ll start with goalkeepers. As mentioned earlier, Ndy Assembe had a mare for Nancy, caught in no man’s land for Rennes’ first, sprinting out kamikazily for the third after Haidara’s mistake, and flapping at everything that came near him in between. Toulouse’s Ali Ahamada, who did not have one of his better evenings, will be grateful that someone else was around to take the booby prize. As for save of the day, Vercoutre came up with a great stop from a Privat header (0:58 in), and Laquait made a great double-save for Evian. But this week’s winner is David Ospina, who followed up an earlier penalty save with an outstanding stop (1:09 in), showing excellent reactions to claw the ball off the line after an Ayew shot had come back off the bar and his back. Unfortunately the save ultimately meant nothing as Valbuena followed up to score, before treating us to one of the least graceful celebrations in history.
For miss of the week, the award goes to Benoit Cheyrou for missing the target with a header from inside the six yard box. He just edges Dmitri Payet, who missed the target with a header when left totally unmarked in the centre of goal (1:15 in), and Brandao, who also failed to find the target when sent clear with only the keeper to beat. Fortunately for the Brazilian, we don’t have his miss. Unfortunately for the Frenchmen, we do have theirs!
Ending as ever with goal of the week, this has arguably been the toughest contest this season, with some crackers scored. Cohade’s close control and 1-2 with a Troyes defender before a classy finish deserves a mention, as does Kadir’s first for Valenciennes (see below), finishing after a beautiful pass from Danic – his sixth passe decisive of the season. Sloan Privat’s goal for Sochaux was also a bit classy – good defending to win the ball back, before Boudebouz and Privat’s long range 1-2 put the striker through to score. Zenke’s in-vain equaliser for Nancy, cutting in and powering home after a clever pass from Mollo (see below) also impressed.
In third place is that man Foued Kadir again for his second against Bastia (1:20 in), curling the ball into the top corner from 25 yards after great hold-up play from Dossevi (Kadir followed up his goal and two assists last week with two goals and one assist this time round). Dossevi’s goal wasn’t bad either – do Valenciennes know how to score scrappy goals?!
In second place comes Maxwell. In a very entertaining match, despite a couple of contentious red cards, the PSG defender showed some Brazilian class with a beautiful chip over Jourdren, after good work by new dad Menez (0:36 in).
Maxwell’s strike would have won goal of the week most weeks but he has been pipped by Alessandrini’s thunderbolt for Rennes (0:55). With the score at 1-1 and Nancy building up a head of steam, a long ball forward was flicked on, first by M’Vila and then expertly by Erding, before falling to Alessandrini, hovering on the corner of the penalty area. As the ball fell he unleashed an unstoppable volley which no keeper – let alone Ndy Assembe on Friday’s form – would have saved.
So, Ligue 1 is beautifully poised heading into matchday13, with some intriguing ties to look forward to, including out-of-sorts Lorient hosting in-sorts Lille on Friday, Saturday seeing shaky leaders PSG against bang in form Rennes, joga bonitas Valenciennes against champions Montpellier and a massive basement battle between Troyes and Nancy, before the headline match on Sunday evening as Bordeaux host Marseille.