For a change we’re going to start this week’s review at the bottom of the Ligue 1 table, in homage to Nancy and Troyes, who both achieved rare victories – Nancy’s their first since the first weekend of the season and Troyes’ their first since mid-December and only their third of the campaign.
Nancy’s win, 2-1 at home to Lorient, overseen by caretaker manager Patrick Gabriel, sees them move to within 6 points of safety. Survival still seems a tough task, but if they can match their second-half-of-the-season form from last year, then they still have a good chance.
As for Troyes, they played some excellent football in beating Brest 2-1 and could afford to have another perfectly valid goal wrongly ruled out for offside. Some of Troyes’ attacking play this season has been excellent, with Nivet, Darbion and Camus in particular impressing. Defensive mistakes and the lack of a reliable goalscorer have left them in a position that does not reflect some of their play. But, now five points from safety, they can approach the remainder of the season with increasing confidence.
Completing the zone rouge are Reims, who stretched their run of matches without victory to 14 games, after a 1-1 home draw with Toulouse. The team’s poor form is not being helped by the absence of their excellent goalkeeper Kossi Agassa, off at the Africa Cup of Nations, and his replacement Placide should have made a better fist of keeping out Capoue’s opener (although the excellent 1-2 between Capoue and Tabanou deserved a goal); things are not looking good for France’s former giants.
Back to the top of the table now. Last week we said that a team that wins when playing badly wins championships. Well if teams need luck to win titles, PSG are well set, after their 1-0 win at home to Lille. The Nordistes matched the Parisians throughout but the home side rode their luck, seeing de Melo hit the post (to be fair, so did Zlatan), and getting away with Rodelin’s headed goal being very harshly ruled out for a Roux off-side, before triumphing thanks to a defensive gnarls-up involving Elana and Chedjou.
Remaining in touch with PSG are Lyon, who shook off the disruption of numerous transfer rumours, which Remis Garde and Vercoutre had lamented before the match, with an impressive 2-0 win at downwardly-mobile Valenciennes. Lyon played some excellent football in the first half, their line led by Gomis, a late replacement for Lisandro, who was ill / injured / Juventus-bound, depending on which story you want to go with.
PSG and Lyon, level on 45 points, are now 3 points clear of third-placed Marseille, who looked set for their eighth away win in twelve, before conceding a late equaliser to fourth-placed Rennes, who remain six points behind the Marseillais.
Now one point behind Rennes are Bordeaux, who came away with a very impressive 1-0 win at Nice, whom they replace in fifth place. A pretty impressive way to allay any fears the Bordeaux fans may have had about the Yoann Gouffran-sized hole that has been left up front (and the absence of Jussiê, who had weighed in with some Europa goals, in advance of his move to Al-Wasl). If Henri Saivet continues to develop the way he has been this season, with Bellion in support, that hole will quickly be filled.
The middle of the table is bunching up again, with Saint-Etienne, seemingly over their turn-of-the-year blip, back up to seventh, a point behind Bordeaux and Nice and above Lorient on goal difference. Les Verts scored the most impressive win of the weekend, comprehensively beating Bastia 3-0 at the Geoffroy-Guichard, including one goal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – his first in twelve matches!
Elsewhere, Montpellier took immediate revenge on Sochaux, days after being knocked out of the Coupe de France by the same team. The defending champions ran out 2-0 winners on an awful Mosson pitch, the first goal a smart volley by the fast-improving Emmanuel Herrera, consigning Sochaux to their first defeat in five matches, in all competitions.
And in the final match of the weekend, Evian and Ajaccio will keep looking nervously over their shoulders after a 1-1 draw which doesn’t particularly suit either team, although Ajaccio will be heartened by a debut goal for Kenyan Denis Oliech, signed on loan from Auxerre (although it was made by spectacularly bad Evian defending).
On to the week’s awards, beginning with goalkeeping ricket of the week. A few contenders this week. Placide has already been mentioned, and Ahamada, who had an otherwise excellent performance (including a penalty save), perhaps could have done better on Reims’ equaliser in the same match. The usually reliable Fabien Audard also could have done more to prevent both of Nancy’s goals. And Steeve Elana’s failed attempt to gather a tame cross, knocking the ball into the goal via the unfortunate Aurelien Chedjou’s chest (2:02 in), was a pretty major boo-boo, which may yet be pivotal in the title race.
However, boulette of the week goes to Steve Mandanda (2:25 in), whose attempt to catch a cross/shot from Sane was arguably worse than Elana’s, allowing the ball to squirm off a post and into the grateful Alessandrini’s path.
Two new categories just for this week. First, assist of the week. No award-winner but just props to some fabulous passes decisives – including Valbuena’s pass to André Ayew for Marseille’s opener, Benschop’s classy control and through-ball to set up Ben Basat for Brest’s goal, Plasil’s excellent ball wide to Saivet (1:28 in) for his great strike for Bordeaux and Joshua Guilavogui’s perfectly weighted caviar to Aubameyang (2:18 in).
Second is near-miss of the week. Several unlucky candidates – including Evian’s Ninkovic (2:20 in), whose brilliant improvised aile de pigeon backheeled flick whilst off-balance was palmed clear by a stretching Ochoa, Florian Thauvin, whose superb turn deserved a better outcome than a shot inches wide, and Yannick Djalo (1:12 in), whose great shot for Toulouse came back off the crossbar, as did Neal Maupay’s cute chip for Nice.
We end the week, as ever, with goals of the week. And we’re going to do a bit of cheating again…
In third place are both of Lyon’s goals against Valenciennes. The first an excellent shot from distance by Fofana which swerved out of Penneteau’s reach; the second a great striker’s goal from Gomis, running to the near post and finishing high past the keeper, but only after superb build-up play involving Fofana, Reveillere and Lacazette.
In second place are both of Troyes’ goals against Brest. The first an Absurd-ly good free kick from Camus which left Brest keeper Thebaux looking philosophical (he does Create Dangerously – ed.); the second a perfectly placed long-range effort from Darbion after a pass from Camus (added bonus of Troyes scoring – Magnum PI music played over the speakers).
This week’s winner is Lorient’s Jeremie Aliadière, who conjured the memory of his old teammate Thierry Henry with an excellent individual effort, slaloming past the whole Nancy defence, before side-footing home just inside the far post (0:58).
Tune into @FrenchFtWeekly and @FFW_Live next weekend for coverage of another great round of matches, including Toulouse hosting PSG, an entertaining looking match between Lille and Troyes, and what should be a great Brittany derby between Lorient and Rennes.