Have Rennes Climbed A Montanier?
We are now 6 games into the Phillipe Montanier era at Stade Rennais. Have things changed? Is it a happy camp? Have the demons been banished? Let’s take a look.
A lot has already been said about just how woefully last season finished for Rennes. Heads were down, confidence was low and performances on the pitch were poor. In the end it was Antonetti out and Montanier in; a coup for Rennes after he led Real Sociedad to a surprise 4th place in La Liga, and Champions League qualification.
So, what has the Montanier impact been on the club which was in crisis at the end of last season?
For starters, a lot has been said by the players about the training programme Montanier has introduced. Both he and his assistant, Michel Troin, are advocates of short sprints rather than long runs. They have looked to introduce possession play where the defence is a key part, with attacks built from them. Jean II Makoun commented that “if everyone defends well, the defensive midfielder will not be seen. The attack starts from the centre of defence”. Montanier has looked to introduce more set positions so that players understand the area of the pitch to focus on, rather than under Antonetti, where a number of times the midfield, especially, looked disjointed.
He has stuck to the familiar 4-3-3 formation but is happy for that to revert to 4-5-1 when defending. As seen by his match-day squads, he is unafraid to give the young players a chance in the league. Already this season, debuts have been handed to Adrien Hunou, Zana Allee, Wesley Said, Steven Moreira and Tiemoue Bakayoko, all products of the famous Rennes academy. Add in the likes of Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik, Cedric Hountondji, Vicent Pajot and Anders Konradsen along with loan signing Nelson Oliveira and you have a lengthy list of players 24 and under who have all played a part already this season.
Montanier has also been unafraid to wield the axe and following defensive mistakes in the game against Nice, both Kevin Theophile-Catherine and Yassine Jebbour were sold. It should be added that in Theophile-Catherine’s case, he was sold as he wanted a change after ten years with the club and, unlike Jebbour’s transfer, was not rumoured to be due to a poor attitude following the Nice game. Victor Montano, Mevlut Erding and Chris Mavinga have also moved to pastures new after being told they were not going to be part of Montanier’s plans this season. His tough side was again on show during the summer following the on/off transfer/non-transfer of Romain Alessandrini to Marseille. In the end the Rennes coach stood his ground and Alessandrini stayed with the club. However following the player’s recent comments, we’ll see if he stays come January.
Montanier has also sent a number of players out on loan in order to secure them game time, however in the case of Dimitri Foulquier the fact that his loan move to Granada includes a rumoured purchase option for the Spanish club does seem a little strange for a highly promising rightback who won the Under 20 World Cup with France in the summer.
It was clear last season that the defence was an issue as they leaked 59 goals (4th worst in Ligue 1). Montanier has sought to rectify this and following a number of experienced signings in Sylvain Armand and Cheikh M’Bengue, a solid defensive unit has been established. At the time of writing they have only conceded 4 goals and are on a run of 3 consecutive clean sheets.
In addition to strengthening the defence, Montanier has sought to add options in attack. The capture of Oliveira, Foued Kadir and Silvio Romero has given him that and with 3 goals from Oliveira and 2 from Kadir already, they are options which appear to be successful.
Following on from a disastrous last season, Montanier was keen to improve the mental attributes of the team. It was common knowledge that the team struggled to lift their heads after a loss and once one loss became two, the mood in the camp hit rock bottom. Montainier therefore wanted to inject a positive attitude into the side and to a large extent this has been successful, club captain Romain Danze commenting that “Montanier told us all to smile and take pleasure in training. He brings a good mood every day which is important to us”. This was echoed by Armand who said “within 2 weeks I felt comfortable in the dressing room without feeling afraid to talk and laugh”.
It therefore does appear that 6 games into the season, Montanier has had a positive effect on the team. They currently lie in 7th place following victories over Reims, Evian and Ajaccio, draws against Lille and Lyon and just the one defeat away at Nice. The mood in the side is positive, and the players are enjoying themselves, something which cannot be undervalued. The defence is looking strong, goals are being scored and good results are being achieved. It very much seems that the club have put last season behind them and drawn a line under the Antonetti era.
While it is still early days and Rennes age-old “second half of the season syndrome” could still come back to haunt them, the plans have been put in place to give them as a good a chance as any to break that particular curse.
For now then it seems the Montanier effect has become a quietly efficient system. As a Rennes fan myself, long may it continue!