Stade Rennais: 2013/14 Season Review
The phrase “consistently inconsistent” can apply to so many teams in Ligue 1, but this season it seemed to perfectly sum up the performances of Stade Rennais.
After a summer of cautious optimism following the surprise capture of the highly-regarded Philippe Montanier, more was expected of les Rouges et Noirs after a horror ending to the 2012/13 season. It was however not quite to be as Rennes bucked their recent trend of an excellent first half of the season only to be followed by a dreadful second half. 2013/14 will be remembered more as a “two steps forward, two steps back” kind of season.
On paper, the most marginal of progressions has been made on the previous season with Rennes finishing one place higher, in 12th, albeit with exactly the same amount of points. The most frustrating sight for the fans has been when you look at who they have won and lost points from. On the one hand they took four points from PSG, Lyon, Marseille and Saint-Etienne as well two points from Lille, only to fail to take points from Sochaux and Guingamp, only one point from Valenciennes and being one of only four teams to have lost to Ajaccio.
All of this however has been identified by many, including Montanier, as a season of transition. A season to get his ideas embedded into the team and there are certainly signs that the team is starting to come round to his way of thinking which worked so well at Real Sociedad. The negative tactics synonymous with the end of the Antonetti era have gone. Rennes have become a team strong on the counter attack, especially utilising the latest young talents that have come through on the never-ending academy conveyor belt.
The key to Rennes’ season seems to have been the January transfer window and the triple capture of Kamil Grosicki, Ola Toivonen and Paul-Georges Ntep, the latter a significant coup for the club and Ligue 1 and another statement of intent for the future. All three made a huge impact to the team with goals and assists left, right and centre.
There was a wobble, and quite a big one at that, during March when there were consecutive losses to Guingamp, Valenciennes and Toulouse with Benoit Costil admitting that “we were worried about Ligue 2 after the loss to Toulouse”. In typical Rennes fashion, they then went and secured a 1-0 victory away to Marseille with another breakaway goal.
There was a return to the Stade de France for a consecutive season as Montanier steered Rennes to the final of the Coupe de France for a repeat of the 2009 final against Guingamp. Despite being marginal favourites and roared on by a capacity crowd of “lively” Bretons, the result remained the same with Guingamp, rapidly becoming Rennes’ bogey side, walking away with the prize. More drama was to follow as angry fans turned up to the training session early the following week where a confrontation between them and Foued Kadir and Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik lead to the latter being suspended and now looking likely to leave the club.
Former president Rene Ruello made his return to the club shortly after the season finished, replacing the outgoing Frederic de Saint-Sernin. With Ruello now also holding a stake in the club along with the Pinault-owned entity Artemis, it might be that the club could be willing to make the investment in the team to make the next big step.
Consistency then remains the issue with Rennes but with Montanier at the helm and the signs we have seen this season, things may just be on the verge of taking a turn for the better. Maybe.
The player that made the difference
Despite such a topsy-turvy season, there were actually a number of standout players for Rennes. Club captain and Breton boy come good, Romain Danze, remains the representative of the fans on the pitch. His leadership at times has been key and again proved to be a rare reliable presence for the club. This season we saw the emergence of potentially the next big player to come through the legendary Rennes academy. After coming back from a nasty knee injury, Abdoulaye Doucoure put in a number of massive performances for the team. His energy and ability to run the length of the pitch time and time again really helped the team develop their counter attacking strategy and with six goals, more will be expected of him next season. The winter transfer window arrivals, notably Ntep and Toivonen, added flair, skill and more importantly goals to the team, with 12 goals between them including Rennes’ goal of the season from Toivinen against Bastia and the “cheeky” Ntep finish against Reims.
However there remains only really one player who can be put forward in this category. 2013/14 will be remembered as the standout season for Benoit Costil. The goalkeeper put in match-winning performance after match-winning performance. His shot-stopping abilities are second to none, mistakes are few and far between and he has become one of the most dependable goalkeepers in the division. Quite how he didn’t make the UNFP shortlist for goalkeeper of the season we’ll never know. Thank goodness our readers saw sense in our own poll! The 26 year old played every minute of every league game, has run away with the Rennes player of the season poll with over 75% of the votes and can consider himself very unlucky not to have been part of the French World Cup squad. Rennes will do well to keep him over the summer.
Stand out game of the season
While the wins over Lyon, Marseille, Saint-Etienne and PSG (again!) were impressive, Rennes fans will probably best remember the 3-0 win over fierce rivals Nantes at the Stade de la Beaujoire. It was a day where everything clicked for Rennes. They nullified the vociferous home support with an excellent performance which highlighted all the good that Montanier has introduced to the team. The performance was helped further with the fact that all three goals were classy efforts each showing off how well they can play when everything gels together. Ntep got his first for the club which demonstrated the enormous potential he carries, beating his man before powering a finish from an almost impossible angle. Anders Konradsen surprised many with a rocket of a shot from 25 yards, and finally a counter-attack led to Toivonen showing his poise in front of goal with a lovely dink over the goalkeeper. A great showing and perfect revenge for the defeat in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Where can they improve this summer?
It’s been said before and it’ll be said again. Rennes need to find a way to put together consistent performances. They will always struggle if they beat PSG in Paris one week then lose at home to Sochaux the next. Montanier has been unafraid to play the young academy products but perhaps at times a little more experience and a little more savviness has been needed. The introduction of a handful of more senior players will only help the team and will also benefit the development of the youngsters. At times the midfield has looked a little outmuscled and they have been swamped which often then leaves Toivonen completely stranded alone up front. It may be an area Montanier also looks to improve upon. In the summer however it seems that the defence will be the key area. Both Kana-Biyik and John Boye seem destined to leave and while Steven Moreira and Cedric Hountondji have proved very able deputies, another experienced centre back and left back may be on Montanier’s shopping list.