Coupe de France Preview – Red Star FC v Arles-Avignon
There may be a division between these two teams, as Red Star welcome Arles-Avignon to the Stade Bauer, but there isn’t actually much of a gap. Red Star lie third in National on 29 points, just three points off their city rivals Paris FC at the winter break; Arles-Avignon are dead last in Ligue 2 with ten points after 18 games, nine off safety, and already looking doomed.
The final games of 2014 summed up their relative positions – Red Star got a 5-0 win away at Istres, with all the goals coming in the second half and a Kevin Lefaix brace meaning he takes topscorer status back off David Bellion; Arles lost 4-0 at home to Troyes. They’ve scored 13 goals and conceded 32 so far. Red Star have scored 27, conceded 13.
So, given respective form, position, and home advantage, the biggest upset here would be if the Ligue 2 team comes away victorious. They have just had a managerial change, Victor Zvunka coming in to try to turn things around for his eighteenth managerial appointment – his finest hour probably winning this competition with Guingamp in 2009. Their squad is peppered with familiar but ageing names – Jonathan Zebina, Gael Givet, Pascal Chimbonda – and having made it to the huitiemes of the league cup, they were seen off 2-0 by Guingamp; so far in the Coupe de France they have beaten fifth-tier Aix 4-0, and fourth-tier Lyon Duchere 3-1, both away from home, but the capital club will be a much sterner test. It looks like they will have to face it without their captain Erwan Quintan, as well as Zebina and Dioga Rosado, who are reported to have terminated their contracts for a variety of personal reasons.
Red Star have an illustrious history in this competition if you are fan of the history of this competition – they have won it five times, last in 1942, but their place in the record books assured by winning three in a row in the 1920s (a feat matched only by LOSC in the 1940s). Since then, they have made four quarter-final appearances, most recently in 1992. They have so far knocked out sixth-tier Noeux-les-Mines and fifth-tier Forbach, both away from home.
After a nightmarish start to the new millennium, involving sporting and administrative relegation down to the sixth tier, Red Star recovered back up to the CFA in 2006, and in 2011 made it to National; now they are looking to make it back to the second tier for the first time since the 1990s, and are doing so with a mixture of still-reliable veterans and promising youngsters. Lefaix has seven goals in the league, Bellion has six, backed up by Nicolas Belvito in attack and Florian Makhedjouf chipping in from midfield. Their other blast-from-the-past news is that ex-Algerian international and former journeyman in the English leagues Hameur Bouazza also came in in the summer.
On paper, this looks like a home win, and it could be a big one – unless Arles-Avignon have some kind of massive Zvunka-inspired reboot over the winter break, their inability to score or defend against teams of a similar level does not give you much hope for their chances.