Tours FC v Saint-Etienne – Preview
The team fourth in Ligue 1 vs the team 3rd bottom of Ligue 2. Tick the box marked “away win” and move on? As if. The Coupe de France would never make things that easy.
For St Etienne this will in all likelihood prove to be a much trickier fixture to negotiate than mere league standings would suggest. For starters, their opponents’ lowly standing isn’t a truly accurate reflection of the kind of outfit they are.
Tours may well have lost at home last weekend to Ligue 2 leaders Troyes, but before that they’d gone two months without a defeat, bashing in goal after goal against all-comers over that period. Included in that was a straightforward 3-1 win in the 8th round of the cup against Le Mans, featuring goals from the usual suspects: Bryan Bergougnoux, Youssef Adnane and the man with possibly the most pleasant-sounding name in French football, Billy Ketkeophomphone. Those three now have 24 goals between them in all competitions and even though they’re up against Ligue 1’s meanest defence, we can still expect Tours to cause a problem or three.
Tours have the advantage of being able to go into this match with almost no pressure on them. No-one really expects them to overcome Sainté; despite last week’s defeat they are still in decent form and they have home field advantage to boot. Their opponents, meanwhile, might be distracted by a somewhat bigger fish lurking just around the corner.
Four days after this match Sainte-Etienne will take on PSG at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard, and a win would automatically catapult them into the title race. Going with his first team in a cup match four days prior to such a big game therefore constitutes a serious risk for coach Christophe Galtier. But a defeat in the cup, even if it’s only the reserves doing the losing, could fatally compromise ASSE’s momentum heading into such an important game. And whoever gets picked, there’s every chance that they’ll be preoccupied with Sunday’s game more than the one at hand.
What they will definitely be looking to avoid is what happened in the last round, when what was essentially a first XI took on another Ligue 2 side – Nancy – and got dragged into a scrap that took 120 minutes to resolve.
So Galtier has to decide how best to motivate his charges for this match when another, one that might define their season, is probably main thing on his players’ minds. He has to decide which players would be best suited to the task, in terms of both mentality and squad management. He needs to put together a plan that can both stifle free-scoring opponents in good form and settle the outcome as quickly as possible. Quite the balancing act, but certainly not beyond the talents of arguably the most astute manager in French football; ASSE to shade a tight encounter 2-1.