Coupe de la Ligue Quarter-Finals – Tuesday : Nantes v Nancy and Sochaux v Monaco
We’re yet to see the return of Ligue 1 in France, but the cup competitions continue apace this mid-week with the quarterfinals of the Coupe de la Ligue. Monaco, authors of a 7-0 defeat of Rennes in the previous round, look to be co-favorites with a suddenly resurgent Paris Saint-Germain, and face the last remaining Ligue 2 side, FC Sochaux. Elsewhere, new Nantes manager Sergio Conciecao has dramatically improved his team’s lot as well, and we look set for an entertaining set of fixtures.
FC Nantes v AS Nancy, 18:30
Nantes are one of Ligue 1’s teams that look to be relatively unaffected by the Africa Cup of Nations, as none of their players have been selected for the tournament. Veteran goalkeeper Remy Riou is the team’s only absence ahead of the match, and Conciecao’s priorities will be clear, as both Amine Harit and Guillaume Gillet started on the bench against Blois at the weekend.
A win in this competition against Montpellier was the manager’s first fixture in charge, and he knows how important a good cup run can be for a team’s confidence, no small point for a team in a relegation battle. With youngster Maxime Dupé ready to replace Riou in goal, the team have the necessary depth to both avoid the drop and continue to compete in the cups. At home in front of the Beaujoire, the crowd will also be a factor, and Les Canaris look well set to be in the semi-finals.
Nancy, however, shouldn’t be underestimated. The club have a penchant for surprising results, as their elimination of Saint-Étienne in the previous round should make clear. After scrapping about in the bottom three for most of the season, the club have lost only once in nine matches, moving well clear of relegation.
Manager Pablo Correa has employed a madcap rotation as regards his playing staff, and will hardly be troubled by the departure of Clement Lenglet to Sevilla or Youssef Ait Bennasser and Serge N’Guessan’s AFCON call-ups. Alou Diarra played a strong match in central defense in the cup at the weekend, partnering Michael Chrétien for 45 minutes, while youngster Faitout Maouassa also impressed. Goals have been an issue, to be sure, but Correa has impressed the importance of diligence and team spirit upon his squad, meaning Nancy have evolved into a tough ask for any opponent.
FC Sochaux-Montbéliard v AS Monaco, 21:00
Sochaux have done well to carry the Ligue 2 flag to this point, beating top-flight opponents in Marseille and Dijon along the way. They also beat current Ligue 2 leaders Brest, and Albert Cartier has taken this competition seriously to date. The club’s league season has been an uneven, as a bright start faded in autumn, the team slipping from the podium to mid-table.
Their form has improved of late, winning five of six in all competitions, but several notable absences could derail their hopes at another deep cup run. Without central defenders Adolphe Teikeu (Africa Cup of Nations) and Jerome Onguéné (Coupe Gambardella), as well as left back/defensive midfielder Jeando Fuchs (injured), and midfielder Florian Tardieu (suspended), a lack of depth could be a real issue for a team which has prided itself on its defense; only Nice have conceded fewer goals in France this season.
Monaco, by contrast, will welcome back Thomas Lemar, Kamil Glik and Tiemoué Bakayoko, all of whom missed the team’s win over AC Ajaccio on Friday. The club are also a rare exception in French football in that they won’t be losing any players to AFCON, meaning that the team’s youngsters (Almamy Touré, Kylian Mbappé-Lottin, Abdou Diallo) will remain hungry for playing time.
Even though Sochaux will host the match, Jardim’s side will have a clear advantage, even if he does play a slightly rotated side ahead of the weekend’s trip to Marseille. Sochaux may have one advantage in the form of a bitter cold snap that has gripped France of late, but Monaco, defeated by their hosts in last season’s Coupe de France, will also be seeking a measure of revenge. It’s hard to see this going the way of a depleted Sochaux, but stranger things have happened.