Coupe de France 32emes : Sunday Part I
Saint-Etienne vs Nimes
Although on paper, Ligue 1 giants at home to a Ligue 2 club should point to a relatively comfortable home win, this tie has potential upset warning alarms ringing. With Saint-Etienne winless since mid-October and sitting in 16th place in the Ligue 1 table, they are only six places ahead of Nimes, who have emerged as serious promotion candidates after a run of seven wins in their last eight Ligue 2 matches.
There is no doubt where Les Crocodiles’ strength lies: it is in the goalscoring department, their 40 league goals to date putting them four goals better than next-best Reims (who have played one match more). Leading the way for Nimes is Metz academy graduate and Turkish under-21 international Umut Bozok, who in his first season in Ligue 2 has 14 goals in 17 matches – including a run of three hattricks in three consecutive home matches. Bozok has been rested for Nimes’ two Coupe de France matches to date – a cruel 92nd minute goal accounting for Bozok’s previous team Marseille-Consolat in round 6, before a relatively comfortable win at seventh tier SC Anduzien.
Unsurprisingly, some of Ligue 1’s big boys are beginning to make eyes at Bozok – one such suitor being Lyon. A match-winning performance against Lyon’s hated rivals Saint-Etienne certainly wouldn’t do his chances of a move to les Gônes any harm!
Les Verts, meanwhile, are in disarray. Following a humiliating home 0-5 defeat in the Rhônes-Alpes derby, coach Oscar Garcia quit, strongly implying that he could no longer stand the intrusion and confusion behind the scenes. Events since have borne this out slightly, as Julien Sablé, whose passion for Saint-Etienne cannot be faulted but whose managerial credentials can, has come and gone, replaced by Jean-Louis Gasset. Co-Presidents Caiazzo and Romeyer continue to do their impressive of Dr Dolittle’s Push Me Pull You, Romeyer recently excelling himself with a pitchside temper-tantrum (in les Verts’ last home match – a 0-4 reverse against Monaco) which saw him having to be held back by Sablé from assaulting the referee.
Nimes – who also boast Mr Lousia Necib (aka Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaïba) in their ranks – have a good Coupe de France pedigree, reaching three finals, most recently in 1996 as they went down 2-1 to Auxerre’s double-winners. This year’s vintage could, with a good win here and a favourable draw, realistically aim to come close to reaching Paris again. Promotion will surely be a priority, however, and it will be interesting to see whether coach Bernard Blaquart continues to rest Bozok. If they choose to go all out for a win here, Gasset’s men should be fearful of the Crocodiles’ bite.
US Granville vs Bordeaux
With his team in freefall and his position looking a little shaky despite his board’s assurances that he is safe for now, the last thing that Bordeaux coach Jocelyn Gourvennec will have wanted was a Coupe de France trip to US Granville, who proved their Coupe credentials with a run to the quarter finals two seasons ago as a fifth-tier club, before giving Angers a scare last year.
Promoted in the same season as their Cup exploits, Granville are now in the National 2 (formerly the CFA, so fourth tier), sitting reasonably comfortably but disappointingly (they were hoping for promotion) in 11th place in their Group D table, most recently romping past Mantois 3-0. Their Cup run this season has taken place solely at their Stade Louis Dior home, a 3-2 win over National 3 team Vieron followed by a 2-1 win over National 2’s AS Vitré.
Three of the five goals were scored by Congolese international striker Ladislas Douniama. The resulting draw against Bordeaux will have been particularly meaningful for him as it means a reunion with Gourvennec, under whom he played at Guingamp, helping the team to promotion, a Coupe de France victory and a Europa League run.
Bordeaux, who last won the Cup in 2013 – the year before Gourvennec’s Guingamp glory – are in the doldrums, losing nine and winning only one of their last 12 Ligue 1 matches to slip to 15th in the table. With Jeremy Toulalan looking as mobile as Arkwright in defence and the team’s attack having as much success as he had with Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, something needs to change and the club has already dipped its toe into the transfer market, signing midfielder Soualiho Meite on loan from Monaco. Of more urgency is at least one decent defender, the retention of Malcom (at least until the summer) – and to find last season’s Benoit Costil and Nicolas de Preville.
Despite confirming that the match will take place at the Louis Dior (Caen’s Stade d’Ornano had been touted), and in spite of les Girondins’ poor form, Granville director Stephane Barbier still rates his club’s chances of winning at only 8 or 9%. Bordeaux will certainly start as favourites, but if they remain as open (all hours) as they have done recently at the back, Granville may pile on more misery for Gourvennec.
Strasbourg vs Dijon
Although shorn of potential giant-killing intrigue, this all-Ligue 1 clash has the potential to be one of the most entertaining ties of the round.
Both teams were among those tipped to be relegation candidates this season, but at the halfway stage they sit in a reasonably comfortable position, Dijon in 10th place and Strasbourg in 11th, both on 24 points and five clear of 18th placed Lille.
Not only have the two teams overachieved, but they have both done it playing an attractive brand of football. Like Pierre the French fighter pilot, they have decided that if they go down they will do so in flames – both have negative goal differences but while they concede lots, they score their fair share too. Dijon’s league matches have involved 61 goals and Strasbourg’s 55 – only the top 3 (top 4 in the case of the Alsaciens) can better that, and only the top 4 have outscored both teams.
This is all the more impressive bearing in mind that neither team has a striker in danger of threatening the top of the scoring charts: Dijon’s goals have been spread around with Kwon and Said scoring five each and Jeannot and Tavares four; Strasbourg have da Costa with four, while Bahoken, Lienard, Martin and the brilliant young Lille loanee Martin Terrier each on three. Both teams very similarly matched then – they are even among the few teams to have troubled PSG this season – a superb Jeannot goal looking to have earned Dijon a draw before a late Mbappe winner, while Thierry Laurey’s men have gone one better, their brilliant 2-1 win condemning the Qatari playthings to their only league defeat thus far.
Historically there is a gap between the teams – while the Dijonnais have won nothing of note, Strasbourg won the league championship in 1979 (with a certain Arsene Wenger in their ranks) and have also won the Coupe de France three times, most recently in 2001, goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert scoring the winning spot kick as they beat Amiens on penalties. They are in recent silverware-winning form too, having won the National and Ligue 2 in the past two seasons.
The Strasbourgeois are arguably in slightly better current form too: until a defeat at Metz in their final match of 2017, RCSA had gone six matches unbeaten, winning four. Dijon’s form has been consistently inconsistent – and Olivier Dall’Oglio’s charges have not drawn a match since the end of September and a 1-1 draw at home against … Strasbourg (Terrier scoring a 92nd minute equaliser).
All indications point to the fact that this match, too, will be close. The Meinau crowd may tip the scales in favour of Strasbourg, but whichever way it goes, there could be several goals involved.