Coupe de France 16emes : RC Strasbourg v Lille OSC
The final match in the round of 32 pits two former title-winners against each other, who are in rather different moods at the moment.
Strasbourg are three-time winners, in 1951, 1966, and 2001, when they beat SC Amiens on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes. With Paraguayan legend Jose Luiz Chilavert in goal, you can perhaps guess who scored the winning penalty. Towards the end of the 2000s, they tumbled down the league pyramid, facing relegation both for their results and financially, ending up in the fifth tier in 2011/12 before starting an impressive climb back up with four promotions – all as champion – in seven years, to regain the top flight this season.
RCSA’s last round was a nervy win over Dijon, 3-2 after extra time, in a match where neither team managed to impose themselves and the home side suffered from individual errors. It ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and Strasbourg finally seemed to have got on top of things with goals from Jeremy Blayac and Nuno Da Costa early on in extra time, but a Kenny Lala error allowed Julio Tavares to get one back for Dijon, and he also hit the bar with a header in the last minute, to cause yet more angst.
Strasbourg will be looking to put that firmly behind them – sitting in tenth in Ligue 1 they cannot be completely comfortable, given how close things are in the bottom half, with the relegation zone only five points away. However, Thierry Laurey and his men can definitely afford to take this seriously, particularly as if you are going to draw top-flight opponents in the cup, Lille would be a decent choice.
Lille’s cup pedigree is yet more starry, with six trophies in the cabinet, equal to Saint-Etienne and behind only OM and PSG in the all-time rankings. This included winning three in a row 1946-48 and another two in the 1950s, in the period when they also won two league titles, before a long wait, including occasionally dropping out of the top flight, until 2010/11. Their 1-0 win over PSG with a goal from Ludovic Obraniak sealed their second double, after 1946, with a team featuring league top-scorer Moussa Sow as well as Gervinho, Yohan Cabaye, Idrissa Gueye, and a youthful Eden Hazard, only 19 but about to be crowned best player in Ligue 1 in the UNFP awards.
Times certainly have changed.
Lille are currently 18th in Ligue 1 and on their seventh manager in less than three seasons; while Christophe Galtier’s appointment in December bodes well after several chaotically poor managerial decisions (Herve Renard, Frederic Antonetti and Marcelo Bielsa), they are still in a world of trouble. They beat fourth-tier Le Mans 4-2 in their first cup match, although that had its dicey moments – having gone 2-0 up within 15 minutes with goals from Ezequiel Ponce and Nicolas Pepe, they then conceded two in ten minutes. Defender Adama Soumaro got them back ahead before half-time, but it took an injury time goal from Thiago Mendes to make the scoreline look that respectable.
With several players unavailable through injury (Soumaoro and right back Kevin Malcuit, with Thiago Maia and Yassine Benzia doubtful) Galtier has a difficult job on his hands – and his opponents in the league at the weekend will be…Strasbourg, although this time in Lille.
Galtier does seem to be getting a better tune out of his players, but those absences and the league context mean that Strasbourg are rightly favourites.