Five things we learned from Ligue 1 this week

Sagnol’s Bordeaux make it three wins out of three

It appears that a complete turnaround is on the cards at Girondins de Bordeaux, thanks to the changes ex-France under-21 coach Willy Sagnol has brought to the club since his appointment. The 2013-2014 season was at times completely dismal for the six-time  French league champions, with the club winning just over a third of their matches and suffering the most embarrassing of Coupe de France exits when they went out on penalties against CFA 2 (French football’s fifth tier) side FB Île-Rousse on penalties after a stalemate.

The lack of enthusiasm the Bordelais support had for their club last season was most obviously demonstrated when French fast food chain Quick gave away two tickets to see les Girondins play at home in their Europa League encounter against APOEL Nicosia with every XL menu burger sold in the Bordeaux urban area. However with three wins out of three in Ligue 1 this year, including a four-one thrashing of AS Monaco at a near sold-out Stade Chaban-Dalmas, things look to be on the up for the Aquitaine side.

Willy Sagnol Bordeaux

Sagnol’s side travelled to Alpes-Maritimes to take on a Nice side who were unbeaten in their two opening fixtures of the season, winning their thrilling first match of the season three-two against Toulouse at home and then winning a point in a scoreless draw at the Stade du Moustoir against Lorient. The home side were without their highly rated Argentine centre-forward Dario Cvitanich through injury,  but Alexy Bosetti spearheaded the attack in Claude Puel’s 4-1-4-1 formation.

Les Girondins were set out in the same 4-2-3-1 shape which served them well in matchday two against Monaco, with a holding midfield duo of Biyogo-Poko, who came in for the injured Plasil, and Grégory Sertic allowing Wahbi Khazri to play in his favoured attacking midfield role in front of them behind the lone centre-forward Diabaté. The positioning of the Biyogo-Poko and Sertic would once more enable the fullbacks Mariano, who replaced the benched Julien Faubert, and former Bayern Munich player Diego Contento to push up the flanks. Bordeaux were also missing regular ‘titulaires‘ Jussie, Saivet and Traore, with Nice missing their midfield enforcers Didier Digard and Mathieu Bodmer.

It was Nice that started the more brightly at the Allianz Riviera, with the home side taking the lead after just eleven minutes. After a mix-up from a thrown-in, Diabaté gifted Nice possesion and Julien Vercauteren won the ball back to play Bosetti through on goal, with the twenty-one-year old sticking the ball past Carrasso with a great finish on the edge of the box. In what was becoming an increasingly fiesty first-half, Khazri was then clumsily brought down just inside the Niçois box by Bauthéac, resulting in referee Stéphane Lannoy signaling a penalty. Diabaté then slotted it away to score his second of the season and his sixth in a fixture between the two sides.

Despite the fact that they probably had more possession, as the game progressed Nice’s lack of efficiency with the ball lead to Bordeaux beginning to control the match. In the second-half, Bordeaux began to use their width more, as they had done against Monaco, and this tactic paid off when Maurice-Belay doubled their lead with a strike after the ball came through to him from a cross from the right-wing  just two minutes after the restart.  A textbook counter attack after a Nice free-kick then resulted in Bordeaux scoring their third, with Rolan breaking and eventually playing in Sertic who curled the ball around Hassen to score, sealing the three points.

The only negative in what was a good away win for Sagnol’s side came on eighty-two minutes when Diabaté received a red card upon his second booking when he tackled Genevois. The game in general did have a dicey edge to it , with six yellow cards being issued throughout the ninety-five minutes played. It’s clear that Nice’s creativity was reduced as a result of their notable absences and overall the result reflected the passage of the game well.

Bordelais fans have been quick to note that the last time they won their opening three matches was in the 2009-2010 season, which was also the last time they won the Ligue 1 championship. Though dreams of winning the league may at this stage may be a bit far-fetched, Girondins de Bordeaux are impressing with their consistency and they look like a well organised side that will be difficult to beat this season.

Gignac the hero again as he seals Olympique de Marseille’s first win of the season

An André-Pierre Giganc volley was enough to give Marcelo Bielsa’s Olympique de Marseille side their first three points of the season against Guingamp in Saturday’s opening fixture.  At the start of the second period of play, Gignac met the end of a Dmitri Payet cross to strike the ball downward into the ground and past Mamadou Samassa at the Stade du Roudourou, with what was to be the only goal of the game. In a game in which OM dominated from start to finish, Bielsa’s side also recorded their first cleansheet of the season. The Argentine will be hoping that the victory will set the tone for the rest of his side’s season.

Les Olympiens started in Bielsa’s favoured 3-3-3-1 formation, with one notable change being made from the side that lost in their disappointing opening home match at the Stade Vélodrome, as André Ayew replaced Romain Alessandrini on the left-side of midfield. Les Marseillais’ high pressing from the start forced the home side into playing long skyward balls which for the most part Romao, Nkoulou and Morel dealt with well, making a marked changed from their previous matches. Former Guingampais Gianni Imbula played a deep midfield role in which he excelled against his former side, clearing up any danger in front of the OM defence.

Despite their overall superiority and dominance, Bielsa’s side failed to get into a good rhythm in the first period, but this improved as the game went on and Belgian centre-forward Michy Batshuayi’s inclusion in second-half proceedings after he replaced Florian Thauvin at half-time helped in this regard.

Gignac saved his side again with his goal, a habit which, despite reflecting his superb goalscoring ability, Bielsa will be keen to address. His midfield, by virtue of the fact that it is composed of creative players like Ayew, Thauvin and Payet, is blessed with goalscoring potential, but this potential has yet to come to fruition this season.

Alaixys Romao impressed on the right-hand side of defence with a much more commanding performance than his first of the season against Montpellier. Romao’s improvement solidified the OM back line, making it much more difficult for les Guingampais to breach the defence and their chances were few and far between. Moroccan international midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada came on towards the end of the match and impressed on his Marseille debut with a combative performance. There were plenty of positives for the OM support to take from this match, none more so than their side’s ability to dominate away from home and to win their first clean sheet of the season.

One amusing occurrence to note was the fact that Bielsa’s last-minute stand-in translator for the match was José Bielva, the manager of a supermarket in the Guingamp area who initially though someone was having a joke with him when he was asked to act as the Argentine coach’s translator for the entire matchday, with tasks including interpreting his team talk and assisting in his post-match press conference.

PSG stumble for a second consecutive season in Annecy

Paris Saint-Germain were held in a goalless draw by an uncharacteristically resilient Evain TG side on Friday in the opening game of Ligue 1’s third matchday. In what was anything but a classic, Laurent Blanc’s side were unable to turn their dominance into goals against a side which had conceded nine times in their two previous matches of this Ligue 1 season.  Blanc’s side have won just one match in their first three matches of the season, which by their standards is underwhelming.

Pre-match thoughts of an annihilation were logical given Evian TG’s form so far this season, however fans were quick to note that it was Dupraz’s side who ended PSG’s unbeaten run in a shock two-nil win in December of last year. Evian’s starting line-up included Danish winger Daniel Wass who has been linked with Newcastle United, as well as on-loan PSG defender Youssouf Sabaly who started against his parent club. PSG’s formation remained the same as usual in 4-3-3, but Pastore joined the attacking three to replace the injured Ibrahimovic, allowing Yohan Cabaye to come into midfield alongside Verratti and Matuidi to play the holding role in front of defence he has played for France.

However it was to be a night to forget for Cabaye, whose misery at Paris Saint-Germain seems to be continuing.  The former Newcastle and LOSC midfielder’s dismissal after his second yellow card on sixty-three minutes as a result of a poor tackle on the impressive Fabien Camus restrained his side’s attacking ability, with Pastore forced to come back into midfield.

PSG were particularly unimpressive in their attacking game because they failed to overcome the at times predictable and sometimes cynical defensive Evian tactics, with their inability to change their style of play proving to be part of their downfall.

They did, however, defend well, with Aurier, Marquinhos and David Luiz doing well to prevent Dupraz’s side from scoring on the counter-attack.  Les Parisiens’ biggest chance of the match came on sixty-five minutes when Lucas did well to feed Cavani through on goal, but the Uruguayan, who often be said fails to score simple goals, hit the ball straight at the oncoming Hansen, with the goalkeeper pushing the ball away to safety.

Blanc’s side haven’t had a fantastic start to the season so far, with their only win coming in a home fixture. They will need to improve if they are to do better in the tougher away fixtures that lie ahead this season.

LOSC back to goalscoring ways

After a disappointing midweek home defeat to FC Porto in the first leg of their UEFA Champions’ League playoff match, René Girard’s LOSC side put their goalscoring concerns behind them to beat the previously unbeaten FC Lorient by two goals at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Saturday.  Lorient, who this week lost their start player Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar to FC Porto, are finding goals hard to come by, and his departure is sure to make this aspect of their game even harder.

Les Lillois also look set to lose a striker of their own, with Ivory Coast international Saloman Kalou linked with a move to either the Bundesliga or the English Premiership. With no Kalou in the squad, Nolan Roux and Ryan Mendes started in attack in front of Manchester City loanee Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes.

After a goallesss first-half which was in many ways reminiscent of LOSC’s scoreless draw against FC Metz on the opening matchday of the season which Girard’s side also dominated, the 18-year-old Lopes brought out the best out of les Merlus’ goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte with a long-range strike. Delaplace then opened the scoring for Lille with a well placed low strike from around thirty yards on 58 minutes. Danish international defender Simon Kjaer then doubled the LOSC lead on seventy-four minutes with a free-kick which Lecomte could probably have dealt with more effectively.

The two-nil scoreline was a fair reflection on Lille’s dominance of the match and the Lille support will be encouraged by their side’s ability to maintain both a strong defensive performance whilst also being able to create opportunities, a combination which they had been unable to produce in previous matches.

Olympique Lyonnais continue disappointing form with third defeat in a row

After the disappointment of losing to Toulouse in Midi-Pyrénées last weekend, things got even worse for new OL coach Hubert Fournier when his side lost at home on Thursday against Romanian side FC Astra two-one after going in front in the first half, making the task of qualifying for the Europa League more difficult that it really should have been.

The French media described Sunday afternoon’s clash between Fournier’s side and RC Lens at the Stade de Gerland as a chance to rebuild confidence for Olympique Lyonnais, however as often is the case in football , things didn’t go to plan for les Gones.

After a period of Lyonnais possession, Adamo Coulibaly got on the end of a Kantari clearance to thread a ball through the Lyonnais midfield to find Yoann Touzghar releasing a counter-attack which, made easier by a variety of calamitous defensive errors, resulted in Touzghar squaring the ball to Lalaïna Nomenjanahary who hammered the ball into an empty net to give les Lensois the lead on eleven minutes. It was a goal which would be enough to give Antoine Kombouaré’s side their first three points of the season after defeats in their opening two games of the season, making the 600km trip for the ever-vibrant Lensois support more than worth it.

Olympique Lyonnais have a defensive problem which stems from the fact that seven of their regular players are currently missing from their effectif  through injuries and Fournier, a former OL defender himself, knows that this is a problem area he must address.

What’s more worrying for the Lyonnais support is the fact his side were unable, despite the offensive talent they have available through players like Lacazette, Yattara, Njie and Benzia, to score against a Lens side that had lost their two previous matches. In an interview after the game, OL right-back Christophe Jallet explained that his side is also currently suffering because ‘confidence is eroding’ within their ranks.

Though injuries are at the roots of Lyon’s defensive problems, in other aspects confidence issues appear to be just as problematic and this is an issue the club’s manager must address, especially ahead of their must-win game against FC Astra on Thursday, where their hopes of European football this season rely on a turnaround in the two-one scoreline.

The Author

Brendán MacFarlane

I'm a massive French football enthusiast, having fallen in love with all aspects and levels of the sport in France whilst working for a year in the town of Niort. As a French studies student, I'm constantly following what's going on in the French football media and bringing stories to the English-speaking world.

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