Five things we learned this week in Ligue 1

Determined second-half performance Marseille sink Stade Rennais to take top place

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 19.28.49After their shock comeback last week against Paris Saint-Germain, Philippe Montanier’s Rennes side travelled to Provence to take on a Marseille side that have been in fine form this season. L’OM had won three of their previous three games in Ligue 1 and Saturday evening’s eventual win saw Bielsa’s side raise that tally to four, with a three-nil victory which put the Argentine’s team into first-place on goal difference.

Chants of ‘Bielsa Bielsa’ from the OM ‘tribunes’ confirmed audibly the enthusiasm and love the home support appear to have for their new coach. The attacking football les Marseillais are playing at the moment has given their support a lot to be pleased about.

The first-half saw a Marseille performance in which they didn’t really give Rennes too much to think about, and in truth Rennes at times looked the more dangerous. A disallowed offside goal which Ola Toivonen headed in for Rennes just before half-time was about as close as both sides came to breaking the deadlock.

However, in the second-half, Marseille came out of their shell a bit more, and it was André-Pierre Gignac, who was starting for the 200th time as a Marseille player, who scored first with his fifth goal of the season on fifty-minutes. Thauvin, who for the most part played pretty well, was played in down the wing by right-back Dja Djédjé and his cross found Gignac who scissor-kicked the ball down into the ground and past Costil in the Rennes goal.

Giganc doubled his tally thirteen minutes later when he volleyed home with another shot which hit the ground first before beating the keeper. The Marseille striker is clearly on fantastic form and his hard work at the La Commanderie training centre is paying off in goals. The three points, which in the second-half never really looked in doubt as Marseille pushed forward relentlessly, were sealed when Romain Alessandrini, who signed in pre-season from Rennes, scored his first goal for his boyhood heroes when making the most of his gifted left-foot with a curling free-kick effort which Costil was powerless stop in the final minute off added time.

Marseille have now won their last four games and things do look to be coming together nicely for Bielsa’s side. They’re playing really good attacking football, and players like Thauvin, Payet and even Jérémy Morel, who impressed on Saturday despite poor performances at the beginning of the season, look to have made remarkable improvements from their inconsistent form last season.

Bielsa’s philosophy has always been to create a squad in which players make the most of his system, as opposed to relying on key individuals, and this appears to be working really well for his new side. There’s definitely an undeniable ‘feel-good’ ambiance that was lacking last season at the Stade Vélodrome, and fans will be hoping that this will continue.

Uninspiring performance but Girondins de Bordeaux do enough to win three points

Bordeaux won their fourth game of the season on Friday night’s opening game of Matchday Six at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in a two-one victory against Evian TG, a side who are currently languishing at the bottom of France’s top footballing tier.

Even the most ardent Bordelais supporter would find it hard to dress up what was quite simply an underwhelming and turgid performance from the home side, but the narrow victory could prove to be extremely important as it keeps them on level terms on points with Olympique de Marseille. Bordeaux will be happy to use the result as springboard by which they can bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat in Brittany against Guingamp, however they would have hoped to have been more prolific when welcoming probably the league’s weakest side to Aquitaine.

Things started brightly for Bordeaux when they opened the scoring just 20 minutes into the game thanks to a goal from Diego Rolán, a Uruguayan who has been impressive this season. After good wing play down the left-hand side, Maurice-Belay managed to fire the ball across the box to find Rolán, who did will the cut the ball past Hansen from close range with his left-foot. Evian TG triend their best to get themselves back into the game, but they lacked the spark necessary for them to breach the Bordeaux defence.

Bordeaux doubled their lead just short of the hour mark thanks to a goal from Wahbi Khazri, a goal which he would have given the creative midfielder a bit of relief after his poor performance last Sunday which saw him substituted within the first-half. Khazri did well to bring down a long ball forward from Jaroslav Plasil on his left-foot, before dispatching a finish with his right.

The away side then managed to pull a goal back through Tejeda, whose deflected shot fooled Carrasso and he was unable to stop what was a fortunate shot from making its way into the net. The Costa Rica international, whose goal was his first for Evian TG since joining the club after his impressive displays at the 2014 World Cup, probably deserved the luck he had in scoring, as he put in an extremely combative performance throughout the match.

There can be no doubt that Bordeaux, under Willy Sagnol, have had an extremely positive start to the season, with players like Pallois, Khazri and Diabaté impressing. However last week’s disappointing result at Guingamp reminded Bordeaux that in a league with as many determined sides as Ligue 1, there is absolutely no room for inconsistency.

Next week sees Sagnol’s side travel to Saint-Étienne’s Stade Geoffrey-Guichard, most definitely one of France’s most intimidating places for away teams to travel to. It will take a much better performance than Friday’s one for Bordeaux to get anything out of their trip on Thursday night.

Goalless draw sees Lille miss out on top place

After their disappointing midweek home draw against Russian side Krasnodar in the Europa League, Lille aimed to bounce back with a win against their coach René Girard’s former employers Montpellier.

A victory would’ve seen Lille go back up to the top of the table, however in what would probably appear to be on paper the dullest match of the weekend, LOSC rediscovered their goalscoring woes and were unable to convert possession into goals. It was game which LOSC really should have won, with their share of the ball far outweighing that of their Héraultais guests. The result leaves Girard’s one point behind the joint-top three and will be viewed as a missed opportunity.

First-team regulars Simon Kjaer, who scored the goal which give Lille their valuable Europa League point on Thursday, Divock Origi, Sébastien Corchia and formidable midfielder Florent Balmont were all started on the bench after their Europa League exploits. Nolan Roux, who has helped to bolster the Lillois attack, wasn’t included in the squad after picking up an injury in the same match and this was a definite blow to Lillois goalscoring hopes.

The two sides lived up to their renowned reputations of defensive solidity and this is made the game entertaining for tactical enthusiasts. Manchester City loanee Rony Lopes was perhaps the brightest attacking threat for Lille throughout the ninety-four minutes of play. He appears to be a player with a very bright future ahead of him.

Saint-Étienne travel well to move level on points at the top

Saint-Étienne managed to overcome the disappointment of Thursday night’s goalless Europa League draw against Armenian side Qarabag to win against RC Lens , a side who had recently beaten their bitter rivals Lyon, with an  important one-nil victory at the Stade de la Licorne in Amiens.  Sunday evening’s result was of particular significance because it pushed Saint-Étienne level in joint-first place alongside Marseille and Bordeaux.

An interesting statistic is that les Lensois haven’t beaten ASSE at home in Ligue 1 since 1998 and Lens fans were perhaps hopeful that a change of venue from their home ground, the Stade Félix Bollaert, could help them to end their unsuccessful run. Lens had chances in the first-half in the score and they looked pretty determined when going forward, with Touzghar and Baal both unlucky not to score in the opening 45. Saint-Étienne however remained resilient and their concentrated approach appeared to have paid enough when Tabanou came extremely close to scoring on the hour mark, when hitting the Lens woodwork.

The deadlock was finally broken with just eight minutes to go, when on-loan Norwich striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel received the ball from Cohade and played a well-timed ball into Fabien Lemoine who put the ball passed Riou. The well worked team goal would prove to be enough give les Stéphanois a deserved three points.

Saint-Étienne’s consistency has always been evident in terms of home matches, however it has definitely been lacking on the road in previous seasons. Sunday evening’s win gave them their second away win of the season after their opening day victory against Guingamp in Britanny at the Roudourou. They’ve shown great character to bounce back to go unbeaten in three consecutive games since their nightmare showing at the Parc des Princes a few Matchdays ago, and Christophe Galtier’s side will be hoping to build more consistent away form on the back of Sunday’s result.

Pressure mounts on Blanc as Paris Saint-Germain draw for fourth time 

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 19.32.23After a week which saw Paris Saint-Germain extend their run without a win away from home to four games, Laurent Blanc’s side were hopeful of adding to their contrasting run of victories at home against Hubert Fournier’s Lyon, a side which is still suffering form a relative injury crisis. Added pressure came as a result of Marseille’s particularly good form, and a win would’ve seen les Parisiens move to just a point behind Bielsa’s side.

The game was billed as the Sunday night game of the weekend, however the actual match, which was a repeat of last season’s Coupe de la Ligue final, failed to live up to the abundance of promise it had on paper. The post-match L’Équipe headline ‘Le PSG ne sait pas gagner’ (PSG don’t know how to win) wasn’t exactly the type of back-page story either Blanc or club president Nasser Al Kheilafi wanted to emanate from the game.

Once more, it was another game in which Paris Saint-Germain dominated, opened the scoring in the first-half and then conceded later on to lose three points. This is becoming a familiar and worrying pattern for les Parisiens, with a similar process happening in their games against Rennes and Ajax.  Edinson Cavani, who also scored during the week in Amsterdam, opened the scoring with a well placed header on 28 minutes after he met a textbook cross from Lucas Digne, who made his return to the starting line-up at left-back.

Chances came and went for both sides and Arnold Mvuemba came closest to scoring an equaliser for OL when his freekick hit the bar just before half-time.  With just eight-minutes to go, PSG lost their lead and their three points when probably the scrappiest passage of  the usually more delicate Lyonnais passage of play resulted in Umtiti firing a shot which came off David Luiz and beat Sirigu in the Parisien goal.

Paris Saint-Germain, for their standards at least, find themselves in an increasingly uncomfortable position. Faced with the optimism  and immeasurable improvement of their table-topping arch-rivals Marseille, things look slightly bleak for the side from the French capital’s west-end. PSG will almost certainly find their way again in the league, but performances so far, with the exception of their hammering of Saint-Étienne last month, have given their fans very few things to cheer about.

They now sit fifth in the classement, and their away trip to SM Caen on Wednesday night, without the suspended Marco Verratti and possibly the injured Thiago Silva, will be a must win game for les Parisiens as Marseille will be expecting to win away at the Stade Auguste-Delaune on Tuesday evening.

Author Details

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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