The 2010-2011 Ligue 1 season kicked off on Saturday night and delivered a couple of unexpected results. Etienne Michon takes a look back at the major games and analyzes the results.
The Champions get surprised at home by promoted Caen
At 11pm on Saturday night, Marseille fans came back to reality. After a summer of partying following their team’s success last season, they were painfully reminded by Caen that if winning a title is hard, defending it is even harder. With a couple of key players missing (Brandao, Diawara, Heinze) but with captain Mamadou Niang (who’s been repeatedly linked to Fenerbahce in the past days) and new signing Azpilicueta starting, Marseille wanted to start this season as successfully as it ended the last one.
However, once on the field, things turned out to be quite different for Deschamps’ players. Unable to accelerate, lacking inventiveness up front and looking unusually shaky in defense, the locals did not manage to send a single shot on target during the first half. Caen’s intelligent defending is to blame for this surprising figure. In a well-organized 4-1-4-1 with a lone striker (Kandia Traoré), they pressed wisely and moved quickly enough to make sure Marseille’s attacking players did not manage to create any space. And it worked: Lucho Gonzalez, OM’s star midfielder, had a tough game, and a great scoring chance in the first half as he sent his chip shot over Thébaux’s crossbar.
But in the second half, Caen started to get bolder and bolder. Its two offensive midfielders, Yohann Mollo (a gifted left-footed player on loan from Monaco) and Youssef El-Arabi (a former… indoor football U21 international for France who turned Azpilicueta’s debut into a game he’d rather forget) brought the danger closer to Mandanda’s goal. Finally, Caen found the back of the net when its captain Seube sent a successful 20-yard shot misjudged by Mandanda. However, OM managed to equalize after Deschamps made two substitutions and sent Ben Arfa and Samassa on the field. Ben Arfa (about to go to Newcastle on loan) sent a great pass to Samassa (clearly not part of Deschamps’ plans) who managed to get the ball past the keeper. But Caen scored the winning goal on the 86th minute thanks to a header from close range by MOTM (and unmarked) El-Arabi.
MOTM : Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
A frustrating first game for Lyon
Claude Puel’s side started the game without the Argentineans Cesar Delgado and Lisandro Lopez, both injured, but with his new signing Jimmy Briand. However, the 35 000 spectators at Stade de Gerland quickly understood it was not going to be an easy game for the locals. Monaco’s well organized 4-2-3-1 system, with Park up top (you’ll get used to it, as most Ligue 1 team only use one tactical scheme on the road: one lonely striker, aggressive pressing and counter attacks), was a real threat to Lyon. In the midfield, young French U19 international Mendy delivered a solid game, and the Hansson-Mongongu partnership in central defense, though lacking speed, demonstrated its physical impact. Lyon showed that Toulalan’s move to central defense has benefits but also a major backlash: it leaves a huge gap in front of Lyon’s defense. Gonalons was chosen by Puel to fill this spot on Saturday night, but he still has to improve his work rate and impact in order to claim a permanent starting role. Moreover, the two other central midfielders, Pjanic and Ederson, are both playmakers, whose defending abilities are rather limited. As a consequence, Lyon lost the battle in midfield and lost the ball way too easily and too often to gain real control of the game.
Though behaving defensively, Monaco’s fast counter attacks remained a constant threat to Lyon, especially on the wings, as Aly Cissokho showed he was not fit yet, and youngster Lamine Gassama (who filled in for the injured French international Réveillère) delivered a shaky performance. During the first half, most of the good chances were for Monaco, forcing star keeper Hugo Lloris to two stellar saves on headers. Lyon only managed to get one opportunity, but Gomis, alone inside the box following a deflection, sent his volley wide. During the second half, Lyon got a bit more convincing and Ruffier (who should start in the goal for France against Norway next week) was forced to imitate Lloris on two important saves. However, the final word could have been for Lacombe’s men, as a header from new signing Aubameyang was saved by a flying Lloris.
MOTM : Hugo Lloris (Lyon)
And Paris smiles again
This Paris-St Etienne game is one of Ligue 1’s classics. PSG fielded its two major signings of the summer, Nênê and Bodmer, while St Etienne showcased a rebranded defense featuring US Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra and former Lorient player Sylvain Marchal. Paris offensive potential proved to be a constant threat to the visitors, and Turkish international Mevlut Erding found the back of the net as early as the 15th minute on an assist by tall striker Guillaume Hoarau. St Etienne managed to equalize through to Payet, but it only took 3 minutes to Stéphane Sessegnon (once considered by Chelsea and Man City) to put Paris up top again with a spectacular volley that hit the post and rebounded on the back of the head of an unlucky Janot to make it 2-1. During the second-half, as injury-prone Bodmer (see my Ligue 1 preview) got injured and subbed, Nênê made it 3-1 with a beautiful half-volley to send Paris to Ligue 1’s top.
NB: things did not look so good off the field as some Paris fans, angry at the club following new security rules, vigorously protested. 249 of them were arrested.
MOTM : Stéphane Sessegnon (Paris Saint-Germain)
Toulouse, Nancy and Montpellier notch wins
In the other games of the night, Toulouse beat Brest 2-0 (with a goal by former Bolton winger Daniel Braaten) but lost André-Pierre Gignac for 3 to 4 weeks following an ankle injury. Lens lost 2-1 at home to Nancy, as Jemaa missed a late PK which would have saved the draw for the home side. In the battle of the underdogs, Rennes and Lille ended up with a point as Bangoura for Rennes and new acquisition Sow for Lille each scored a goal. AJ Auxerre, set to face Russian side Zénith next week in Champions’ League qualifying round, did not manage to beat Lorient at home with a 2-2 tie. New recruit Anthony Le Tallec, a former Red, scored his first goal for the Burgundy team. Sochaux got 3 points by beating former Ligue 2 team Arles-Avignon 2-1, and some might think it’s not going to be the only defeat for Ligue 1’s smallest budget.
On Sunday night, a weakened Bordeaux (without many starters including French internationals Carraso, Ciani and Planus) lost 1-0 to Montpellier after former Marseille right-back Garry Bocaly found the back of the net on a header following a set piece by Chilean signing Estrada. Bordeaux lacked creativity up front, and its experimental defense had trouble against a Montpellier team that left its disappointing Europa League performance behind. Benoit Trémoulinas, who could start as left-back for France against Norway on Wednesday night, was the most dangerous player for Bordeaux with a shot that rebounded off Jourdren’s post.