Lacazette scores again as Lyon win to remain top
Due to the renovation of their historic stadium (the Stade Bollaert-Delelis) before the Euro 2016 Championships, RC Lens have been forced to play the majority of their home matches this season at National outfit Amiens SC’s stadium the Stade de la Licorne, and it was there that the Les Lensois would welcome Ligue 1 table-toppers Olympique Lyonnais on Saturday evening.
Lyon coach Hubert Fournier and Les Gones’ experienced right-back Christophe Jallet had both expressed concerns about the state of the pitch that the two sides would meet on in the week leading up to the game, but the match was given the go-ahead, with Fournier’s outfit aiming for a sixth consecutive Ligue 1 victory against a Lens side that caused an upset against Lyon at the Stade Gerland on the third matchday of the season, bringing about OL’s sole home defeat of the season so far with a one-nil away victory.
Lyon were in a need of a victory if they were to stand a chance of extending their lead at the top of the table in the unlikely event of a Marseille slip-up on Sunday against Guingamp.
However, Lens’ need for points would be a bit more urgent, with Antoine Kombouaré’s promotion winning side currently in the midst of a battle for Ligue 1 survival against fellow stragglers Evian TG, FC Metz and SM Caen.
In the end, Lyon once again proved too strong for their opposition, with Alexandre Lacazette continuing his brilliant form to help his side win by two to nil and to record a sixth consecutive victory in France’s top-tier.
It is no secret that Olympique Lyonnais is a football club that prides itself upon its ability to cultivate the finest footballing talent through its youth system, but their opponents on Saturday have also in recent years produced some of France’s most exciting prospects, with Real Madird’s Raphaël Varane and Paris Saint-Germain’s Serge Aurier being the notable graduates of Lens’ La Gaillette academy.
A number of academy graduates have made it through to the first-team this season, with centre-back Jean-Phillippe Gbamin impressing often. However the nineteen-year old made the headlines for the most embarrassing of reasons on Saturday when he gifted Lyon an easy lead with an own goal after just twenty-two minutes of play.
Nabil Fekir, who has become far more accustomed to playing top class assists for his own teammates than for opposition defenders, swung a dangerous ball across the home side’s six yard box and Gbamin helplessly diverted it past Rudy Riou when attempting to clear it from danger.
Lens hit the self-destruct button again just four minutes later, when Jallet’s cross for Alexandre Lacazette was intercepted at the back-post by the outstretched hand of Mali international left-back Boubacar Sylla.
A penalty was justly awarded and Lacazette then stepped up to slot the ball past Riou with what appeared to be relative ease, with a goal that increases the twenty-three year old’s tally to twenty goals in twenty-one Ligue 1 matches this season.
The first-half ended with Lyon taking an expected lead with them into the dressings rooms.
In the second-half, Lens seemed eager to make up for the inexcusable and avoidable mistakes they made in the first-half.
Almost straight from the restart, Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was called into action on several occasions, ensuring that his side would not only travel back to the Rhône-Alpes region with the three points, but with the added bonus of a fourth consecutive clean-sheet in the bag.
Lopes has at times been incredible for his side this season and his contribution to his team’s good form should not be hidden from the limelight by the equally stellar performances of his midfield and attacking teammates.
Lyon’s victory at Lens marks a poignant turn around in their fortunes. The last time the two sides met, OL were a much more fragile outfit, with the away side that day making the most of Fournier’s side’s defensive flaws and their confusion upfront to sneak an unexpected win.
However, Lyon now look like a much more united unit and though their potential has never been in doubt, the one-time doubts held about their consistency are now truly beginning to fade.
RC Lens’ supporters on the other hand will have been extremely frustrated by what they saw on Saturday evening, with the home side basically gifting their opponents two goals and then failing to make the most of the chances that came their own way.
They definitely have a number of technical issues to address if they are to make sure that they put in as strong an effort as possible in their quest for Ligue 1 survival.
Paris Saint-Germain move back into the top three
The fact that Paris Saint-Germain’s home game on Sunday afternoon against eighteenth-placed Evian TG was even considered to be a fixture in which a possible upset could occur is a sign of how problematic Les Parisiens’ season has been in comparison with recent campaigns.
As a L’Équipe journalist noted after the match on twitter, with each week that passes in Ligue 1, PSG’s ability to instil fear in other teams appears to be fading.
After last week’s horror show on Corsica against SC Bastia, only a win could be deemed acceptable for Laurent Blanc’s side, in front of their increasingly frustrated, and at times even hostile, fans at the Parc des Princes.
The home side, who would later be helped by Saint-Étienne’s goalless draw in Britanny against Rennes, moved back into third-place with a victory over Pascal Dupraz’s side, but the manner in which they took the three-points was, for at least some periods of the game, far from convincing.
Fresh from a one-nil away midweek Coupe de la Ligue victory against Saint-Étienne, Laurent Blanc’s side were boosted by the return to the starting line-up of Thiago Motta, and it was hoped that his presence in the centre of midfield in PSG’s 4-3-3 would help the home side to a problem-free three-points in their first home fixture of 2015.
Edinson Cavani and his partner-in-crime Ézéquiel Lavezzi both made returns to the bench after their club-imposed suspensions, and the men from the west side of the French capital were also benefited by the fact that the away side were missing key players, including former Monaco centre-back Cédric Mongongu, through both a combination of AFCON international duty call-ups and unfortunate injuries.
Despite the perceived home advantage, Evian TG got off to a dream start with just under fifteen minutes of the match having been played. From a throw-in on the far-side of the park, Maxwell found Javier Pastore, but his flick-on header only went as far as Adrien Thomasson, and the twenty-one year old quickly found Cédric Barbosa, who unleashed a driven half-volley which bounced past Salvatore Sirigu.
This wasn’t the type of response that the home crowd wanted to see after last week’s defeat, but it took just over fifteen minutes for PSG to get back into the game via an equalizer.
David Luiz did well to head home a Thiago Motta corner on the half hour mark, and just eight minutes later, the home side took the lead when Marco Verratti scored from close range as Evian failed to clear their lines following a Lucas Moura free-kick that was whipped into the box from the left-wing.
The first-half finished with PSG deservedly in front, despite having to come from behind against statistically one of the league’s worst sides.
After a quiet opening to the second period. disaster once against struck for Blanc’s side when this time their own defence failed to deal with a cross from a free-kick convincingly.
On sixty-three minutes, Daniel Wass flighted a dangerous ball towards the back post and Gregory Van der Wiel bizarrely headed the ball past his own keeper, with the Dutchman’s own-goal being the third that PSG have conceded this season in Ligue 1.
The coach then decided that changes were needed and under a hail of jeers from the Paris faithful, Edinson Cavani came on to replace Blaise Matuidi, with Pastore dropping down into the midfield trio.
However, despite the Argentinian’s move away from the attacking line, he managed to get himself on the score sheet with the cutest of volleyed finishes from a Lucas Moura cross.Lucas then made way himself for Lavezzi, with the former Napoli attacker subjected to similarly hostile treatment when he made his way onto the field of play.
With a three-two lead looking increasingly comfortable, the three points were finally sealed when Cavani grabbed a goal of his own to mark his return to the first-team just before the final whistle.
The Uruguayan darted onto the end of a shot-come-cross from his strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimović, which was really the only mark the Swede left upon the game.
PSG fans will be glad that their side are back to winning ways, having failed to win in three of their last four Ligue 1 fixtures, but they won’t have been overly impressed by the manner in which they conceded twice at home against a side that really should not be posing a club of Paris’ size, stature and quality any problems.
Questions will also be raised about Ibrahimović’s lack of influence on the game, with the forward appearing to be a shadow of his former self on Sunday afternoon.
One positive to take from the match however is Javier Pastore. The Argentine has reinvigorated PSG at times this season when they have needed it most, and it’s for that reason that he has been their standout player so far in this campaign.
Olympique de Marseille leave it late to keep pressure on Lyon
Having lost in the Coupe de France against Grenbole and having recorded a fifth defeat of the season in Ligue 1 against Montpellier last week, Marcelo Bielsa’s Marseille were keen to extend their unbeaten home run to ten games with a victory against one of this season’s most impressive sides, EA Guingamp.
Jocelyn Gourvennec however would have been quietly confident in his own side’s giant-killing abilities and their potential to pull off a Ligue 1 shock, as Les Guingampais saw off Paris Saint-Germain recently, as well as progressing through the Europa League group stages to the surprise of many.
Olympique de Marseille were without two of their key players, André Ayew and Nicolas Nkoulou, through AFCON duty, so Guingamp would have been hoping that a combination of poor form nerves and notable absences could work in their favour at the Stade Vélodrome.
Chances came and went in the first-half for both sides, with the continuously impressive Jonas Lössl once again on top form to make great saves in the Guingamp goal, most notably a fingertip stop to touch wide an André-Pierre Gignac header, and Claudio Beauvue came close for the away side when he hit the post with a header.
The first period finished goalless, and it took until the eighty-fifth minute for the deadlock to be broken. Mario Lemina, a player who is believed to be being tracked by Liverpool scouts, squeezed the ball past the Guingamp stopper when Benjamin Mendy’s cross wasn’t properly cleared by the away side’s defence.
The home side then doubled their lead when Gignac got on the score sheet with his sixth headed goal of the season and his thirteenth goal overall of the campaign. The cross he met was also incidentally Dimitri Payet’s eight assist of the season, highlighting the influence of the duo on OM’s renaissance this season.
There was still time though for a bit of stoppage time drama, when Baptiste Aloé’s misplaced backwards pass was intercepted by Claudio Beauvue, who was then cynically taken out in the box by Rod Fanni, and the former Rennes defender then received a deserved straight red card for the offence.
Beauvue, who has been a hit with the Guingamp support since his move to Brittany in 2013 from Ligue 2 side La Berrichonne de Châteauroux, coolly slotted the penalty away, scoring his eighth goal of the season in what was another impressive performance by the strong lone-forward.
Fanni’s dismissal will give Bielsa a slight tactical headache ahead of Marseille’s trip to Nice on Friday night, as either one of the inexperienced duo of Baptiste Aloé or Stéphane Sparagna will have to replace him and play beside Jérémy Morel.
It is unlikely that Matheus Dória, the Brazilian centre-back that Bielsa alleges was bought without his consent by club president Vincent Labrune, and who hasn’t featured in a single game since his arrival, will be involved in the match.
Thanks to the three points they picked up on Sunday night, a win against Nice would send OM two points clear of Lyon at the top, ahead of Lyon’s home match on Sunday afternoon against FC Metz.