Three things we learned this week in Ligue 1

Ten-men Nice punish Marseille

Olympique de Marseille fell four points behind league leaders’ Olympique Lyonnais, thanks to a two-one defeat against Nice at the Allianz-Riviera on Friday. The result extends Marseille’s uninspiring away form, with Marcelo Bielsa’s side last winning away from home in October against relegation-threatened SM Caen. Despite impressing at home, OM have only manged to win as many points on the road ninth-placed FC Nantes, and their failure to win away from home is proving costly in terms of the title-race.

Nice have had a typically unsettled season, in the sense that they have lost as many games as they have won, but Friday night once again highlighted Claude Puel’s side’s ability to make the most of opposing teams’ weaknesses. Nice were deserved winners the weekend previous to Friday night’s game when they made the most of Bordeaux’s lack of squad depth as a result of injuries and African Cup of Nations call-ups  to run out two-one winners at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

They took on a Marseille side that was also hit by an unfortunately large number of absences, with key players such as André Ayew, Nicolas Nkoulou, Romain Alessandrini and Rod Fanni all missing through a combination of suspensions, injuries and AFCON call-ups. Marseille’s line-up, which was announced by Bielsa in a mid-week press conference, raised many eyebrows, particularly in light of the Chilean coach’s defensive selections. The former Argentina international manager once again decide to leave €5million summer signing Matheus Doria on the bench, with  20-year-old Baptiste Aloé starting instead at centre-back. Doria is yet to start for Marseille’s first-team, having spent most of this season playing in his side’s reserve squad at CFA level.

Nice were also missing influential players of their own, with Mathieu Bodmer and Didier Digard both missing from midfield, however the home side started the match well. Niklas Hult, Nice’s Swedish central midfielder, combined well with Alassane Pleá after just eight minutes, and the former Lyon and Auxerre winger came extremely close to punishing a flat-footed Marseille back four with his untracked run. Pleá’s shot however drifted just wide of Steve Mandanda’s left-hand post, giving the away side an early fright. A fairly even first-half came to an end without any further major chances, and the make-shift Marseille back four, which saw left-back Jérémy Morel playing at centre-back, right-back Brice Dja Djédjé playing at left-back, and midfielder Mario Lemina playing at right-back, seemed to grow in confidence as the first 45 progressed.

The home side broke the deadlock shortly after the re-start, as Nice successfully pressurized from a free-kick on the edge of the half-way line. Marseille failed to clear the ball away successfully, and France U-21 Valentin Eysseric did well to cut back a dangerous ball across the goal-line.  The home side’s imposing centre-half Romain Genevois reacted quickly, outpacing Alaixys Romao, to pounce upon the ball and knock it over the line to give Le Gym the lead. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but it would be one which would prove to be decisive in the game’s outcome

Undeterred by the goal they conceded, Marseille look to get themselves back into the game as quickly as possible. One man who has been key to Les Olympiens’ creativity this year has been Dimitri Payet, and the former Lille and Nantes midfielder was closely marked by former Nottingham Forrest defender Kévin Gomis. Gomis initially received a yellow card for a shoulder charge on Payet that was deemed to be a bookable offence by the referee Antony Gauthier. Just two minutes later, Gauthier then ordered Gomis off after he received a second yellow card for cynically impeding Payet’s run towards the Nice box.

With the numerical advantage Marseille fans were hoping that their side would take control of the game, however, as OM supporters know too well, often the unexpected can happen in football matches. This was all too clear when Marseille failed to profit upon the fact that they were playing against a ten-man side, and then concede a second goal in the 73rd minute of the match. Hult, who moved to Nice from IF Elfsborg in the summer, scored his first Ligue 1 goal when Pleá did exceptionally well to beat the offside trap and cut the ball back to the Swede who tapped the ball in from close range. Marseille then equalized just four minutes later, when Florian Thauvin did superbly well to control Gianni Imbula’s diagonal cross with his chest and then finish past Mouez Hassan, but it was a case of too little too late for the away side.

Marseille now find themselves level on points with PSG and crucially four points behind the league leaders’ Lyon, and it’s clear that Bielsa’s side’s lack of squad depth has had a damaging effect on their ability to cope competently in response to key player absences. Unfortunately for the Chilean, his side also lack the financial firepower that PSG possess and, although his side is definitely in need of new additions, it is highly unlikely that any new signings will arrive at the Vélodrome before the current window closes. If Marseille are to continue to remain within the title race they must improve upon what has been their at best mediocre away form, as the number of points they have dropped so far on the season has frankly been unacceptable for a club with championship winning ambitions.

Lacazette’s exit raises injury concerns as Lyon continue their winnings way

Olympique Lyonnais continued their winning run with a straightforward 2-0 home victory against FC Metz, Ligue 1’s lanterne rouge (bottom side) , which helped Hubert Fournier’s men edge away from Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain by four points. Alexandre Lacazette, Ligue 1’s top goalscorer scorer with 21 goals, added to his tally with a first-half strike, but the French international left the field of play through injury, causing concern ahead of Lyon’s potentially massive match against Paris Saint-Germain, which will take place on the 8th February at the Stade de Gerland.

Sunday’s game also saw the return of Florent Malouda to a ground where he spent four years as player before moving to Chelsea, but the winger unfortunately had to leave the field of play after just 25 minutes through injury. Shortly after, Metz made what would a near impossible task even more difficult, when Guido Milan fouled Rachid Ghezzal in the box to give away a penalty after just 30 minutes of play, with the Argentine receiving a straight red card for the tackle. Lacazette then stepped up without hesitation to put Lyon 1-0 up with an inch-perfect spot-kick, scoring his fifth penalty of the season so far. Lacazette then left the field of play just four minutes later, and he was replaced by Maxwel Cornet, who made his Lyon debut against his former employers, having moved from Metz to OL earlier on in the January window.

In the second-half, Lyon continued to dominate the match and in spells of the second 45 they play some really impressive flowing football. However, in Lacazette’s absence, converting chances became more complicated, and took until the 83rd minute for the second and final goal of the game to be scored. It was though a goal that was well worth the wait, with Corentin Tolisso ending an impressive move involving Yoann Gourcuff and Nabil Fekir through a low, driven strike from around 25 yards out that Johann Carrasso could do nothing about.

All in all it was another enjoyable Sunday for the Lyonnais home support, with good football on show at times and another clean sheet reflecting well upon the league leaders’ defensive performance. Concerns however will be raised surrounding Lacazette’s probable absence in the next few weeks, especially considering the fact that Lyon play Monaco and PSG in the next couple of weeks, with both of these sides being among Ligue 1’s top five defences so far this season.

Paris Saint-Germain overcome Saint-Étienne to move level on points with Marseille

After a shaky home victory the previous week against Evian TG, PSG travelled to one of Ligue 1’s most hostile away venues, the Stade Geoffrey-Guichard, to take on a Saint-Étienne side that were just one point behind them in the league standings before kick-off. Billed as the game of the weekend, Laurent Blanc’s men knew that it would take an extremely organised PSG performance to end Christophe Galtier’s side unbeaten run of twelve games in Ligue 1, and that’s exactly what the French champions delivered, as they won the match by a single goal.

A confident Saint-Étienne side aimed to pressurize their visitors as soon as the game began, in a similar fashion to which they had made Lyon uncomfortable earlier in the season, but the PSG backline and goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu remained solid in the face of Stéphanois attacks in the opening half. PSG dominated the first-half in terms of possession, but they were unable to break down the Saint-Étienne back four to trouble Stéphane Ruffier.

In the opening stages of the second-half, Edinson Cavani attempted to trouble Ruffier from range with a right-foot shot from the left-wing, but the former Monaco goalkeeper held the ball comfortably. PSG were then awarded  a penalty on 60 minutes when the former Paris midfielder Jérémy Clément was judged to have struck the ball with his arm in the box, much to the frustration of the home support. On a second watch, it appeared to be a poor decision, as Clément, who had deliberately moved his arm behind his back, appeared to move the ball away from goal with his shoulder, as opposed to his arm.

Zlatan Ibrahimović then superbly hammered home the ensuing penalty, to give his side what would be the first and last goal of the game, ensuring that PSG would take a valuable three points back to the capital. Later in the game, Cavani was extremely unfortunate when he struck the crossbar with an audacious lob that caught Ruffier off-guard.

Les Parisiens then successfully held on to record an important three-points, with a result which their fans will hope will act as launchpad as the champions look to reestablish themselves as France’s most powerful club in 2015.

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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