Saint-Étienne stun regional rivals Olympique Lyonnais
Sunday’s Rhône derby produced one of the most high-profile shocks of the Ligue 1 season so far, as Christophe Galtier’s Saint-Étienne cruised to a 3-0 victory against their bitter rivals Lyon, with a result which saw the home side end their twenty-year wait for a derby victory at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
The fixture, which sees the traditionally industrial city of Saint-Étienne clash against its historically bourgeoisie neighbour Lyon, is usually always a closely fought contest, so the scoreline’s large margin will come as an even greater surprise.
The result sees Lyon fall a further three-points behind second-placed Paris Saint-Germain, while Bordeaux’s victory against Lille earlier in the day means that their points tally now equals that of Lyon’s. The victory was also extremely significant in terms of table movement for the home side, as Saint-Étienne are now just a single point off both their rivals and also Bordeaux in fifth place.
It was a night to remember for les Stéphanois’ faithful, and one to forget about as quickly as possible for Hubert Fournier’s side. Despite clear early Lyon dominance of possession through the use of swift interchanges between the starting central-midfield four of Jordan Ferri, Maxime Gonalons, Corentin Tolisso and former Saint-Étienne player Steed Malbranque, it was the home side who came closest to scoring in the opening fifteen minutes of the match.
Former Leicester City and Leeds United winger Max Gradel, who had an outstanding match, did extremely well to evade tight marking with quick feet, before lobbing the ball across the box dangerously towards on loan Norwich City centre-forward Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.
The Dutchman, who appears to settling very well in the Rhône-Alpes region, was extremely unfortunate when his left-foot volley from close range bounced off the ground and then struck the outside of the relieved Anthony Lopes’ post.
Following Van Wofswinkel’s chance, it was clear that the home side were looking to exert more pressure on their rivals and that pressure paid off just five minutes later when they opened the scoring through Senegalese international Moustapha Bayal Sall. Gradel was involved again, as it was his in-swinging right-foot cross that found the loosely marked centre-back, who made the most of his unchallenged run to meet the ball and head past Lopes to put his side in front.
Lyon tried to hit back with a much-needed equaliser just over five minutes later, when Nabil Fekir, who had a disappointing game in comparison with the high standards of performance he has proven himself to capable of in Ligue 1 this season, tried to stab a shot past Stéphane Ruffier from just outside the six-yard box, however the French international pulled off a valuable improvised save with his left leg to keep les Verts in the lead.
What seemed to a difficult task in front of a hostile home support became even more difficult for Lyon, when Saint-Étienne doubled the deficit just five minutes before half-time. If Fournier’s side’s defending had been questionable for the first goal, it was about to get even worse for the second.
A hopeful ball forward from Florentin Pogba, who had a very solid game on the left-hand side of defence, was totally misjudged by Milan Biševac (who conversely had a derby game to forget) and promptly fed in Gradel, who provided his second assist of the match.
The relentless Ivorian international once again did well to find Van Wolfswinkel and the unmarked striker this time managed to find the back of the net with a cool finish. The first-period ended with the home side taking a surprising, but thoroughly deserved, two-goal lead back to the dressing room.
Lyon really should have pulled a goal back almost instantly after the restart, when Alexandre Lacazette fired over the bar after making the most of a Bayal Sall misplaced pass. Perhaps a testament to how well the home side defended, the Lyon striker who has been on top form this season, found it very difficult to make an impact on the match and he looked at times an isolated shadow of his normally so dangerous self.
Saint-Étienne, backed by their passionate support, were playing with visible confidence and Lyon’s night went from bad to disastrous midway through the second-half when they scored a well deserved third. Tolisso’s fresh-air swipe when he received a desperate passback from Christophe Jallet on 68 minutes gave former Lyon youth player Renaud Cohade the perfect chance to sink the away side. The defensive midfielder seized upon the chance and curled the ball past Lopes at his near post.
Lacazette’s dreadful late penalty attempt, which he put past Ruffier’s goal with just over twelve minutes to go, seemed to epitomize Lyon’s match perfectly. The away side’s stars quite simply did not turn up and in truth they never looked like posing any real threat to the outcome of what should have been a game in which Lyon challenged. The lack of spirit and determination on shown will be what disappoints les gones’ supporters most.
However disappointing the defeat may be for Lyon supporters, one should not divert attention away from what was a historic resounding victory for Saint-Étienne. As Christophe Galtier explained after the match, it was a ‘logical victory’ for the home side and one in which les Stéphanois showed both good discipline as well as concerted determination in equal measure.
The evolving attacking partnership between Van Wolfswinkel and Gradel, which bore fruit on Sunday, will also be an intriguing aspect to Saint-Étienne’s game to follow throughout the rest of the season.
Marseille and PSG wins maintain single point difference at the top
The league’s top two sides were both victorious on Matchday fifteen, with Olympique de Marseille first of all winning comfortably by two-goals on Friday night at the Stade Vélodrome, in France’s second city’s eighth arrondissement. They were victors against an FC Nantes side who, going into the weekend, were statistically Ligue 1’s best defensive side.
Paris Saint-Germain were also home winners, as Laurent Blanc’s side, who were fresh from midweek UEFA Champions League success against Ajax, narrowly beat Nice by a goal to nil, in another match in which the champions failed to turn to their domination of possession into a reflective number of goals scored.
PSG will be hoping that a Marseille midweek slip-up tonight (Tuesday) against Lorient will allow them to take top spot for the first time in the season with a victory tomorrow (Wednesday) away to a Lille side who are currently lacking form.
In comparison to their previous home match against Bordeaux, les Olympiens opened the scoring quickly in what would be their seventh consecutive home victory of the season. Statistically the league’s most creative player throughout this campaign so far,Dimitri Payet once again showcased his class with a fantastic cross from the right-hand side of the park, to produce his sixth assist in fifteen Ligue 1 games. His cross picked out Florian Thauvin, whose ingenius improvised left-foot flicked volley opened the scoring on twenty-four minutes.
Nantes’ exciting 19-year-old midfielder Georges-Kévin Nkoudou came close to grabbing an equalizer soon after, but OM goalkeeper and skipper Steve Mandanda’s block took enough momentum out of the shot to stop the ball crossing the line. Rod Fanni then quickly doubled Marseille’s lead with a header from a Thauvin free-kick, to make sure the three points would stay in Provence.
PSG managed to stay in touching distance with their table-topping rivals, thanks to a solitary goal from Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede, whose iconic status in France has even lead to his future choice of football endorsement becoming subject to mass-media speculation, converted an early first-half penalty that was enough to give his side the three points.
The former Ajax striker, who scored against his former employers during the week, and Edinson Cavani both came close to scoring memorable goals, but it wasn’t until Lucas Moura was brought down by Romain Genevois that the home side opened the scoring.
Ibra’s well placed low penalty was his sixth of the season and his 85th goal in all competitions for the home side. Salvatore Sirigu went on to make several important saves for the home side, but in the end Paris finished the game as deserved winners. PSG, who so far impressively remain unbeaten in all competition this season, will be expected to increase their winning run to ten games in Nord-Pas-de-Calais against Lille this week.
The Ntep Show – Rennes’ magician hurts monaco
Rennes were inspired to victory on Saturday evening against Monaco, thanks to a wonderful display from their skillful attacker and rumored PSG transfer target Paul-Georges Ntep.
The 22-year-old stood out with his performance in a match in which Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco side were condemned to their fifth defeat of the season, leaving them languishing in eleventh position.
Philippe Montanier’s Rennes side however are faring better this season, with the Breton side’s victory being their seventh of the season so far, helping them to leapfrog their rivals Nantes into sixth place, behind Saint-Étienne.
Two early goals were enough to give the home sides the three points, but they were given a helping hand by one of their opponents when scoring their first. Ntep did brilliantly to run past several opponents to the Monégasque by-line in what is becoming his trademark direct style of dribbling.
He then almost found Ola Toivonen with his cutback, but Tunisia international Aymen Abdennour’s attempted interception then sent the ball past his own keeper to give Rennes an early lead on ten minutes and to score his third own goal in Ligue 1.
Just nine minutes later, Ntep once again found himself high in the Monaco half of the pitch. This time he successfully managed to pick Toivonen out with a really well executed cross, which the former PSV striker diverted past Danijel Subašić with no hesitation. Ntep continued to bombard Monaco with direct running down the left-hand side and precise crosses, but Monaco managed to maintain their goals conceded to two.
Monaco did improve in the second-half, with Dimitar Berbatov coming closest on 55 minutes, but Benoît Costil blocked well. The game ended as the first-half had done so, with Ntep deservedly receiving media praise for his superb performance.