Three things we learned this week in Ligue 1

‘Quel Choc!’ – Win against Paris Saint-Germain the perfect ending to Guingamp’s glorious week

En Avant de Guingamp topped off a week to remember on Sunday with a shock one-nil victory against Paris Saint-Germain, with a result that saw the French champions loose for the first time in Ligue 1 this season.

Earlier in the week, Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side, who qualified for the Europa League because of their Coupe de France success against their Breton rivals Rennes in May, were the only French outfit to progress through group stages of the competition thanks to a double from Claudio Beauvue, in a two-one win in Greece against PAOK.

PSG’s unbeaten run in all competitions this season ended in Catalonia on Wednesday night, when they suffered a three-one defeat away to Barcelona and Sunday’s result at the Stade du Roudourou gave the men from the capital their first set of consecutive defeats since April.

 

PSG remain a point behind the current league leaders Marseille, while Guingamp’s sees them push up to thirteenth place in the standings, a feat made all the more impressive considering the fact that just seven weeks ago, the home side grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons when they were thrashed seven-two by Nice.

Having an almost full squad at his disposal has been a distinct rarity for Laurent Blanc this season, and the Paris manager made the most of his attacking and midfield options, with Zlatan Ibrahimović, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi all starting in the forward line of the 4-3-3, while last season’s dynamic midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta were once again hoping to boss proceedings in the middle of the park

PSG’s main injury loss was the absence of the extremely influential Javier Pastore, but it was the away side who threatened almost immediately from kick-off when Cavani struck the crossbar with an inventive lob from the edge of the area, after Marco Verratti provided one of his trademark long through balls into the Guingamp box from inside his own half, highlighting the twenty-tw0- year old’s great vision on the pitch. However, the home side silenced  and stunned the away support with an early goal on eleven minutes.

Thibault Giresse delivered a free-kick deep into the PSG box, which after a flick-on from Younousse Sankharé, made its way to Jérémy Pied. The on-loan Nice defender then showed his commitment when he bravely threw himself down towards the ball to head past Salvatore Sirigu. The goal, which perhaps owed more to lackluster PSG defending than the quality of Guingamp’s set-piece, remained the only goal scored in the match when the referee blew to signal half-time.

As expected, PSG continued in the second-half to attempt to find a way back into the game, but Guingamp remained disciplined and attempted to frustrate their opponents with their deep and narrow tactical set-up. The home side did however pose at threat on the counter-attack, with Beauvue eager to latch onto long balls played forward when Les Parisiens lost possession.

The twenty-six-year old, who Laurent Blanc compared during a press conference this week to Alexandre Lacazette in terms of his playing style, forced an important save from Sirigu on the counter, as did Sankharé a few moments later. At the other end of the park, Jonas Lössl made one of the saves of the season so far, when  Ibrahimović volleyed from close range after timing his run superbly to meet a Lavezzi cross at the back-post.

 

The Dane reminded spectators of his compatriot Peter Schmeichel with a ‘star jump’ dive when helped him to blocked the ball with his outstretched right-hand. PSG’s Swedish striker was once again unlucky not to score in stoppage time when his goal-bound shot from close range was blocked by his one-time international teammate Lars Jacobsen.

PSG’s attempts to recover from losing such an early goal were consistently thwarted by what was a heroic collective Guingamp performance, but one that was most obviously aided by the individual efforts of the back four, notably those of Jérémy Sorbon and Bejamin Angoua, the side’s central defensive pairing.

Without taking anything away from the home side’s well-disciplined and admirable efforts, Paris Saint-Germain were once again victims of their own downfalls, as they once again failed to convert their mass dominance of the match into a reflective number of goals, as well as conceding a completely avoidable goal and with danger that Beauvue provided on the break, they at times looked like they could concede even more.

In recent Ligue 1 history, PSG’s strong point has been their consistency both at home on the road – this season, it’s their inconsistency that could yet prove to be their downfall.

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‘In Football, you’ve got to take your chances’ – it’s an age-old cliché, but it’s an adage which nonetheless holds a respectable amount of weight, as Marcelo Bielsa’s Olympique de Marseille side discovered on Sunday evening.

Les Olympiens made the journey eastwards along France’s southern Mediterranean tip to the principality, with knowledge of the fact that a win in the late fixture at the Stade Louis II against Leonardo Jardim’s statistically inferior Monaco side would send them four points clear of their second-placed rivals Paris Saint-Germain, thanks to their beforehand unimaginable slip-up earlier in the day in Brittany.

Marseille at times, in particular during the latter part of the first-half, totally dominated the match, but their inability to break down a compact Monégasque rear-guard and Monaco’s comparative efficiency  in front of goal served as factors which now keep Marseille just one point ahead at the top of the league.

 

The victory was also of great significance in terms of Monaco’s movement in the league table as the three points, in addition to Rennes’ dreadfully disappointing two-nil defeat on Corsica against AC Ajaccio, helped to send until recently France’s second most powerful footballing force up the league to sixth place, at the end of a great week for Monaco supporters which also saw the side progress to the next round of the UEFA Champions League, in which they will face Arsenal.

As expected, Marseille attempted as usual to enforce their own style of play upon their opponents and make the game their own from the off. Games at Monaco’s ground are usually eerily quiet, given Monte Carlo’s lack of proximity to other football towns in France, but a large section of OM supporters who’d made the trip to the Louis II helped to give the match the impression of a home game for the Marseille players and Bielsa’s side certainly looked settled in the opening forty-five minutes of the game.

The away side created some good early chances, with both André-Pierre Gignac and Mario Lemina heading wide in positions from where they really should have at least made the keeper work. Monaco, who appeared to be inspired by the way Lyon beat Marseille earlier this season, attempted to play a swift counter-attacking game, from which they nearly profited when their exciting young centre-forward Anthony Marital struck Steve Mandanda’s crossbar with power from just inside the box.

Marseille’s now quintessential high-pressing game, which sections of the media have dubbed as ‘à la Bielsa’, appeared to have the desired effect when the away side forced their opponents into a comedy errors which almost resulted in the high-attacking right-back Brice Dja Djédjé opening the scoring just before half-time. The first-half ended goalless, but it had been a promising forty-five for Marseille and OM supporters were no doubt hoping to see what they usually see on Sunday nights from their side – a second-half blitz of goals.

However, the goals just simply didn’t come. What is quite striking about Marseille is their apparent inability to change how they play and adapt to oppositions who force them into a narrow game. Gignac at times looked extremely isolated on his upfront when the  OM attacking midfield line of three behind him was being frustrated by determined closing down from João Moutinho and Bernardo Silva.

Gianelli Imbula had an excellent game as usual in midfield for the away side, demonstrating how clever his use of the ball can be, but Sunday’s defeat was another big away match in which things just didn’t seem to click for the usually creative duo of Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet.

Monaco, in face of Marseille lack of creativity in the final-third, began to gradually become more confident and it was from a rare spell of Monégasque pressure that the home side opened the scoring with what would be the game’s only goal on sixty-seven minutes.

After good build-up play from Nabil Dirar and once again Marital, the ball made through to Silva, and the on-loan Benfica midfielder scored his first goal in Monégasque colours when he put his side in front with a low drive. Mandanda appeared to let the ball slip underneath his hands, making what on this season’s form would be considered a rarity for the French international.

The win marks a positive turn for Leonardo Jardim’s side. Tactically, Monaco did extremely well to contain and ultimately disarm the Marseille attacking system, something which has been difficult for sides to do this season and the Portuguese coach will be hoping that his side can extended their run of wins to four with a win away against Metz on Matchday 18.

As far as Marseille are concerned, the result will no doubt come as a bitter blow for both the players and the supporters of the club, as a win against Monaco would have been a great opportunity for OM to move four points clear and to really prove their title credentials to the rest of the league.

Marseille fans will be hoping for a return to winning ways when their side clashes against a Lille side fresh from their own three-nil victory against Toulouse next weekend.

Lyon win sends them within two points of top spot

Lyon once again impressed with a logical three-nil home win against SM Caen at the Stade de Gerland on Friday night, in the opening fixture of the weekend. The moves Lyon to within just two points of Marseille and to just a single point behind Paris Saint-Germain, while Caen are rooted to the bottom of the Ligue 1 standings, having won just three times this season out of a total of eighteen games.

Caen started the match in a rigid 5-4-1 formation, with Mathieu Duhamel figuring as the lone centre-forward in the Caennais attack. However their plans of stopping a Lyon side renowned for its flair in its build-up play were dashed early on.

It took just seven minutes for Hubert Fournier’s side to open the scoring when Alexandre Lacazette opened the scoring from the spot. Nabil Fekir, who always impresses with his surging runs from midfield in the final-third of the park, was clumsily brought down by Jean-Jacques Pierre’s trailing leg and the referee had a straightforward decision to make.

 

Lacazette coolly sent the ball past the keeper, to score his second penalty out of three in three consecutive Ligue 1 matches. The first-half ended as most would’ve predicted it to, with Anthony Lopes hardly being troubled in the OL goal, and Caen struggling to cope with Lyon’s pace.

Lacazette scored his second of the day and his fifteenth of the season when volleyed home past Rémy Vercoutre, a former Lyon goalkeeper, on fifty-seven minutes. Ligue 1’s top scorer was involved again for his side’s third and final goal when he played a pass infield to Nabil Fekir.

The French-born midfielder, who is believed to be considering whether he wants to commit his international future to his country of birth or to Algeria, found Yacine Benzia who fired his second goal in consecutive games home.

In the seventy-third minute, Lacazette made way for Mohammed Yatarra, Fekir was once again fouled in the box, this time by Jordan Adeoti. Fekir looked determined to grab a goal from the spot, but his shot was well saved by Vercoutre and the game ended three-one.

The result has given hope to many neutrals in France, as there is the distinct possibility that the title race could now take the form of a ‘three horse race’, with each of the top three so narrowly close in terms of their points margins.

The days when the Ligue 1 season was described as a procession for Paris Saint-Germain to take the title are now but a memory, with this season proving to be one of the tights leagues domestically in Europe at the moment.

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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