Nouveau Pompier – The Month of Égalité
Ligue 1 has captured everyone’s imagination with Paris Saint-Germain splashing the cash. But here in this regular column, Ogo Sylla takes you through the league and shows there’s more to it than just oil money
The main thing we can take away from last month is that there are no more unbeaten teams in Ligue 1. Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) were the last two teams left unbeaten and they both lost their status of invincibility within a week of each other. In the meantime, Marseille had the time to lose their title lead to PSG but only to go even on points with them later. So today, PSG still lead but Marseille has a game in hand while there are only four points separating the top 9 sides.
We could not begin discussing the month of October without mentioning the big Le Classique clash between (the then) first-placed Marseille and second-placed PSG, as the Paris club travelled to the Vélodrome, trailing Marseille by a mere three points. At the end of the day, both clubs shared the spoils following a flying start to the first half. The second half petered out however, as both teams settled for the point. The hallmark of the game was also the goals scored by the clubs’ two symbols this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) and Andre-Pierre Gignac (Marseille), who both scored a brace. The draw, however, did allow PSG to take the lead at the top of the table, courtesy of a more favourable goal difference.
Lyon and Toulouse have hung on well though to stay close to the two French giants. Following Lyon’s loss to Bordeaux, they went on a good run after a tricky fixture against high-flying Lorient where they could only manage a draw. However, a 1-0 win over Brest followed by an impressive 5-2 win against Bastia allowed Les Gones to move to third spot, a point behind Marseille and PSG. Toulouse have also enjoyed great form and vanquished that bad cliché they had of being an overly defensive team that scored few goals. Indeed, Toulouse have scored nine goals this month. It was that man, Wissam Ben Yedder, who was the main artisan of this goal-glut, having netted three times and lifting his current Ligue 1 tally to seven. The Toulouse forward now sits in the third spot behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (AS Saint- Étienne) in the goal-scoring chart. Their good October form would however come to an end, travelling to Bordeaux as Les Girondins snatched a late winner. However, Toulouse are still today within three points of the Champions League qualifying spot.
Bordeaux is one club who flattered to deceive and was riding high on their undefeated run. But there were far more draws in this run and a 3-1 loss away to Bastia would turn everything into a rather negative run where Bordeaux lost far more points than they gained and slipped to seventh position. Indeed, Bordeaux had been very inconsistent since the start of the season and, for the most part, unable to fight on multiple fronts with demanding mid-week Europa League excursions. However, Bordeaux coach Francis Gillot refused to blame the extra games and fatigue for his team’s inconsistency. In fact, following the defeat to Bastia, the French coach publically berated his players accusing some of being ‘too comfortable’ and pushing them to focus and work harder. Gillot’s message got through apparently, as Bordeaux hosted the in-form Toulouse and won 1-0, thanks to Yoan Gouffran’s late goal. Their good run continued as they came up with an impressive 4-0 away win against FC Lorient to move up to the sixth place.
Another team that was also inconsistent at first but turned it all around this month was Saint-Étienne. After a 4-0 rout against hapless Nancy, Les Verts went on to draw Nice but convincingly beat Rennes (2-0) before getting the biggest scalp of them all when they travelled to the Parc des Princes and beat the (then) undefeated PSG 2-1. Another win against ESTAC Troyes saw them climb up to the fourth spot in the league table. The secret of Christophe Galtier this month has simply been the new striking partnership of their new Brazilian (and ex-Marseille player) Brandão and the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
There is another team that has been full of goals, this season’s surprise package, and keeps growing in confidence: Valenciennes. It is all due to the great work of their coach, Daniel Sanchez, whose attacking philosophy is really bearing fruit this start of the season. And despite a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Lille in the derby, we will remember the North of France’s club impressive 6-1 dismantling of Lorient. Valenciennes have scored 15 goals in total in their last five matches.
Lorient was one of the great surprises of this start of the season but have really slipped this month. Where Valenciennes have been able to maintain themselves in fifth spot, Christian Gourcuff’s men have slipped all the way down to 11th. In fact, they are winless since mid-September across all competitions with three defeats against the aforementioned Valenciennes, a 2-0 away loss to Brest and a 4-0 loss to Bordeaux. The highlight of Lorient this month, however, would be their improbable comeback to snatch a point at home to Ajaccio, after having trailed 4-1 at halftime.
So we will remember today that Marseille’s weekend draw with Nice was enough for them to remain at the joint-top with PSG, who were held themselves by Montpellier Hérault SC. What we will also remember is that the still inconsistent French champions Montpellier still sit in the second half of the table (14th) and Lille’s slowly improving form lifted them to seventh place. The midweek Coupe de la Ligue rounds were also noteworthy, when we had another Le Classique, but this time when PSG beat (holders) Marseille 2-0, and that too without Ibrahimovic, to set up a mouth-watering next round tie against Saint Étienne. But it was Marseille’s form that has looked quite worrying too, as their Coupe de la Ligue elimination had been their third defeat on the trot in all competitions, including the 1-0 loss to basement-boys Troyes and the loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Europa League. Nancy and Troyes keep struggling at the bottom, with Sochaux completing the trio. It has been a fascinating October month and the race for the Ligue 1 title continues to be ever so close. The questions we now all ask are: will PSG manage to pull away and who will be able to stay close to them long enough to worry them?