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Ligue 1 clubs turn to experienced French managers to right wrongs | Football

Four Ligue 1 clubs have changed managers since the start of August and all four of their appointments speak volumes about the emphasis being placed on veteran managers in France. Christian Gourcuff arrived at Nantes on the eve of the season and has guided them to second place in the table; Claude Puel replaced Ghislain Printant at Saint-Étienne earlier this month; Antoine Kombouaré took over from Alain Casanova at Toulouse during the international break; and Rudi Garcia came in for Sylvinho at Lyon last week after the Brazilian went seven league games without a win.

Results this weekend – although small in sample size – suggest that Saint-Étienne, Toulouse and Lyon may be rewarded for their decision to follow Nantes’ lead and prioritise experience in a league so noted for its young talents.

Saint-Étienne were the first of the three clubs to move, sacking Printant – who had been kept on at the club due to his closeness to the retired Jean-Louis Gasset – and replacing him with Claude Puel, whose track record of success in France is clear. Even though he failed at Lyon at times, Puel still took the club to an unlikely Champions League semi-final in 2010.

Puel has rejigged Saint-Étienne’s tactics in his two league games so far – both of which have been won 1-0. Puel is playing three at the back; he has brought young Arsenal loanee William Saliba back into the fold; and he has dropped established players such as Mathieu Debuchy. The team has far more natural width and Denis Bouanga finally looks like he will live up to the potential he showed at Lorient three seasons ago. The wing-back has never been noted for his defensive discipline, but he has put in determined performances under Puel and he scored the only goal of the game – a 93rd-minute penalty – in a 1-0 win over Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon. Charles Abi’s pace in attack has also been key to Puel’s approach. As a whole, the team looks sound in defence and threatening on the counterattack – like they did under Gasset.

Toulouse have also enjoyed a positive start under their new manager. Kombouaré made his name by achieving impressive results with clubs who had tight budgets – such as at Valenciennes, where he earned promotion and then improved the club’s position in all three of his seasons in Ligue 1. After being dismissed unfairly by PSG in 2011 – they were top of the table at the time but the new Qatari owners wanted a different approach – he has enjoyed some success and endured some disappointment. Things did not work out for him at Guingamp, but they are now on their third manager in four months, which suggests there was little he could have done there.

Kombouaré began his new job at Toulouse with an impressive 2-1 win over Lille on Saturday. He set out the team in a 4-4-2 formation, with Max-Alain Gradel as a centre-forward and Mathieu Dossevi reinstalled on the right. Toulouse missed a penalty, struck the woodwork twice and were a force of nature on the flanks, overwhelming Lille’s full-backs and seemingly creating chances at will. This energy may not be sustainable, but Kombouaré’s willingness to attack opponents will go down well with fans who have not seen their team play on the front foot for some time.

Unlike Puel and Kombouaré, Garcia did not kickstart his tenure at Lyon with a victory. His teams’s failure to score at home to Dijon – perhaps the poorest team in the league – will do little to win over critics of the appointment, but Lyon played well in the goalless draw. Houssem Aouar sparkled, playing with far more freedom than he had demonstrated under Sylvinho and looking more like the player who scored for France’s Under-21s against both Azerbaijan and Slovakia last week. Aouar’s display was a potent reminder that he – and not the injured Memphis Depay – should be the focal point for Lyon, something Sylvinho was slow to recognise.

Had Dijon goalkeeper Alfred Gomis not been in such inspired form, Lyon would have found a winner – particularly in the second half. As this rate, they look likely to rise up the table under Garcia’s stewardship. The manager brought Maxwel Cornet in from the cold and he offered a reminder of his qualities – pace and an eagerness to involve his teammates. The young wide player offered the team more than Bertrand Traoré, who had been consistently preferred by Sylvinho.

Cornet is inconsistent and he may not be the best option every week, but he looked motivated and eager to please. It seems as if Garcia will select players on merit and hunger, not only on their price tags and reputations, something that stymied his predecessor – another feather in the cap of the league’s clutch of veteran managers.

Ligue 1 talking points

Yunis Abdelhamid was on the scoresheet for Reims as they beat Montpellier this weekend. Photograph: François Nascimbeni/AFP via Getty Images

Reims look likely to challenge for Europe. The club pushed for a place in the top six last season only to fall short in the final weeks of the campaign, finishing four points off sixth-place Montpellier. They have produced more of the same this season, with the league’s best defence propelling David Guion’s side into the top three. Yunis Abdelhamid – who scored the only goal of the game as they beat Montpellier this weekend – remains a rock in defence and his young centre-back partner Axel Disasi has been equally impressive. The pair of them, as well as right-back Thomas Foket, have played every minute so far for Reims, allowing new goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic the necessary time to adapt to Ligue 1.

Monaco were once again the entertainers in Sunday’s early evening match, with Wissam Ben Yedder’s brace and another goal and assist from Islam Slimani propelling the hosts to a 3-2 home win against Rennes. Kamil Glik was poor again for Monaco at the back, but Slimani and Ben Yedder are one of the best strikeforces in Europe. Ben Yedder is averaging a goal every 71 minutes. His brace against Rennes took him to eight league goals this season. Only Ciro Immobile (who has scored nine times for Lazio in Serie A this season) and Robert Lewandowksi (12 for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga) have scored more in Europe’s top five leagues.

Finally, Ligue 1 again emphasised that – away from the title race – it may be Europe’s most competitive league. Eight sides in the bottom half recorded points this weekend, with Toulouse, Metz, Monaco and Saint-Étienne all beating teams who are above them in the table. Add to this a gritty victory for Brest at Angers and it’s clear that (almost) anything can happen on any given weekend in France.

Nice 1-4 PSG
Lyon 0-0 Dijon
Angers 0-1 Brest
Metz 1-0 Nantes
Nîmes 1-1 Amiens
Reims 1-0 Montpellier
Toulouse 2-1 Lille
Bordeaux 0-1 St Étienne
Monaco 3-2 Rennes
Marseille 2-0 Strasbourg

Ligue 1 table

This is an article from Get French Football News
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