As Laurent Koscielny trudged off the pitch on Sunday evening at the Stade Vélodrome, he must have been experiencing no small amount of déjà vu. The former Arsenal stalwart left London to escape the disappointment that comes when you play well against a team that is also challenging for a Champions League place, but let a lead slip thanks to some sloppy defending and poor marking at set pieces. When he joined Bordeaux in the summer he was hoping to add some nous to an ambitious project centred around youth, but the 3-1 defeat at Marseille would have felt awfully familiar.
There is no shame in losing to Marseille – who are flying in the league after six straight wins – even if the defeat did lay bare the fallibility of Paulo Sousa’s 3-4-2-1 formation. Pablo, Koscielny and Vukasin Jovanovic are technically intelligent centre-backs, but they are not especially gifted with pace or the ability to pick a pass under pressure. And the Bordeaux goalkeeper, Benoît Costil, is not particularly proficient with his feet.
Playing in a back three is meant to protect Koscielny from having his withering pace exposed and the system has worked fairly well so far this season. Bordeaux were unbeaten in five games prior to their visit to Marseille on Sunday night and they have looked a good bet to challenge for the European places. Even after the defeat, they are still just two points behind Lille in third place.
Their collection of talented youngsters have been taking significant steps forward this season. Most notable among these is the former Sunderland player Josh Maja, who was born in London and made his debut for Nigeria earlier this season. The 20-year-old has four goals and two assists in his last three games, including the hat-trick he scored against Nîmes in the week.
Maja hardly seems an ideal candidate to work as a lone striker. He is not especially physically imposing, but relies instead on his speed, guile, eye for a goal and ability on the ball. Sousa’s system is undoubtedly getting the best from him.
He is far from the only promising youngster in the team. Yacine Adli, signed from PSG in January, has also looked the part this season. He has really caught the eye this week, setting up two goals against Nimes in midweek and then scoring a screamer against Marseille on Sunday night. Adli has been playing alongside Nicolas De Préville as interchangeable midfielders-cum-strikers. De Préville is a player reborn, with five goals and three assists so far this season.
In central midfield, too, there is abundant promise in the form of 19-year-old Aurélien Tchouameni, whose refined performances defy his age. His midfield partner, the dogged Otavio, ranks fourth for tackles among the league’s midfielders.
All of this promise was on show on Tuesday night during what must be the strangest match in Ligue 1 so far this season. Bordeaux beat Nîmes 6-0, but only after the game was delayed for 25 minutes because members of the club’s set of hardcore ultras, the Ultramarines, crowded the pitch in protest to demand the resignation of Frédéric Longuépée, who was installed as the club’s president earlier this year to look after the interests of King Street, the investment fund that owns 86% of the club.
Joe DaGrosa led a €100m takeover of the club last year, with his group of investors, GACP, purchasing 14% of the club and King Street taking on the remaining 86%. Despite his minority stake, DaGrosa was given veto rights in all major decisions. However, the investment has not gone to plan for King Street, who think DaGrosa overvalued the club and overstated how profitable it would become. Now they want to move DaGrosa out and then sell their own stake.
DaGrosa now seems to be losing power to Longuépée, who was was appointed by King Street to ensure they do not lose any more money in the club. Fans suspect that King Street will buy DaGrosa’s 14% share and then usher in a new era of austerity in the transfer market, a frustrating turn of events given that their club – based on their attractive combination of a strong academy, a new stadium and a proud tradition within the French game – should be uniquely placed to challenge PSG.
Whatever happens in the boardroom, Bordeaux are worth watching – on the pitch and off it.
Ligue 1 talking points
• Monaco’s decision to sign Wissam Ben Yedder for €40m in the summer came as a surprise. He is obviously talented but signing a 29-year-old at that price was a radical departure from the club’s philosophy of nurturing young players and improving their resale value. Apart from his final season in Spain, he had not shown he could be the focal point of a high-calibre attack. Eleven goals and four assists later, he has done just that, keeping Monaco out of relegation trouble. If they can sort out their defence, it may not be too late for a tilt at the Champions League.
• Lyon thrashed Nîmes 4-0 on Friday night, with Memphis Depay hitting a brace. Nîmes are bottom of the table and were reduced to nine men before half time so it was not exactly a statement result, but it will build Lyon’s confidence. Lyon have taken just one point from their matches against the sides above them in the table, so they badly need a measure of self-belief with important matches against RB Leipizig on Tuesday and Rennes on Sunday to come.
• Rennes won their third match in a row this weekend, beating Angers 2-1 to move up to fourth place. The club had an uneven start to the season but they have come good after their elimination from the Europa League, with summer signings Raphinha and M’Baye Niang finding form. The former set up the latter for both of his goals in the derby win over Angers. The pair of them have scored three goals each in their last five league games.