A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.
Normal service was resumed to a certain extent on the third weekend of the season, as Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux all returned to winning ways, but not one of France’s ‘Big Three’ can claim to be in peak condition just yet.
Bordeaux were rocked by Yoann Gourcuff’s eve-of-match declaration that he wished to join Lyon and he started on the bench for the trip to Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday night. PSG dominated throughout, and might have won at a canter had it not been for the wastefulness of striker Mevlut Erding and the excellent reactions of Bordeaux goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso. As it was, the visitors claimed a scarcely merited 2-1 victory when Michaël Ciani nodded in a corner from substitute Gourcuff in the fourth minute of injury time. It was Bordeaux’s first win on the road since a 3-1 victory at Grenoble on January 20.
Lyon toiled to a 1-0 victory at home to Brest thanks to a poacher’s goal from Jean Makoun in the 19th minute, but lost left-back Aly Cissokho to a thigh injury, which leaves converted holding midfielder Jérémy Toulalan as the only fit member of Claude Puel’s first-choice back four.
Marseille were much improved at home to Lorient, who obligingly lost both centre-back Grégory Bourillon and his replacement Lamine Koné to injury inside the first half an hour. Goals in each half from Gabriel Heinze and Taye Taiwo brought OM their first three points of the campaign. They visit Bordeaux on Sunday.
Toulouse kept hold of top spot by prolonging their 100 percent record with a 2-1 defeat of Arles-Avignon, who remain bottom. Second-placed Caen kept their cool in temperatures nudging 40°C at Montpellier to record a 0-0 draw that owed much to the reflexes of goalkeeper Alexis Thébaux.
After a distinctly sleepy summer, the French transfer market belatedly burst into life in the penultimate week of the transfer window. André-Pierre Gignac and Loïc Rémy both finalised their moves to Marseille – Rémy after having to undergo tests on a previously undetected heart condition that temporarily placed his career in jeopardy – but the blockbuster move of the summer (and potentially the decade) was Gourcuff’s switch to Lyon.
Refreshingly, the transfer bucked the trend of most big-money moves by taking only a matter of days to reach its conclusion. Gourcuff told Bordeaux he wanted to leave on Saturday, played his final game for Bordeaux on Sunday and the deal was announced on Monday. At €22 million it is the costliest ever transfer between two French clubs, eclipsing the €19.8m that Monaco paid Rennes for Shabani Nonda in 2000. Gourcuff is set to make his Lyon bow on Saturday at Lorient, who are coached by his father, Christian.
Bordeaux are expected to have around €7m to spend on new players, as the majority of the fee received from Lyon will go towards writing off their estimated €15m debt. Lille’s Yohan Cabaye, Nancy’s Julien Féret and Morgan Amalfitano of Lorient have all been touted as potential replacements for Gourcuff. Bordeaux have also loaned Argentine striker Fernando Cavenaghi to Real Mallorca on a season-long deal with an option to buy.
Goal of the week: Gaël Danic (Auxerre 1-1 Valenciennes)
Player of the week: Daniel Braaten (Toulouse)
The sale of Gignac and a knee injury to Xavier Pentecôte that is likely to keep him out for six months have forced Braaten into service as an auxiliary centre-forward, and the Norwegian winger has responded with three goals in his first three games. Renowned for blending outrageous skill with infuriating inconsistency during his time at Rosenborg (witness this archetypal seal dribble/miskick combination), he scarcely made an impression at Bolton Wanderers but has enjoyed much more influence at Toulouse. The pundits on French football show Canal Football Club delighted in highlighting the inadequacy of his positional play against Arles-Avignon, but he nonetheless notched the opening goal and set up Étienne Didot for TFC’s lovely second.
Quote of the week
“Saint-Etienne played defensively; French football is like that. You don’t see the 6-0s of Arsenal and Chelsea in France. It’s the culture of defence in a homogeneous league.”
– Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti takes exception to the defensive tactics that saw Saint-Etienne grind out a useful 0-0 draw at the Stade de la Route de Lorient on Saturday
Stat of the week (courtesy of Soccer Stats)
As if to illustrate Antonetti’s point, the average number of goals scored per game in France over the first three weeks of the season was a rather measly 2.20. England’s Premier League currently averages exactly a goal per game more (3.20).
3: Daniel Braaten (Toulouse)
2: Ismaël Bangoura (Rennes), Gaël Danic (Valenciennes), Étienne Didot (Toulouse), Franck Dja Djedje (Arles-Avignon), Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Benoît Pedretti (Auxerre), Loïc Perrin (Saint-Etienne), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes), Taye Taiwo (Marseille)
2: Jérôme Leroy (Rennes), Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Anthony Mounier (Nice), Sambou Yatabaré (Caen)
Week 4 fixtures
Saturday: Arles-Avignon v Rennes, Lorient v Lyon, Nancy v Toulouse, Saint-Etienne v Lens, Valenciennes v Montpellier, Caen v Brest; Sunday: Lille v Nice, Monaco v Auxerre, Sochaux v PSG, Bordeaux v Marseille
Auxerre produced one of the greatest results in their recent history to claim a place in the Champions League group phase for the first time since 2002 at the expense of big-spending Zenit St Petersburg. Trailing 1-0 from the away leg, AJA levelled the tie in the ninth minute when Cédric Hengbart headed home a ninth-minute corner from the excellent Benoît Pedretti, whose 52nd-minute corner was the source of Ireneusz Jeleń’s ultimately decisive volley.
Auxerre’s reward was a place alongside Real Madrid, Milan and Ajax – just the 20 European Cups between them – in a fiendish Group G. Lyon will expect to progress after drawing Benfica, Schalke and Hapoel Tel Aviv, while Marseille must contend with Chelsea, Spartak Moscow and Slovakians MŠK Žilina.
PSG and Lille both made it into the Europa League group stage on Thursday. Paris went through 5-4 on aggregate after losing 4-3 in an entertaining encounter at Maccabi Tel Aviv, while uncharacteristically goal-shy Lille ground out a 2-0 win at home to Romanians FC Vaslui.
Laurent Blanc announced his squad for France’s opening Euro 2012 qualifiers on Thursday, and there was no place for William Gallas, Éric Abidal or the on-strike Hatem Ben Arfa. Lorient striker Kévin Gameiro, the top-scoring Frenchman in Ligue 1 last season, received his first senior call-up, while there was also an unexpected return for Everton’s Louis Saha.
The fall-out from the World Cup continued to rumble on behind the scenes, after Patrice Evra announced his decision to appeal against his five-match ban from the national team. Evra’s move followed the release of an open letter from former France coaches Aimé Jacquet and Michel Hidalgo calling on the French Football Federation to overturn the suspensions imposed on Evra, Toulalan, Franck Ribéry and Nicolas Anelka.