La semaine en France: Week 4

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.

Ligue 1
Week 4 saw Yoann Gourcuff’s Lyon debut turn into a decidedly damp squib as his side were beaten 2-0 at Lorient, while Bordeaux snatched a last-gasp 1-1 draw at home to Marseille and Toulouse extended their 100 percent record to open up a four-point lead at the summit.

All eyes were on Gourcuff at Stade du Moustoir, and although he began the game on the bench he was pressed into action in the 30th minute against the side coached by his father when César Delgado had to go off with a thigh injury. Lyon already trailed to an eighth-minute penalty from the impressive Kévin Gameiro and although Gourcuff’s introduction gave the visitors’ attacking play much more cohesion, their chances of a comeback were dealt a fatal blow in the 66th minute when Lorient debutant Lynel Kitambala slammed home.

Lyon have four points from their first four games – the same as Bordeaux and Marseille, who fought out an entertaining 1-1 draw at Chaban-Delmas on Sunday night. Lucho González expertly swept OM into a 12th-minute lead after a superb charge down the right flank from Brandão, but Edouard Cissé was harshly dismissed in the 33rd minute and Marseille’s resistance finally crumbled two minutes from time when Anthony Modeste (pictured) got across César Azpilicueta to head in Jaroslav Plašil’s inswinging cross.

A marvellously assured goal (see below) from rumoured Barcelona target Étienne Capoue set Toulouse on their way to a 2-0 victory at Nancy. TFC are four points clear of Rennes and Montpellier, while Sochaux climbed to fourth after exploiting the huge cracks in the Paris Saint-Germain defence to record a 3-1 win over Antoine Kombouaré’s men at Stade Bonal. Caen’s unbeaten run came to an end when they went down 2-0 at home to fellow promoted side Brest.

Ligue 1 table

The major Ligue 1 transfers all went through in the second-last week of the summer window and France largely failed to match the (relative) drama of deadline day in England. Ivorian free-kick specialist Siaka Tiéné’s long-mooted move from Valenciennes to PSG was finally completed though, while former PSG and Newcastle United centre-back David Rozehnal joined Lille on a season-long loan from Hamburg. Yohan Benalouane, reportedly on the verge of a sensational switch from Saint-Etienne to Juventus for the past week, ended up joining Serie A new boys Cesena.

Perhaps the most intriguing deadline day deal was Lyon’s capture of Senegalese international centre-back Pape Diakhaté, formerly of Nancy, on a season-long deal from Dynamo Kiev with an €8 million option to buy. Jérémy Toulalan has floundered at centre-back in Lyon’s recent league matches and Diakhaté’s arrival appears to suggest that The Jérémy Toulalan Centre-back Experiment has been brought to an abrupt conclusion.

High-profile departures were more the order of the day, with Monaco allowing Eidur Gudjohnsen to join Stoke City and selling Uruguay international midfielder Diego Pérez to Bologna, while Asamoah Gyan signed for Sunderland for a reported fee of €16 million.

Goal of the week: Étienne Capoue (Nancy 0-2 Toulouse)

Player of the week: Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
In a league where goals aren’t exactly gushing through the drainpipes, hat-tricks don’t come along too often, and when they’re as spectacular as Payet’s treble in his side’s 3-1 win at home to Lens, they deserve to be shouted about. The former Nantes winger broke the deadlock early on with a fine, left-footed strike that bent its way inside the left-hand post and completed his hat-trick with two remarkably similar goals in the final 11 minutes – cutting infield from the left and then shooting into the bottom-left corner with his right foot on both occasions. Having opened his account with a cunning strike at PSG on the opening day of the season, it was enough to take him to the top of the goalscoring charts.

Quote of the week
“Some of the things he’s capable of are Maradonesque.”
– Arsène Wenger, in classic word-inventing mode, suggests Newcastle fans will have plenty to look forward to after Hatem Ben Arfa finally completes his protracted loan move from Marseille to the Premier League side

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Lille are the first French top-flight team to draw their opening four league matches since Strasbourg in 1993.

Top goalscorers
4: Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
3: Daniel Braaten (Toulouse)
2: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Monaco), Ismaël Bangoura (Rennes), Gaël Danic (Valenciennes), Étienne Didot (Toulouse), Franck Dja Djedje (Arles-Avignon), Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Emerse Faé (Nice), Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Guillaume Hoarau (PSG), Victor Hugo Montaño (Rennes), Daniel Niculae (Monaco), Benoît Pedretti (Auxerre), Loïc Perrin (Saint-Etienne), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes), Nolan Roux (Brest), Taye Taiwo (Marseille)

Top assists
3: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
2: Jérôme Leroy (Rennes), Anthony Mounier (Nice), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux), Sambou Yatabaré (Caen)

Week 5 fixtures (September 11/12)
Saturday: Auxerre v Caen, Lyon v Valenciennes, Montpellier v Nancy, PSG v Arles-Avignon, Rennes v Sochaux, Toulouse v Saint-Etienne, Lens v Lille; Sunday: Brest v Lorient, Nice v Bordeaux, Marseille v Monaco

Les Bleus
The Laurent Blanc era begins in earnest tonight as France face Belarus in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier at the Stade de France, but Blanc’s plans have been seriously disrupted by suspensions and injuries. Toulalan, Patrice Evra and Franck Ribéry are unavailable due to the suspensions handed to them by the French Football Federation, Gourcuff is banned following his sending off against South Africa at the World Cup and Samir Nasri, Lassana Diarra, Yohan Cabaye, André-Pierre Gignac and Ben Arfa are all either injured or short of fitness. Karim Benzema, meanwhile, is a doubt with an injury to his right ankle.

It means Blanc is without someone capable of dictating the play in central areas, but he says he “can’t replace a playmaker with someone who isn’t a playmaker”. France are therefore expected to line up in a 4-4-2 with Alou Diarra and Abou Diaby in central midfield, Jérémy Menez and Florent Malouda on the flanks and Guillaume Hoarau partnering Loïc Remy up front.

More than 65,000 tickets have been sold for the game, after the FFF slashed prices in fear of a post-World Cup backlash. Zinedine Zidane trained with the squad on Wednesday and told them that the only way to regain the fans’ support was by winning.

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