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.
Ask any football fan how they’d prefer to beat their fiercest rivals, and they might not say a 5-0 thrashing or a thrilling 4-3 victory with a dramatic winner deep into injury time. For some, there is nothing sweeter than beating your worst enemies in unjust and controversial circumstances after a match in which you’ve been completely played off the park from start to finish. Fans of Saint-Etienne have been celebrating just such a victory this week.
Lyon’s performance in the 100th Derby du Rhône was probably their best of the season. They dominated possession, had two shots cleared off the line and hit the woodwork three times. But in the 75th minute, Saint-Etienne were awarded a dubious free-kick and man of the moment Dimiti Payet stepped up to send a picture postcard of a shot into the top-right corner, keeping Les Verts top of the pile for another seven days and sending Lyon into the relegation zone.
Saint-Etienne head into Saturday’s sold-out home game against Marseille with a one-point lead over Rennes, who won 2-1 at Nice. Toulouse are a point further back in third, having been held to a 1-1 draw at home to Lille. Marseille, the champions, continued their rise up the standings with a 2-1 win at home to Sochaux (Taye Taiwo’s opener, a wind-assisted attempted cross from wide on the left, will go down as an early candidate for fluke of the season). OM are now sixth, level on points with fifth-placed Paris Saint-Germain, who secured their first away win since December last year with a 2-0 victory at Lens.
Brest continued their encouraging return to the top flight with a 1-0 win at home to Valenciennes, while fellow Ligue 2 escapees Caen remain fourth after a goalless stalemate against Bordeaux.
Goal of the week: Dimitri Payet (Lyon 0-1 Saint-Etienne)
Player of the week: Dimitri Payet
Even the writers of Roy of the Rovers would have had second thoughts about penning the kind of script that Payet’s life has followed over the last seven days. Not only did he go three goals clear at the top of the goalscoring charts with a goal against his club’s arch-rivals so precise it almost felt like it had been borne aloft into the net by angels, but he was also responsible for both of Saint-Etienne’s goal-line clearances and he finished the week with a first call-up for France. Your move, Roy Race.
Quote of the week
“He’s not used to working. When you’re face to face with the person, he listens. But even attentive, receptive players, when they go out in the street they meet people who tell them: ‘You’re the best, you play for Real Madrid, you don’t need to work’. These are false friends.”
– France coach Laurent Blanc tries to understand Karim Benzema’s aversion to pulling his finger out
Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Lyon had 28 shots against Saint-Etienne, the most by one team in a Ligue 1 game this season (and still failed to score).
7: Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
4: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Nenê (PSG)
3: André Ayew (Marseille), Daniel Braaten (Toulouse), Gervinho (Lille), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Guillaume Hoarau (PSG), Víctor Hugo Montaño (Rennes), Daniel Niculae (Monaco), Benoît Pedretti (Auxerre), Nolan Roux (Brest), Taye Taiwo (Marseille)
4: Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Anthony Mounier (Nice)
3: Roy Contout (Auxerre), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
Week 8 fixtures
Saturday: Arles-Avignon v Auxerre, Bordeaux v Lorient, Monaco v Brest, Nancy v Lyon, Sochaux v Lens, Valenciennes v Caen, Saint-Etienne v Marseille; Sunday: Lille v Montpellier, PSG v Nice, Rennes v Toulouse
Didier Deschamps was in scathing mood after Marseille’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea in Champions League Group F on Tuesday, saying it “wasn’t even close” and warning that OM must take maximum points from their forthcoming double-header with MŠK Žilina if they are to stand any chance of reaching the knockout phase. Auxerre defended superbly at home to Real Madrid before being undone by an 81st-minute goal from Ángel di María, as the AJA defence froze in expectation of a whistle that never came following an apparent hand-ball by Sergio Ramos. Lyon put their dismal domestic form to one side to win 3-1 at Hapoel Tel Aviv and are top of Group B with six points from six. Michel Bastos scored a brace, the second of which he described as “the best goal I’ve ever scored” (despite the fact his shot appeared to take a slight deflection just inside the area).
PSG top Europa League Group J after a pair of sweetly struck strikes from Christophe Jallet and Nenê gave them a 2-0 win at home to Karpaty Lviv. Lille picked up their first point in Group C with a 1-1 draw at Gent.
Payet was the most eye-catching inclusion in the squad announced by Blanc on Thursday for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Romania and Luxembourg. Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff made their returns from injury and suspension respectively, but there was no place for Jérémy Toulalan, despite the fact he has resumed playing in defensive midfield for Lyon. Éric Abidal, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jérémy Menez were among the most high-profile players to miss out.