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.
Great play has been made of the French top flight’s competitiveness since Lyon’s dominance came to an end in 2008, but that competitiveness reached slightly preposterous proportions in Week 13, with just four points now separating the top 12 clubs.
Brest remain top, by a point, after Nolan Roux’s first-half equaliser earned Alex Dupont’s side a 1-1 draw at home to Sochaux. Lille flew up the standings to second as Moussa Sow’s first career hat-trick set them up for a 5-2 shellacking of Caen, while Montpellier are behind Les Dogues on goal difference after winning 1-0 at home to Toulouse.
Paris Saint-Germain are fourth, a point back, thanks to Nenê’s last-minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw at Lorient. Rennes dropped to fifth, behind Paris on goal difference, after Julien Quercia’s 86th-minute winner consigned the Brittany outfit to defeat at in-form Auxerre.
Marseille disappointed again in a 1-1 draw at home to Lens, but although they slipped to sixth, they still have a game in hand. Lyon weren’t much better at home to Nice on Sunday night, but Jeremy Pied’s first-half volley was enough to secure a 1-0 victory that moved them to within just three points of Brest in eighth place.
Sandwiched between OM and OL are Bordeaux, after a 2-1 win at home to Nancy decided by the talking point of the weekend. With the score 1-1 in the 90th minute, Jaroslav Plašil slung a free-kick into the Nancy box and although Wendel used his hand to divert the ball towards goal and succeeded only in pushing it against the post, the linesman flagged for a goal and referee Bartolomeu Varela – to the horror of the Nancy players – agreed with him. The result dropped Nancy to second-bottom, but – incredibly – they are as close to leaders Brest (eight points) as they are to rock-bottom Arles-Avignon.
Goal of the week: Valter Birsa (Auxerre 2-1 Rennes):
Player of the week: Moussa Sow (Lille, pictured)
Lille weren’t exactly goal-shy last season, but in signing Moussa Sow from Rennes they acquired a powerful, hard-working striker capable of snaffling up the penalty box crumbs left over from the innovative recipes cooked up by Yohan Cabaye, Gervinho and Eden Hazard. His three close-range strikes at Caen were perfect examples of his predatory instincts and allowed him to join Caen’s goalscorer Youssef El-Arabi at the top of the scoring charts.
Quote of the week
“You have to wait until the coach turns towards them before they encourage us. For 70 minutes they were insulting us. If you don’t think we’re good and you don’t want to come, don’t come! Don’t come just to insult us! I’ve had it with them. Once again tonight, I was called all the names under the sun by the crowd. It happens in the car park too, sometimes by young kids! It’s worrying. They say that things are peaceful at Monaco. I don’t care. Here or anywhere else, it’s the same. They should respect us. I do not accept and I cannot stand this behaviour.”
– Outspoken Monaco goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier loses his rag after coming in for another barrage of abuse from the home fans during the 0-0 draw with Arles at Stade Louis II
Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
The nine goals scored by France under Laurent Blanc have featured an average of 4.7 passes in the build-up.
9: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Moussa Sow (Lille)
8: Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
7: Nenê (PSG)
6: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Gervinho (Lille), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)
5: Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Anthony Mounier (Nice)
4: Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
Week 14 fixtures
Saturday: Toulouse v Marseille, Sochaux v Lorient, Saint-Etienne v Auxerre, Rennes v Brest, PSG v Caen, Nancy v Valenciennes, Nice v Montpellier; Sunday: Lille v Monaco, Arles-Avignon v Bordeaux, Lens v Lyon
Few would have thought it possible in June, but France’s 2-1 defeat of England at Wembley allowed les Bleus to finish the darkest year in their history in unequivocally positive fashion. A lifeless performance from the hosts certainly played its part, but there was an irresistible quality to France’s slick first-half interchanges that bore the unmistakable hallmark of Laurent Blanc’s fresh new attacking philosophy.
Well-constructed goals in each half from Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena saw France to their fourth straight win, and it would have been four straight clean sheets had Peter Crouch not exploited Alou Diarra’s slack marking with four minutes to play. “What I saw tonight naturally makes you optimistic, but certainly not euphoric,” cautioned Blanc. Next stop Brazil, on February 9 at Stade de France.