La semaine en France: Week 14

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
The big guns moved into position in Week 14, with no less than five teams leap-frogging former leaders Brest, while Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon closed to within two points of top spot.

Brest were beaten 2-1 at Rennes in the Brittany derby thanks to goals of real quality from Jires Kembo Ekoko and Jérôme Leroy, and it is difficult to envisage Alex Dupont’s men making a renewed assault on the upper echelons of the table now that their momentum has been checked.

Rennes sit fourth, level on points with third-placed Paris Saint-Germain, who briefly topped the pile after strikes from Guillaume Hoarau and Mevlüt Erding saw them to a 2-1 win over Caen at Parc des Princes. Montpellier went top after Olivier Giroud’s late goal earned them a 1-0 win at Nice on Saturday night, but Lille ended the weekend atop the standings after Eden Hazard inspired them to a 2-1 defeat of Monaco on Sunday.

Marseille and Lyon continue to improve, albeit slowly. It took an 88th-minute header from substitute André Ayew to snatch victory for OM at Toulouse, while Lyon were absolutely wretched at second-bottom Lens until Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro López were summoned from the bench and a second-half brace by Bafétimbi Gomis turned a 0-1 half-time deficit into a 3-1 win.

Bordeaux also had to came from behind to win, but  they found life slightly easier against the 10 men of Arles-Avignon as Anthony Modeste’s hat-trick set them up for a 4-2 success. Marseille, Brest, Bordeaux and Lyon are now all on 22 points, but Marseille still have a game in hand at home to Rennes on December 1.

The fixture list has thrown up some particularly appetising encounters in Week 15, with OM hosting second-placed Montpellier, new leaders Lille travelling to Bordeaux and Lyon tackling PSG in Sunday’s late game.

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Adriano (Lille 2-1 Monaco):

Player of the week:
Eden Hazard (Lille, pictured)
Eden Hazard has been voted the best young player in Ligue 1 for the past two seasons running, but the 19-year-old Belgian winger appeared to have hit something of an impasse earlier this season. A string of less than impressive performances saw him dropped to the bench for three straight games in late September and early October, while Belgium coach Georges Leekens criticised him over his work ethic. Hazard was simply sensational against Monaco, however, setting up both Pierre-Alain Frau’s opener and Ludovic Obraniak’s 78th-minute winner. His bold dribbling spread panic in the Monaco defence and one memorable slalom down the right that took him past five opponents had the Canal+ commentators likening him to a certain diminutive Argentine currently plying his trade in Catalonia. “It’s true, the coach [Rudi Garcia] makes the decisions,” said Hazard. “I was perhaps playing less well and he gave me a breather. I thank him for it because it was perhaps what had to be done. I’ve bounced back.”

Quote of the week
“I’ll piss on their arse-crack. Not a nice response, eh? It’s scandalous. But when Brest were the leaders, people took the piss. Does it always have to be Marseille or Lyon that are on top? When Saint-Etienne were top, their heads became huge.”
– Montpellier president Louis Nicollin takes umbrage at the suggestion that people might see his side’s rise to the top of Ligue 1 as proof of the league’s weakness. He goes before the National Ethics Council on December 13.

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Marseille have won three consecutive matches in the Champions League/European Cup for the first time since 1991-92.

Top goalscorers
10: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
9: Moussa Sow (Lille)
8: Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
7: Nenê (PSG)
6: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Gervinho (Lille), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)

Top assists
5: Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Anthony Mounier (Nice)
4: Marco Estrada (Montpellier), Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)

Week 15 fixtures
Saturday: Brest v Lens, Lorient v Rennes, Marseille v Montpellier, Monaco v Nice, Nancy v Saint-Etienne, Valenciennes v Arles-Avignon, Bordeaux v Lille; Sunday: Auxerre v Toulouse, Caen v Sochaux, Lyon v PSG

Marseille produced their best performance of the season so far on Tuesday to win 3-0 at Group F rivals Spartak Moscow and book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League. Key to the victory was a cunning tactical tweak by Didier Deschamps that saw Mathieu Valbuena operating as the central playmaker in a 4-2-3-1. His neat turn and finish put Marseille ahead after 18 minutes, before second-half goals from Loïc Rémy and Brandão completed an impressive victory. “I’d had the idea for a while”, said Deschamps. “It’s [Valbuena’s] best position as he shoots well… Spartak weren’t expecting it. It was a risk, but that’s what the coach is there for.”

Lyon once again paid the price for a sloppy start as they went down 3-0 at Schalke, but Benfica’s shock 3-0 defeat at Hapoel Tel Aviv meant that Claude Puel’s side went through anyway. Auxerre lost 2-0 at home to Milan despite dominating large portions of the game. They visit Real Madrid in their final group game on December 8 and must better Ajax’s result at Milan to reach the Europa League.

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