La semaine en France: Weeks 18 and 19

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
Fittingly, after a first half to the season in which several teams enjoyed time at the top of the table without ever being able to pull clear, not one of the sides in the top half of Ligue 1 signed off for the winter break with a victory.

Lille’s penultimate pre-Christmas game against Nancy last Sunday fell victim to the snow but they managed to cling on to top spot by virtue of a 1-1 draw at home to Saint-Etienne on Wednesday. Rudi Garcia’s side, the division’s top scorers with 33 goals from 18 matches, lead by a point from Paris Saint-Germain, Rennes and Lyon but have a game in hand on all their rivals. Marseille are three points off the pace in fifth, above Saint-Etienne on goal difference.

An 88th-minute equaliser by Daniel Niculae had seen Monaco snatch a 2-2 draw from their trip to PSG last weekend, and Paris looked heavy legged in a 2-0 defeat at Nancy on Wednesday – only their second defeat in 23 matches. Rennes’ goalscoring problems continued as they went down 1-0 at third-bottom Caen, while Lyon recorded a 1-1 draw against Auxerre to extend their unbeaten run to 12 league games.

Marseille, who drew 1-1 at home to Lyon in last Sunday’s ‘Olympico‘, once again looked worryingly blunt going forward in a 0-0 draw at Brest, which was their fifth game without a win. New signing Rod Fanni went off injured, Charles Kaboré was sent off and André-Pierre Gignac was substituted to ironic jeers in the 84th minute after another fruitless and frustrating night in front of goal.

Valenciennes (16th) and Monaco (17th) boosted their bids to avoid relegation with victories over Toulouse and Sochaux respectively, but a stoppage-time equaliser by Yoan Gouffran saw second-bottom Lens denied victory at Bordeaux (2-2), and Arles-Avignon are now 11 points from safety following a 0-0 draw with Nice.

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Nenê (PSG 2-2 Monaco):

Player of the week:
Youssouf Hadji (Nancy)
Hadji was suspended for six months – reduced on appeal – after an aggressive confrontation with referee Christian Guillard on the final day of last season, but he brought the year to a close in much more positive fashion with a brace in his side’s 2-0 defeat of PSG. His positive run in behind the Paris defence led to the visitors being reduced to 10 men in the 14th minute after Mamadou Sakho was shown a harsh straight red card for clipping his heels. The Moroccan international broke the deadlock in the 66th minute, seizing on hesitancy in the visiting defence before delightfully lifting the ball over Apoula Edel. He almost scored one of the goals of the season when a slaloming run culminated in a shot that rolled wide of the left-hand post, before pouncing on a rebound in the 83rd minute to claim his second.

Quote of the week
“The memories will always be there. But this is one of the most beautiful days of my life.”
– Fabien Lemoine, who marked his comeback after four months out due to a ruptured kidney that almost ended his career by teeing up a stoppage-time winner for Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik in Rennes’ 1-0 defeat of Valenciennes last weekend

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Of the matches in Ligue 1 this season, 36 percent have been drawn, compared to 33 percent in the Premier League, 27 percent in Serie A and 20 percent in both the Bundesliga and La Liga.

Top goalscorers
14: Moussa Sow (Lille)
13: Nenê (PSG)
10: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
8: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Lisandro López (Lyon), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
7: Gervinho (Lille), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)

Top assists
8: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
7: Anthony Mounier (Nice)
5: Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)

Week 20 fixtures (January 15/16)
Saturday: Auxerre v Monaco, Brest v Caen, Lens v Saint-Etienne, Lyon v Lorient, Montpellier v Valenciennes, Nice v Lille, PSG v Sochaux, Rennes v Arles-Avignon, Toulouse v Nancy; Sunday: Marseille v Bordeaux

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