La semaine en France: Week 20

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
There were few signs of post-Christmas hangovers as Ligue 1 resumed after the winter break, with wins for all the serious title contenders.

Leaders Lille immediately hit their stride with a 2-0 win at Nice, before Eden Hazard and Gervinho inspired Rudi Garcia’s side to a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Nancy in their re-arranged home game on Wednesday to send them four points clear of their title rivals.

Paris Saint-Germain, Rennes and Lyon head the chasing pack on 34 points, after all three kicked off 2011 with victories. PSG had the most difficult return to action, falling behind at home to Sochaux but equalising almost immediately through stand-in skipper Mamadou Sakho and securing a 2-1 victory thanks to a neat finish in the 23rd minute by Ludovic Giuly. Rennes, with new €3 million signing Razak Boukari spearheading the attack, put four unanswered goals past Arles-Avignon (including a delightful chip from Alexander Tettey and Yann M’Vila’s first ever Ligue 1 goal).

Yoann Gourcuff made his first appearance for Lyon since injuring his Achilles tendon at Schalke in November, but Bafétimbi Gomis was the star of the show with a brace of goals (the first an absolute stonker) in a 3-0 win over Lorient. Marseille had plenty of reason to cheer after beating Bordeaux 2-1. André-Pierre Gignac’s volleyed opener was his first goal at Stade Vélodrome since his summer move from Toulouse, while victory ended a run of five league games without a win and kept the champions within two points of PSG.

Toulouse climbed to sixth by beating Nancy 1-0, with Montpellier seventh after a late fightback saw them down Valenciennes 2-1. Saint-Etienne led 1-0 with 10 minutes to play at Lens but a Sébastien Roudet penalty quickly followed by a Loïc Perrin own goal saw Les Verts snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, dropping them two places to eighth.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Auxerre 1-1 Monaco, Brest 1-3 Caen, Lens 2-1 Saint-Etienne, Lyon 3-0 Lorient, Montpellier 2-1 Valenciennes, Nice 0-2 Lille, PSG 2-1 Sochaux, Rennes 4-0 Arles-Avignon, Toulouse 1-0 Nancy; Sunday: Marseille 2-1 Bordeaux; Wednesday: Lille 3-0 Nancy

Ligue 1 table

Boukari’s switch from Lens aside, there has been little to write home about in the January transfer window to date. France centre-back Adil Rami’s €6 million transfer to Valencia came as something of a shock, but he has been loaned back to Lille until the end of the season. Valencia are also poised to sign Lorient striker Kévin Gameiro, who has his heart set on a move to the Mestalla, but Valencia are apparently unwilling to meet his €12 million asking price. Bordeaux are crossing their fingers that the deals falls through. Jean Makoun completed his expected move to Aston Villa, despite an extended run in the Lyon first team in the run-up to Christmas that suggested he might be persuaded to stay.

On the managerial front, Laurent Banide returned to Monaco to replace Guy Lacombe, with former Nancy, Rennes and Monaco coach László Bölöni stepping into Jean-Guy Wallemme’s shoes at Lens. 

Goal of the week:
Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon 3-0 Lorient):

Player of the week:
Eden Hazard (Lille)
Having set up second-half goals for Gervinho and Moussa Sow during a man-of-the-match performance at Nice, Hazard got on the scoresheet himself against Nancy as he extended the scintillating spell of form that took him into the winter break. Speculation continues to swirl about his future, but in the words of his father, Thierry, the Belgian has “a well-defined career plan” and Lille can expect to recoup a hefty sum when he finally decides to leave northern France. On this form, there are few more devastating forward players in Europe.

Quote of the week
“Once again I’m attacked by Jean-Michel Larqué. I hope with all my heart I don’t end up like him after my career, but there’s no chance of that because I’m not an idiot.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot (follow him on Twitter) has a pop at 63-year-old TV pundit Jean-Michel Larqué, who had criticised him for letting in two late goals at Lens

Stat of the week
(courtesy of OptaJean)
Gignac’s strike against Bordeaux came after a goal drought at Stade Vélodrome lasting 555 minutes.

Top goalscorers
15: Moussa Sow (Lille)
13: Nenê (PSG)
11: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
8: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Gervinho (Lille), Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Lisandro López (Lyon), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne)
7: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Modibo Maiga (Sochaux), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)

Top assists
9: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
7: Anthony Mounier (Nice)
6: Eden Hazard (Lille), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
5: Marco Estrada (Montpellier), Gervinho (Lille), Ludovic Giuly (PSG)

Week 21 fixtures (January 29/30)
Saturday: Arles-Avignon v PSG, Caen v Auxerre, Lorient v Brest, Saint-Etienne v Toulouse, Sochaux v Rennes, Valenciennes v Lyon, Lille v Lens; Sunday: Bordeaux v Nice, Nancy v Montpellier, Monaco v Marseille

Coupe de la Ligue
PSG’s quest for glory on four fronts finally faltered after a goal in the 27th minute of extra time by Olivier Giroud saw them fall to a 1-0 defeat at Montpellier in the semi-finals. It will be Montpellier’s first appearance in a domestic cup final since 1994, when they lost 3-0 to Auxerre in the Coupe de France. Any hopes of exacting belated revenge that Montpellier may have harboured were thwarted when Auxerre lost 2-0 at Marseille in the second semi-final, with Gignac on target again.

Les Bleus
After a long and successful association with Adidas, the French national team this week unveiled their first strip designed by new kit manufacturers Nike. Variously described as “elegant and sober” (by Nike’s PR department) and “a bit like Italy” (by Laurent Blanc), it will be sported for the first time when France meet Brazil in a friendly at Stade de France on February 9.

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