La semaine en France: Week 23

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
One by one, the pack closed in and Lille could do nothing but watch. The fixture computer having scheduled their home game with Toulouse for Sunday night, the league leaders had no choice but to watch as first Marseille, then Lyon and then Rennes whittled away their lead. By the time Lille took to the field at Stadium Lille-Métropole, they were just two points clear.

The pressure was on, then, but Rudi Garcia’s side produced a quietly efficient performance to win 2-0. A badly deteriorating playing surface did not make life easy, but the visitors obligingly evened things up by giving the ball away in dangerous areas with a frequency that – in the first half at least – bordered on the suicidal. Gervinho scrambled home to put Lille 1-0 up in the 38th minute and teed up substitute Túlio de Melo for the second goal in injury time.

It meant that Lille ended the weekend with their five-point lead intact. Rennes are now second after an equally straightforward 2-0 defeat of Nice. Marseille moved up to third, a point behind Rennes, after André-Pierre Gignac’s impressive double saw them come from behind to win 2-1 at Sochaux. Lyon also had to overcome the concession of an early goal, weathering a first-half storm at Saint-Etienne to record a 4-1 victory that left Jean-Michel Aulas beaming.

Paris Saint-Germain were the only title pretenders who failed to win, a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Lens dropping them to fourth, level on points with OL. Bordeaux’s mini-revival came to an end, as Romain Hamouma’s last-minute header saw them fall 2-1 at home to Caen. There were also wins for Caen’s fellow strugglers Nancy and Monaco, who won 3-1 against Auxerre to leave the erstwhile Champions League participants in 17th place and without a win in 14 games across all competitions.

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

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Kévin Gameiro (Monaco 3-1 Lorient)

Player of the week: André-Pierre Gignac (Marseille)
Prior to the resumption of Ligue 1 after the winter break, Gignac vowed he would be a changed man in the second half of the season. So far he has been true to his word. Having managed a measly one goal in the build-up to Christmas, he now has four in his last four games. His brace at Sochaux allowed the champions to emerge with three points from one of the league’s most daunting away venues, while the nature of the two strikes suggested a striker brimming with rediscovered faith in his own ability. His first, on the cusp of a half-time, was a measured curler into the bottom-right corner from the edge of the box, while his second saw him thrash home a magnificent first-time volley that flew inside the right-hand post. If he continues scoring at the same rate, a France re-call will be a formality.

Quote of the week
“At that moment, I told myself that they’d gone mad and didn’t realise. Today I know that I was wrong: they knew exactly what they were doing. They even closed the curtains on the bus to hide themselves from the cameras… With hindsight, I see them above all as a bunch of thoughtless brats.”
– Raymond Domenech revisits France’s ‘bus of shame’ at the World Cup, in an interview with L’Express

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
None of Nenê’s 32 Ligue 1 goals have been scored in February or March.

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

Top assists
10: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
8: Anthony Mounier (Nice)
7: Gervinho (Lille), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
6: Morgan Amalfitano (Lorient), Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Eden Hazard (Lille)

Week 24 fixtures
Friday: Lyon v Nancy; Saturday: Auxerre v Arles-Avignon, Brest v Monaco, Caen v Valenciennes, Lens v Sochaux, Marseille v Saint-Etienne, Lorient v Bordeaux; Sunday: Montpellier v Lille, Nice v PSG, Toulouse v Rennes

Europe
Lille and PSG both drew 2-2 in the Europa League round of 32 on Thursday, but the scoreline is where the similarities between the two performances ended. Paris were 2-1 down with a minute to play in sub-zero conditions at BATE Borisov (and would have been 3-1 behind had BATE substitute Maksim Skavysh not side-footed wide from 10 yards with only the goalkeeper to beat), before Peguy Luyindula headed home to put Antoine Kombouaré’s side in control of the tie. In stark contrast, Lille were 2-0 up at home to PSV with seven minutes of normal time remaining, only for former Aston Villa left-back Wilfred Bouma and Swedish international Ola Toivonen to claim a pair of soft goals in the space of just 81 seconds and turn the tie in the Dutch team’s favour ahead of next week’s second leg.

Bonus material
I wrote a piece for the When Saturday Comes website this week on Nenê’s current slump in form for PSG. You can read it here.

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