FRANCE: Ligue 1 – Week 3 Review



AS Monaco FC 0 – 0 Toulouse FC

A drab Friday night in Monaco saw the principality club drop their first points of the season, against a determined Toulouse side. The goalless game will be remembered less for the action on the field than for the lack of atmosphere off it – Monaco being forced to play the fixture behind closed doors.

Alain Casanova’s team clearly set out to earn another point in their second successive big game, after their draw in the Garonne derby with Bordeaux last weekend. The game was physical from the off, and the style suited Toulouse, who would only register 3 shots at Danijel Subastic’s goal all night.

Emmanuel Rivière started the game, with Monaco unchanged from the previous week’s performance against Montpellier, and it was the league’s top scorer who went closest early on – rifling a shot across goal from a tight angle. The forward was in the thick of it again moments later, receiving the ball with little space in the area, but managing to twist his way out of trouble effortlessly, only to fire at Ali Ahamada in the Toulouse net.

Toulouse meanwhile made 5 changes, including debuts for new boys Clément Chantôme (PSG) and Martin Braithwaite (Esbjerg), but looked settled and comfortable soaking up the pressure. They came close to opening the scoring in the first half with a long range attempt from Oscar Trejo – however they never truly threatened throughout the game as an attacking force.

It was down to Monaco to make the most of their possession then, and they created numerous chances before the break. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos, both of whom have been outstanding in the early stages of the season, coming close with snatched efforts each.

However, as the Monaco attack floundered and tired under the tenacity of the Toulouse rear-guard effort, chances became more limited in the second half. Record singing Radamel Falcao will know exactly how tough this league can be after being hounded out of the game, often dropping deep to collect the ball but never managing to find himself in a goalscoring position.

James Rodriguez again looked bright for the hosts, coming on in the second-half as Ranieri attempted to freshen up his attack, but he too was limited to long range efforts as the defence stood firm.

Jérémy Toulalan will feel the most aggrieved however, as he finally looked to have broken the deadlock with just 3 minutes remaining of normal time. His drive from distance looked set for goal; however Ahamada watched it crash off his crossbar and away to safety.

Claudio Ranieri, speaking after the game, was in a reflective mood, and noted his team’s lack of bite in the 2nd period. “There was a lot of nervousness in our team,” the former Chelsea man said, “They were looking for the goal. They rushed things and tried to do things on their own.” He was however able to look on the result realistically – “It is not possible to win every match”.

Toulouse are left looking for their first victory of the new campaign, but will be happy with a hard-earned point. Monaco meanwhile remain hopeful of a title challenge, and will sit top of the table overnight while they await the other fixtures from week 3.

Valenciennes 0-1 Marseille

Last season, Marseille sprinted out of the block and looked the team to beat in the early going. Undefeated after 6 rounds, they arrived at Valenciennes, a team who they have struggled against in recent years, and were sent packing with a 4-1 defeat.

This year, after winning 2 out of 2, Elie Baup will have been quietly optimistic that the club could take some revenge, however Valenciennes did not roll over by any stretch. Forced into making changes, the hosts were deprived of striker Gregory Pujol due to injury. Anthony Le Tallec gained a rare start up front.

Baup resisted making changes, but was forced into using Benoit Cheyrou in place of Gianelli Imbula, who had picked up an injury. However, the OM side struggled to break down the stubborn home defence, and it took a substitution to really begin to create some excitement – Saber Khilifa coming off the bench and looking bright in his first appearance since his move from Evian.

Eventually the pressure told, with OM attacking in waves, and in the 85th minute a perfectly delivered cross being met with the head of Andre Ayew. His shot was parried by goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau, but the ever-reliable André-Pierre Gignac was there to dispatch his third goal in three games.

The slender margin was enough to see off the home side, and Marseille travelled south with a maximum 9 points from their first 3 games this term. Valenciennes coach Daniel Sanchez will hope his side can return to their usual formidable home form to stop the rot after two disappointing results.

Bordeaux 1-0 Bastia

Bordeaux have had a tricky start to the campaign this year, with a home tie against the mega-rich new boys of Monaco followed by the visit to Toulouse for a fiercely contested derby game. This game came as a welcome relief then, although they made hard work of it n the end.

Bastia will have began the game in confidence after a surprise win over Valenciennes last week, however they showed little to trouble Bordeaux in this one and the home side took away a deserved 32 points.

Henri Saivet struck the killer blow – a sweetly-hit free-kick in the 31st minute being the only goal to separate the teams in the end.

Evian 1-2 Rennes

Portuguese striker Nelson Oliveira took just 11 minutes to add to his Ligue 1 tally this week – the youngster stepping up to provide the perfect penalty after Youssouf Sabaly had hauled down Jonathan Pitroipa inside the area.

Rennes had the run of the play in the first half and almost blew Evian away within the first 30 minutes – Kevin Théophile-Catherine striking the crossbar, just moments before Oliveira took his second chance. The striker dispatched a shot, with the help of a deflection, into the Evian goal to score his third goal in 2 games after 34 minutes.

Evian made their move for a comeback early in the second half, and when the ball broke fortuitously for Kévin Bérigaud on 50 mins, he took his chance sublimely – striking a wonderful first-time volley that gave Benoit Costil no chance.

Guingamp 2-0 Lorient

Guingamp broke their Ligue 1 duck with a fine home win over Lorient. The battle of the Breton clubs was settled by two goals from Mustapha Yatabaré. The striker notched his 2nd & 3rd goals of the campaign here, after scoring the consolation against Marseille in week one.

Last season’s Ligue 2 top scorer, found himself in space on 15 minutes, and smashed a left-foot volley home to finally give the home fans something to cheer about. He followed it up, not long after the break, when he finished a slick chance created by Raphaël Guerreiro, who worked hard on the right before centering for Yatabare.

Lorient created few chances – saves by Guingamp goalkeeper Samassa from Monnet-Paquet and a late Aboubakar chances being all they had to show for their resistance.

The clubs now sit level on 3 points after the first 3 rounds of matches.

Lyon 0-1 Reims

Reims began this game brightly, not letting the partisan home crowd affect their early play. Gaetan Courtet coming close with a dragged effort in the early stages.

However it didn’t take long for Lyon to begin to apply pressure, and they kept the ball well in the first half which led to a number of good chances. Alexandre Lacazette was lively all night, fresh off his goalscoring exploits last weekend, and he went close himself – turning away from two defenders only to shoot wide, after some good work by Fares Bahlouli to provide the pass.

Bahlouli again created space moments later, playing a lovely ball into the path of Yoann Gourcuff, who should have done better with the shot, but could only find Kossi Agassa in the Reims goal. Lyon were then forced into a change on 11 minutes – new signing Gael Danic pulling up with a muscle injury, and being replaced by Jordan Ferri.

It was the substitute who began to make the difference, providing excellent support to the front men, with the Reims defence finding it hard to track him in an attacking central midfield role.

Unfortunately for Lyon, who were beginning to take a stranglehold of the game, the rain began to pour before the half hour mark, and as a torrential storm brewed overhead the play became choppy and petty in places. Free-kicks and some loose control became the hallmarks of the game, and the referee finally blew the whistle for the interval with a bare minimum of stoppage time played.

By the time the teams emerged for the 2nd half, the rain had subsided, however the pitch looked highly unplayable. The referee decided to take some time to make a decision, amid farcical scenes as ground staff (who had done little during the break) suddenly sprung into life, attempting to use pitch forks to help drain the water from the surface.

Eventually the match resumed 35 minutes late, after an extended warm-up period for the players. The surface was still not ideal for flowing football, and early in the 2nd half Aissa Mandi struggled to cope with Miguel Lopes in the wet conditions; however his chance came to nothing.

The pattern continued on 48 mins as Agassa galloped out wide in his 18 yard area to gather a loose ball, only to find himself sliding much further than anticipated and end up handling the ball outside of the area. A somewhat harsh booking was dished out to the goalkeeper; however Gourcuff could not pick anyone out in the area with the resultant free-kick.

Lyon were dominating the game again by this point, with Reims seemingly unable to get any hold on the game or the conditions. On 54’, Lopes played a ball across the area for Lacazette, who skipped over it with a lovely dummy, only for Gueida Fofana to hit the ‘keeper with his effort.

Two minutes later, Gourcuff mis-contolled wide on the left but managed to chase the ball down and whip in a cross. Fofana met it with a header at the back post, which was deflected and created a scramble in the area. A free-kick from the aftermath of the attack was struck hard by Gourcuff and Agassa could only punch away for a corner.

Ferri was once again instrumental on the hour, playing a beautiful weighted ball over the top, which was caught with a side-footed volley by Lacazette. The effort hit the crossbar; however the danger man was called offside. Seconds later, remaining sharp, Lacazette found space for himself again and lashed a shot at Agassa’s goal, only for the goalkeeper to prove equal to it once more.

Fofana was replaced by the rested Clement Grenier on 67 minutes, and the highly-rated midfielder soon found himself with his side’s best chance at breaking the deadlock. Ferri was brought down stupidly by Courtier in the box, and the referee had no option but to award the spot kick.

Grenier, however, halted in his run-up, trying to second-guess the goalkeeper, and could only have put himself off. He blazed the penalty kick over the crossbar, and was soon regretting his missed chance.

Completely against the run of play, and despite having only one shot on target previously all night, Odair Fortes made a rare break for Reims, delivering a cross-shot from wide on the left which took a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Milan Bisevac and looped into the Lyon goal.

And that was that for Lyon, a 77th minute goal conceded with no answer forthcoming from any of its star attacking influences. 26 crosses and 18 shots at Agassa’s goal come to naught, as Reims recorded a memorable, and fortunate, victory.

Montpellier 2-1 Sochaux

A pulsating game of end to end football at times, saw Montpellier come away with the spoils, thanks to a dramatic late winner.

Sochaux got off to a blistering start, striking the home sides’ crossbar from an unlikely shot via Cedric Bakambu. Siaka Tiéné fired Montpellier’s opening shot from a free-kick, only managing to trouble Simon Pouplin, and not his goal behind him.

Sochaux turned it on again in the final 10 minutes of the first half, firstly through Sebastien Roudet’s dragged shot, and finally hitting the back of the net in the 43rd min via Roy Contout. The player hadn’t notched a goal last term, so was understandably delighted to find Cedric Kante’s header dropping at his feet. He almost fluffed his lines, but managed to make himself space and drill the ball over the home side’s line.

However, the home team were not out of it and returned fire almost immediately. It was captain Vitorino Hilton who made the difference, picking up a clearance from the defence and curling a sublime long range effort in for the equaliser.

After the break Sochaux found themselves down to 10 men – Kante receiving his marching orders for hauling down substitute Remy Cabella. Coach Jean Fernandez could sense the chance to claim all 3 points, and sent on Emmanuel Herrera to join the returning Cabella in attack.

But despite all of the attacking notions the home side showed, it was down to their newly signed left-back to seal the win. Tiéné, formerly of champions PSG, picking up the pieces of a sliced clearance and finishing with ease to give the home side a 95th minute winner.

Lille 1-0 St-Etienne

The so far unbeaten St-Etienne looked a little weary on their travels in this game, just 3 days after losing to Esbjerg in the Europa League qualifying rounds. Their attacking energy was severely lacking, and Lille picked up the win without too much trouble at the Grande Stade.

Salomon Kalou won the game for the home team in the 37th minute, dispatching the penalty which he himself won. Spotting a gap in Les Verts defence, the Ivory Coast player burst through into the box, only to find himself crunched between the attentions of François Clerc and Jérémy Clément.

The referee pointed to the spot and Kalou dusted himself down to take it. He struck the kick well, and France international goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier’s could only watch as the ball nestled into the back of the net.

Lille took confidence from the goal, and while never threatening to run away with the game, will feel that they deserved the 3 point, and have also maintained their record of not having lost to St-Etienne at the Grande Stade in 15 years.

AC Ajaccio 0-0 Nice

A 0-0 draw in Corsica says it all about this one, as the only truly exciting visuals were provided by the stunning backdrops of Stade François Coty.

The home side remained solid at the back, although Claude Puel’s men provided nothing close to battering-ram assault of PSG last Sunday night. Nice, coming off the back of a 2-0 loss in Europa League action to Apollon Limassol, will have hoped to gain some confidence from this fixture, however they will now face an unenviable task on Thursday night to qualify for the group stages.

Puel will hope that they can make the most of chances that come their way, which was not in evidence in this game, while Ravanelli will be quietly optimistic about his team’s chances of survival after two excellent clean sheets. His problems now lie in finding where the goals will come from this season.

Nantes 1-2 PSG

PSG averted any talk of a crisis at the start of this year, as they finally got their first win as defending champions in Ligue 1. It did not come easy however, with the home side looking dangerous and not afraid of the challenge of taking on their big-money rivals.

Edinson Cavani opened the scoring for the visitors in the 24th minute, with another fine goal to add to last week’s blushes-saving effort against Ajaccio. This time he cut inside from the right to pick up an excellent ball from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had dropped deep to support the play. The Uruguayan took it in his stride and fired home past Remy Riou.

Nantes were never out of it though, and showed excellent signs of nicking an equaliser through Bedoya, making his first appearance at the Stade de la Beaujoire. The vociferous home crowd had to wait until the 53rd minute to celebrate, however.

Gabriel Cichero, who was involved in many of the newly promoted sides best attacks, won a free-kick out on the left which was delivered sumptuously into the area by Jordan Veretout. No attacking player could get a touch on the ball; however Alex was caught unawares at the back-post and could only watch as the ball rebounded off his chest and into his own net to make it 1-1.

The Paris club then had Salvatore Sirigu to thank for keeping them in the game – Bedoya again the danger man, as he met a cross with a fine header only to see the goalkeeper equal it with an impressive stop.

PSG finally broke the home sides resistance however, in the 73rd minute. Ibra, once again the creative force, played in Matuidi, who was making his first start for the champions this term. His cross eventually guided towards goal by Lucas, only to see Cichero provide a last minute stop on the line. Fortunately for Ezequiel Lavezzi, the rebound fell nicely at his feet, and he rifled the ball into the roof of the net to give his side a 2-1 away win.

PSG take their first win of the season and move dramatically up the early league table, while Nantes have shown enough in the opening 3 games to suggest that they will have plenty of fight about them this year.


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Andrew Davidson

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