At the halfway stage in the French football calendar, there are not too many surprises in the table. Paris Saint-Germain lead the way and are already nine points clear of the chasing pack. Conversely, Metz find themselves dead last, seven points adrift of Angers in 19th.
However, some better known French teams have vastly under-performed in the first half of the season. They will need to drastically improve following the holiday layoff to salvage this season.
The disappointments of Ligue 1 this season
Lille currently find themselves in 18th position in the table this campaign. When Gerard Lopez became the majority owner last season, he looked to instigate change immediately. His first order of business was to appoint Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine manager, nicknamed “El Loco,” is known for his radical methods and overhauled the squad, ousting many veteran players.
Despite being given free reign by the club, Bielsa could not achieve the results necessary and was sacked. The board cited misconduct as the reason so as to avoid any financial settlement. Lopez sought to avoid this payout as the club is already in dire straits under his stewardship. Lille have received a transfer ban for January due to their finances. They will have to escape the bottom three with only the players currently on their book.
Christophe Galtier, the former Saint-Etienne manager, has been brought in to steady the ship. Galtier spent eight years with Les Verts and is proven in the league. Lille should have enough quality to survive, but given that they were hopeful of a European spot before the season kicked off, the first 19 games have been a failure.
Galtier’s former club have not fared much better than his new one. Saint-Etienne sit 16th. They are the only club in the league not to win any of their last 10 games. During this run, local rivals Lyon achieved their biggest ever win at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in a 5-0 rout.
Although they have been limp in front of goal, their defence has been the real issue for the team, with only Metz conceding more goals. French international goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier has suffered a catastrophic drop in form. Club captain, centre back Loic Perrin, has had a few minor injuries limiting him to only 12 games so far this season.
To top this off, Saint Etienne have the worst disciplinary record in the league, receiving two more red cards than any other team and the fourth most yellows. These suspensions, combined with the injuries to Perrin, mean that the team has not been steady and the starting 11 cannot settle.
The club will be hoping that they can steady the ship in January and rediscover their early season form. Fans are getting restless and after the 0-4 defeat at home to Monaco, clashed with police outside the stadium. Saint-Etienne have winnable fixtures in January, including a trip to Metz and home games to Caen and Toulouse. To prevent any more off field troubles, fortunes on the pitch need to change.
The South-West club have suffered a very similar fate to Saint-Etienne; after a promising start they have faltered and now find themselves in 15th. In fact, only Saint-Etienne sit below Bordeaux in the form table for the last 10 games. Jocelyn Gourvennec’s men have only won one game away from home this season.
Bordeaux have also suffered defensively with a lack of capable centre halves. Veteran Jeremy Toulalan, normally a defensive midfielder, has been forced into the backline at times and the opposition have taken advantage. New goalkeeper Benoit Costil has also been very underwhelming since his arrival, ranking 18th in the league for number of saves per game (goalkeepers with 5+ appearances).
The one positive for Bordeaux has been attacking midfielder, Malcom. The young Brazilian has been one of the players of the season despite being in a poor Bordeaux side, scoring seven goals and assisting four. Malcom has performed so well, though, that he has attracted attention from abroad. Manchester United and Tottenham are reportedly interested in his signature.
It is essential that Gourvennec keeps hold of Malcom at least until the summer. He must also recruit a capable centre half to bring some stability into the Bordeaux defence.
Before the season kicked off, Lille, Saint-Etienne, and Bordeaux all harboured hopes of pushing for a spot in European competition next year. Bordeaux, the highest ranked of these three, are 13 points off 5th place. All three teams have a lot of work to do to get back in contention for the Europa League spots, as Champions League qualification is now realistically out of reach.
Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux can be hopeful of improving their squad in January. Lille, however, may just hope to be playing top flight football next year, as the danger of financial sanctions loom over the club. Whatever happens, all three clubs will be disappointed with the first half of the season and look to vastly improve their standing come May.
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