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Ligue 1 Review – Week 22

There was little surprise at the separation of Bordeaux and their manager Jocelyn Gourvennec this week; just two wins since late September had transformed a Champions League chaser into a bedraggled relegation worrier. Jérémy Toulalan’s simultaneous departure however raised many an eyebrow and, coupled with Gus Poyet’s shock appointment as Gourvennec’s successor, even more questions. For one of France’s grand old clubs, what was a disastrous season has now ventured into the unknown.

A sense of loyalty may be rare in modern football but no one seems to have told Bordeaux captain Jérémy Toulalan. Disappointed and frustrated at his manager’s removal, Toulalan asked to ‘end his Bordeaux adventure’, as a club statement put it, 5 months before his contract was up. “I was not surprised by his request,” admitted club president Stéphane Martin, “When the results began to decline, he told me to tie his personal fate to that of Jocelyn.”

Toulalan’s show of solidarity however hints at the true extent of the 6 time Ligue 1 champions’ disarray. After the midweek home loss to Caen, which finally instigated Gourvennec’s sacking, a small group of players, Brazilians Jonathan Cafu, Otavio and Malcom, appeared in an Instagram video leaving the Stade Matmut Atlantique laughing and joking with their partners, seemingly unaffected by their latest sub-par display and its grave consequences.

Condemnation from the media, fans and club was swift. “Faced with this lack of maturity, solidarity and respect towards the institution and all its components,” a club statement read, “Bordeaux will summon the three players as soon as possible, for a disciplinary interview.” Malcom was subsequently forced to apologise publicly. For Toulalan however, it seems this lack of professionalism was nothing new.

Reports in the French media have emerged that the attitude of this Brazilian clique has been a concern for some time and that Malcom in particular, his stay in France coming to a close with Arsenal and now Tottenham heavily linked, has not been listening in training and does pretty much what he likes. The dressing room has become fragmented and Toulalan, attributing their poor run to this attitude rather than Gourvennec’s ability to eradicate it, had had enough.

Such discord has been apparent on the pitch for some months as Bordeaux have repeatedly lacked cohesion and intensity since a demoralising 6-2 shredding at PSG, while opponents have found them to be pushovers, easily picked apart and unsettled. A humiliating extra-time Coupe de France defeat to fourth tier Granville and a particularly disastrous 3-0 home loss to Strasbourg before Christmas, Martin Terrier strolling through an absent back line for the third, typified Les Girondins’ weak spine and lack of fight.

With the vacuum created by Gourvennec and Toulalan’s exit needing to be quickly filled if Bordeaux were to avoid what was becoming an ever more likely relegation fight, former Sunderland and Brighton boss Gustavo Poyet was announced as head coach on Saturday. For a club in desperate need of a steadying hand and some semblance of consistency, Poyet’s appointment is a risky one and has been met with a mixed reaction given his rollercoaster managerial career to date.

From being sacked as Brighton manager while live on Match of the Day, to briefly saving Sunderland from relegation, to short spells AEK Athens, which ended after falling out with the club president; Real Betis, where he was sacked after 4 months with the team floundering near the bottom of La Liga; and Shanghai Shenhua, where he resigned having struggled with the club that finished 4th the previous season despite Carlos Tevez’s arrival.

Although support for Poyet was pledged, a prominent member of the Bordeaux supporters group, the Ultramarines, explained that fans would remain “skeptical and disappointed” at his arrival while the club’s majority shareholder Nicolas de Tavernost too seemed unsure telling L’Equipe they would “know in a few weeks” if he was the right man for the job.

Poyet may not even have been the club’s first choice with former Club Brugge coach Michel Preud’homme’s reported, required, €750,000 fee proving prohibitive, de Tavernost however refuted this saying that they hesitated in appointing the former Belgian goalkeeper and that Poyet would be the type of man needed to buoy the atmosphere at the club.

With interim coach Éric Bedouet in charge however, a new look Bordeaux proved they may yet be ready for a revamping. Despite the reports of disunion, a stoic Bordeaux display produced their best result in months in besting Atlantic derby rivals, Claudio Ranieri’s 5th placed Nantes, 1-0 on Saturday afternoon.

Footage of a jubilant team celebrating their victory as one after the game portrayed a side far more together than was alleged while the fact that previously inept forward Nicolas de Préville won the game with a bullet first half header only contributes to the idea that the squad dynamic may be better off without Toulalan and Gourvennec, despite de Préville’s oddly muted celebration.

Poyet’s task remains a sizeable one as inflated egos are compounded by a lack of balance, the side are in desperate need of a striker, a repaired defence and some sense of tactical rigour. Meanwhile without Toulalan much of the ‘maturity, solidarity and respect’ for the club that Malcom and friends failed to show has now vanished and it might take much more than Poyet’s imposing personality to see it return.

 

1 | Nabil Fékir was named Man of the Match in Lyon’s 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain, scoring a fine free-kick and being a reliable creative fulcrum for the hosts. However, what made his play even more impressive is that he was deployed not in his habitual role as a number ten, but as a central midfielder. Fékir has improved his work ethic this season, but was now being asked to take on a bigger load, and against the presumptive champions to boot. Lyon were the better for his performance, though, with Tanguy N’Dombélé now freed to influence the attack. Against more defensively-minded opposition, this tactic will not always be ideal, as it leaves Fékir too far from goal, but against the leaders, it was a stroke of genius from the oft-embattled Bruno Génésio.

2 | Tactical decisions aside, Lyon’s win turned on two occasions, the sending-off of Dani Alves, and Memphis Depay’s wonder-strike in added time. The Dutchman has seemed indifferent of late, failing to be spurred to greater heights by the competition he has faced from Houssem Aouar, but his winner was a thing of beauty, and a potent reminder of his talent. He now has nine goals on the season, an impressive figure for a wide player but he still too often only hints at his talent. If Génésio can wring this sort of desire from him on a regular basis, Lyon can not only position themselves as the favourites for second but also make a real run at the Europa League.

3 | Nice reclaimed sixth place with a stodgy win 1-0 over St Étienne, who seemed determined to kick the hosts to bits. Les Aiglons continued their good form of late (six wins in eight in the league), but not to be lost in the shuffle of a humdrum match was a superlative performance from Wylan Cyprien. Playing ninety minutes for the second match in a row for the first time since sustaining a cruciate injury last spring, he is picking up where he left off last season, and looks to be key if Nice’s recent uptick is to continue.

4 | Lille, occupying the relegation play-off place at present, were disappointing in a loss at Troyes on Saturday evening, but with Toulouse, Saint-Étienne and Angers also all losing, are in no greater peril of going down than they had been at the start of play on Friday. That could rapidly change in the next two months, however, as Les Dogues will face six of the top seven before the international break. There are also matches against Strasbourg and Angers sprinkled into that stretch, but there must now be genuine concern that the club could be too far from safety by the time another decent stretch of matches comes along.

Results: Caen 0-2 Marseille, Nantes 0-1 Bordeaux, Amiens 3-1 Guingamp, Montpellier 2-1 Toulouse, Rennes 1-0 Angers, Strasbourg 3-2 Dijon, Troyes 1-0 Lille, Nice 1-0 St Étienne, Monaco 3-1 Metz, Lyon 2-1 PSG.

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