The title of ‘Worst Team in Ligue 1’ has been a hotly contested one this year with a plethora of clubs pressing the self destruct button and throwing their name in the hat. Monaco have definitely been the high-profile candidate with their drop from cloud nine to 19th in the league, but Guingamp have also been a prevalent name after they infamously lost the first six matches of the season.
However, both of these teams have improved (slightly) and have made January window changes to progress away from the relegation conversation, although they are taking their time with it. A team that has not had that reality check or received a spark to improve has been Caen. Les Caennais barely stayed in the league last season with Patrice Garande’s final campaign in charge seeing the club finish just one point above the relegation zone. It was a ‘skin of their teeth’ safety mission, but one that ultimately saw the long-term coach lose his job in favour of a new start.
Garande managed the team for six years but departed to make way for their current manager Fabien Mercadal. This was to be the start of a new era at the club after back-to-back bottom five finishes but the statistics suggest that the team have regressed, with Mercadal’s tactics being the main culprit.
Mercadal was appointed with an air of excitement as club president Gilles Sergent called him “a leader of men” and assured that he was the right person to take the team forward, and with good reason. At 46, he was the fourth youngest manager in the league at the start of the season and was fresh off the back of a positive campaign, where he led Paris FC to 8th in Ligue 2 in their first season back in the division. Mercadal even brought along tall striker Malik Tchokounté along with him from Paris, but we’ll come back to him in just a moment.
Patrice Garande’s tactics heavily relied on the presence of 2017/18 top scorer Ivan Santini. The big Croat was fantastic in the air but also had a deft touch which allowed him to bring the rest of his team into play. He was crucial to Caen’s success last season but left in the summer to join Anderlecht for €3m. Santini very much deserved the move but left a massive gap up top for Mercadal to fill. Mercadal signed three strikers to make up for the loss of the Croat, which really demonstrates the quality of Santini but none of the replacements have managed to fill his boots.
Enzo Crivelli was on loan from Angers last year but had his deal made permanent alongside the signings of Yacine Bammou from Nantes and Tchokounté from Paris. They all fit the mould of a tall dominating striker but have only managed six goals between them in the league as they have been exposed by Marcadal’s poor attacking tactics.
Santini was good enough a player to dominate the upper regions of the pitch alongside the help of winger Ronny Rodelin, which resulted in so many goals but with a real lack of talent in the final third this season, they have not been able to score as many and the side have resorted to long hopeful balls to whichever tall striker is playing.
Caen have made the second most long passes this season and average the third longest passes in the league with Strasbourg and Dijon both marginally ahead of them in these categories. Without the dominating figure of Santini up-front, many of these hopeful balls have lead to nothing and as a result they have scored just 20 goals after 22 matches. Mercadal was appointed to start a new era of positive football at the club, but the team find themselves in the same relegation dogfight they have gotten used to over the last three years.
They currently sit 17th, outside of the relegation play-off place by a superior goal difference compared to Amiens and Monaco, but with Guingamp in 20th also trying desperately to get out of the bottom reaches of the table, Caen could find themselves embroiled in the league’s bottom spots imminently if they are not careful.
Caen’s season started off pretty well with some encouraging results, making Mercadal seem the right man for the job, but this campaign has slowly slid off the tracks ever since. Their style of play has degraded in recent weeks and with it their league standing. It is almost sad to see a player of Faycal Fajr’s quality play in this side as the Moroccan international has absolutely been their best player this season. He has been at the centre of everything but unfortunately for him the rest of his team have severely let him down.
Caen now face a massive final few months of the season with their upcoming games against Amiens and Monaco now looking like cup finals on their calendar. Caen have remained in the league since 2014 and it would be terribly sad to see the club go down with a whimper but unless Mercadal can get his team firing in the league again, that will probably be the case.