Les Verts lead Le Championnat, and they would really lay down a marker if they were to defeat OM...
Ligue 1 has surprise leaders after seven rounds of fixtures. While the traditional big guns of recent years falter, it’s Saint-Etienne, France’s most successful club of all time domestically, who have taken up the pace this term. On Saturday evening, les Verts face a tough home encounter against Olympique de Marseille, the present champions.
If there were any doubts about the nature of Sainte’s early season rise to prominence, they were dispelled last week with a famous 1-0 success over Olympique Lyonnais in the 100th Derby du Rhone. For long periods the men in green clung on grimly, but a superb late free kick from Dimitri Payet proved the difference.
OL president Jean-Michel Aulas had to comfort supporters of the hosts by noting that in midweek Saint-Etienne’s players would be playing the Champions League on their Playstations, but les Gones would be competing in the real thing.
“He forgets that in the 70s, the Playstation did not exist, but ASSE were already in the European Cup of champions clubs,” co-president of Sainte, Roland Romeyer, said. “With us, there’s a star [for 10 league titles].”
An 11th crown this term may have been little more than a pipedream when the season kicked off in early August, but in October it’s starting to look just a little more realisitic.
Olympique de Marseille travel to the white-hot atmosphere of Le Chaudron on Saturday evening looking to continue their resurgence domestically. After losing their opening two games the press were quick to note that only once in Le Championnat’s history have the future champions claimed the title after such a start, but OM are now only five points from the top, with a win on Saturday capable of pushing them right into the mix with less than quarter of the season played.
Didier Deschamps side are not firing on all cylinders, as was clear when they met Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday evening. Not in one area of the field did les Phoceens sufficiently compete with the Blues, leaving them pointless after two European matches.
At home matters are starting to improve. The Provence giants have won three of their last five matches and have drawn awkward fixtures against Girondins de Bordeaux and Monaco, hinting that they yet have the capability to defend their title, especially as none of France’s established clubs are really looking that interested in setting a strong pace.
Last season OM came up short at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, held to a scoreless draw by a primarily defensive Saint-Etienne unit, who had just freed themselves from the shackles of hapless coach Alain Perrin. Grit with evidence in abundance in the home side’s play as they had Stathis Tavlaridis dismissed after just 10 minutes yet they managed to hang on for a commendable point.
Marseille should not expect Sainte to be a great deal more offensive, yet OM will have to watch their hosts quick counterattacking, with Dimitri Payet and Bakary Sako both in great touch.
Christophe Galtier has been handed a handful of set-backs over the last couple of weeks. Boubacar Sanogo will be missing until around Christmas after undergoing surgery, while young defender Yohan Andreu will be absent for a similar period of time after hernia surgery.
Josuha Guilavogui, who has impressed with his tenacity and energy in the midfield when deployed, will be absent for several weeks after picking up a muscular injury against Lyon last weekend.
Head coach Didier Deschamps is unlikely to have any issues going into the weekend encounter. Cesar Azpilicueta will be restored to the right back role if his thigh injury allows him to feature, while Taye Taiwo, who scored last weekend against Sochaux, deserves to be restored to the left-back role. Mathieu Valbuena is another face who should be drafted back after the midweek loss.