Round Five In Review: Stade Rennes top of Ligue 1, Paris-Saint Germain dominate and AS Monaco continue their journey back to French football’s elite

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Nantes’ Roli Pereira de Sa, left and Lille’s Sven Botman, right fight for the ball during their French League One soccer match between Lille and Nantes at the Lille Metropole stadium in Villeneuve d’Ascq, northern France, Friday, Sept 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Round 5 came and went in France’s premier footballing division, with Stade Rennais overtaking AS Saint-Étienne to go top of Ligue 1, Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais once again dropping points and Paris-Saint Germain regaining the excellent form that everyone is used to.  

However, before all of that, the packed weekend fixtures began with LOSC Lille hosting FC Nantes on Friday, Sept. 25.  

Lille’s manager Christophe Galtier has his squad playing a quick and exciting style of football. In terms of tempo, Lille dominated in almost all aspects of the game, consistently pressuring them in the final third of the pitch, with opportunities for manager Christian Gourcuff’s Nantes creating few — if any — chances.  

Lille right back Zeki Celik played it back toward the center of the box after a save by Nantes goalkeeper Alban Lafont. It would subsequently deflect off Nantes center back Nicholas Pallois into the net, an own goal to put the opposing team up by one before the half.  

Nantes’ Fabio, left shoots the ball during a French League One soccer match between Lille and Nantes at the Lille Metropole stadium in Villeneuve d’Ascq, northern France, Friday, Sept 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

The second half saw Nantes have more clear-cut opportunities. Left back Fabio and left midfielder Moses Simon were able to effectively connect on the left side of the pitch, with Fabio playing dangerous through balls to Simon, allowing him to test Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan. The most crucial chance at an equalizer came in the 75th minute, when Imran Louza beautifully struck a ball from toward the top right corner, forcing an unreal save from Maignan.  

Still, the pressure was just too much to handle. Before the wonder strike, center midfielder Renato Sanches was serving in dangerous free kicks that barely missed the target, and left midfielder Jonathan Bamba finessed a ball to the bottom left corner, hitting the post and rolling along the line. 

Finally, Lille would wrap things up in the 85th minute. Jonathan Ikoné split the defenders, finding Burak Yilmaz and putting him one-on-one with goalkeeper Lafont, forcing right back Dennis Appiah to concede a penalty. It would be slotted in by Yilmaz, with it finishing 2-0. 

Lille now stand second with 11 points, while Nantes fall to 15th with five points.  

Lille’s Burak Yilmaz, left, shoots the ball during a French League One soccer match between Lille and Nantes at the Lille Metropole stadium in Villeneuve d’Ascq, northern France, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Saturday, Sept. 26 saw the joint-top leaders AS Saint-Étienne host Stade Rennes, with manager Julian Stéphan’s Rennes performing masterfully, breaking a team by overcoming their main strength: pressing.  

Despite this, the first goal would come from a dead ball situation, with center back Naif Aguerd heading in a corner to put Rennes up 1-0 before the half. Leading up to this, we saw a Rennes team that could tame the “animal,” maintaining possession and patiently building up to create clear-cut opportunities. 

Another killer blow would hit “Les Verts,” conceding early in the second half thanks to a cross by right midfielder Romain Del Castillo to striker Sehrou Guirassy, taking the 2-0 lead. Mentally, Claude Puel’s men weren’t able to recover, failing to score or create any dangerous opportunities for the rest of the game. The final nail in the coffin came in the 89th minute, with Adrien Hunou chipping it over Saint-Étienne goalkeeper Jessy Moulin to make it three for Rennes with the match finishing 3-0.  

Stade Rennais now lead Ligue 1 with 13 points, with Saint-Étienne falling to fourth with 10 points.  

Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Lille’s Luiz Araujo battle for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lille at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Sunday Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

The second game of the day took place at the Stade Vélodrome with FC Metz traveling to the home of Olympique de Marseille. André Villas-Boas men once again disappointed, with “Les Olympians” still unable to find the form that characterized last season’s campaign.  

Zero creativity was found in a team that doesn’t lack in playmakers, with attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet, winger Florian Thauvin and midfielder Maxime Lopez usually being able to open up the defense. The lackluster attack would be followed by a shambolic defense, with striker Ibrahima Niane connecting on a header, sneaking in between center back Duje Caleta-Car and left back Yuto Nagatomo.  

Metz manager Vincent Hognon would be anything but satisfied at the end of the match, however, with attacking midfielder Morgan Sanson scoring off a cut-back pass at the top of the box in the 95th minute, exceeding the minimum stoppage time of four minutes. Despite the fact they should have left with the three points, Hognon will be happy getting a point away from home.  

Villas-Boas needs to urgently get this team performing again. With them qualified to the Champions League group stage this year, disgraceful performances like these will only lead them to be embarrassed in football’s biggest stage.  

Marseille’s Valere Germain, right, is congratulated by teammate Morgan Sanson, left, after scoring his team’s first goal during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lille at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Sunday Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Marseille now sit ninth with eight points, while Metz sit 17th with four points, three points clear of the relegation zone.  

The fixture list would end on Sunday, Sept. 27, with seven matches on the day; PSG, Lyon, and AS Monaco were the most prominent participants of the day.  

Paris-Saint Germain convincingly beat Stade de Reims 2-0 to move up to seventh in the table with nine points, while Reims fell to the relegation zone, 19th with only one single point. The most noticeable thing about this PSG team was the return to form of striker Mauro Icardi, bagging a brace and returning to the form that saw him delight Paris fans last season.  

Kylian Mbappé found Icardi at the top of the box in the eighth minute, quickly putting the Parisians in-front 1-0. The rest of the match was simply a dominating performance by manager Thomas Tuchel’s men, showing why they made it to the UEFA Champions League final last season. Mbappé found Icardi once again in the 62nd minute, finishing off an already defeated Reims squad.  

PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, right, is tackled Nice’s Andy Pelmard during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Sunday, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Another major storyline of the game was the return of Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. from a two-game suspension. To no one’s surprise, he was brilliant on the ball, dancing around the opposing backline and unlucky not to bag himself a goal, particularly on one play that saw him dribble from the left side of the field into the box, just barely missing the bottom right corner.  

Moreover, Ángel Di María did participate in the match Sunday afternoon. He will most likely serve the four-game suspension in the Coupe De France, a cup tournament which sees professional and non-league clubs compete in a separate tournament. Despite it being a separate tournament, it is still run by the Ligue Du Football Professionnel (LFP). 

Niko Kovač’s rebuilding plan in the wealthy town of Monaco is continuing to go smoothly, beating RC Strasbourg Alsace 3-2. Striker Wissam Ben Yedder opened the scoring in the ninth minute, with right back Ruben Aguilar making it two just before the half. Despite this, Strasbourg would not back down, scoring in the 46th minute thanks to striker Medhi Chahiri. Ben Yedder would respond less than 10 minutes later, making it 3-1 in the 53rd minute.  

Disciplinary issues almost led to Monaco’s downfall, with center midfielder Aurélien Tchouameni receiving a red card in the 55th minute, followed by Axel Disasi in the 67th minute, leaving the team with nine men. 

PSG’s Angel Di Maria celebrates after scoring during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Sunday, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Starsbourg would take advantage of this, with second striker Ludovic Ajorque scoring a penalty in the 70th minute. However, it wouldn’t be enough, with it finishing 3-2 in favor of Strasbourg.  

Monaco now sit fifth with 10 points, while Strasbourg sit 18th with three points, two points clear of the relegation zone.  

Lyonnais drew with Lorient in what can only be described as a terrible performance. No creativity, or actual philosophy has been implemented by manager Rudi Garcia, with Lyon once again dropping points. Left midfielder Yoane Wissa opened up the scoring for Lorient in the 63rd minute, while right wing back Léo Dubois put it in the back of the net in the 74th minute to snatch a point.  

Houssem Aouar said the following to French media outlet “Canal Plus”: “Six points in five matches is not sufficient. I don’t know why it’s like this. We need to improve when facing compact teams.” The French midfielder has been heavily linked with Arsenal FC but refused to discuss his future plans after the match. 

The remaining matchups saw Nîmes draw with RC Lens 1-1, with goals coming from winger Zinedine Ferhat for Nimes and striker Ignatius Ganago for Lens. Nimes now sit 14th in the table with five points, while Lens sit sixth with 10 points. 

PSG’s Pablo Sarabia, foreground, runs for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Sunday, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

 Bordeaux and OGC Nice drew 0-0, which see’s Bordeaux now sit 12th with six points, and Nice sit 10th with seven points.  

Angers defeated Brest 3-2 in an enthralling match, with goals coming from winger Sada Thioub, centre back Ismael Traore and center midfielder Angelo Fulgini for Angers, while Brest’s goalscorers were striker Steve Mounie and center attacking midfielder Gaetan Charbonnier. Anger now sit eight with nine points, while Brest sit 13th with six points.  

Last place Dijon drew with Montpellier 2-2, which saw Dijon stay in last place at 20th with one point, while Montpellier now sit third in the table with 10 points. Goals came from right midfielder Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe, and centre back Bruno Ecuélé Manga for Dijon, while Montpellier’s goals came from striker Andy Delort and center attacking midfielder Téji Savanier. 

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