Ligue 1 Recap: Boredom, frustration, entertainment and downright shock

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Lyon’s Philana Tinotenda Kadewere celebrates after scoring his second goal against Saint-Etienne during the French League One soccer match between Lyon and Saint-Etienne in Decines, near Lyon, central France, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Photo by Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo.

Boredom, frustration, entertainment and downright shock; this weekend’s fixtures were as diverse as we’ve seen them in France’s premier footballing division, serving as a treat to fans who’ve been relatively unfazed since the start of the 2020-21 season.  

Boredom

If you fail to appreciate clubs that aren’t the most renowned across Europe — such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich — then this is a relatively common concept for you when watching Ligue 1. Nevertheless, like in any league around the world, boring games do occur, and they can be a drag to get through. However, never in my life have I seen a game as boring as Friday, Nov. 6 between RC Strasbourg Alsace and Olympique de Marseille.  

The contest took place at the Stade De La Meinau in Strasbourg, with manager Thierry Laurey and “Les Coureurs” desperate for a victory in order to begin their journey out of the relegation zone. On the other hand, André Villas-Boas’ men came off a disastrous 3-0 loss to FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League. Despite this, their domestic form was quite solid, coming into the contest having won two of their previous matchups and riding a five-game unbeaten run. As a result, fans expected an entertaining contest between a team in good form and a team in dire need of a victory.  

Despite the optimistic outlook, all hope of an intriguing matchup would come crashing to the ground. “Les Olympiens” only had one — yes, one — shot on target throughout the whole match, which was the go-ahead goal in the 72nd minute by winger Morgan Sanson. The majority of the first half consisted of a stalemate between both sides, with neither able to create a clear-cut opportunity. Despite this, Strasbourg was clearly the better team, able to at least demonstrate an ability to combine in Marseille’s final third.  

Strasbourg’s ingenuity would translate into the second half; the 58th minute saw left back Anthony Caci cut in on his right and hit a ball toward net, deflecting off right back Yuto Nagatomo. The ball would just barely miss the net, hitting the crossbar before being cleared away by Marseille’s defense. Although they lacked the end product, the fruits of their labor began to show itself. Another opportunity came a minute after, with Caci playing a ball to forward Habib Diallo, bringing it down with his chest in the direction of attacking midfielder Adrien Thomasson, whose shot was easily dealt with by veteran goalkeeper Steve Mandanda; once again, the end product was lacking.  

Of course, these missed chances would come back to haunt Strasbourg; however, what ultimately killed their chance of attaining all three points was the introduction of Marseille’s best playmaker: attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet. The French international came in at the midway point of the second half, providing heightened imaginativeness along with forwards Darío Benedetto and Saif-Eddine Khaoui, who all came in as substitutes as well. Payet has struggled with weight issues his whole career, which is why he is not in Villas-Boas starting 11; nevertheless, on his day, he can turn a game on his head, which is exactly what he did on Friday.  

Payet received the ball in the opposition’s final third, dribbling toward the byline before tripping at the edge of the box. In spite of being in an awkward position, he was able to serve a ball to Benedetto in the box, who intelligently headed it back to Sanson, who was free at the top of the box. He took it on the half-volley, blasting it into the top of the net for “Les Phocéens” first and the subsequent game winner. Altogether, a relatively boring and lifeless performance by both sides — particularly Marseille — was salvaged by three substitutes combining in-and-around the opposition’s 18-yard box.  

Villas-Boas deserves credit for the changes, while Marseille should be motivated to recreate the excellent build-up play that led to the goal at more points throughout the match. With this win, Marseille rose to fourth in the table with 18 points, while Strasbourg stayed in the relegation zone at 19th with six points.  

Frustration

That was the only emotion manager Thomas Tuchel felt after Paris-Saint Germain’s 3-0 win over Stade Rennais at the Parc Des Princes. Yes, they did win by a substantial margin, but the number of injuries sustained by the Paris side is sure to unnerve the coaching staff. Center midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye had to be replaced by Rafinha Alcântara early in the first half, while right back Thilo Kehrer — who had just returned from an adductor injury — also had to be taken off, with the German international replaced by left back Mitchel Bakker. Finally, striker Moise Kean was seen limping off the pitch when replaced by center midfielder Danilo Pereira.  

The medical report released by the club on Sunday, Nov. 8 goes through all the injuries. Kehrer suffered a groin strain, and his absence will depend on the treatment he undergoes. Kean suffered a minor knock on his right knee, which will only require a few days of rest and treatment. Finally, Gana Gueye sustained a left hamstring injury during the match; no follow-up information was given as it relates to his absence or treatment.  

In more promising news, forward Mauro Icardi and key midfielder Marco Verratti will resume individual and team training. 

Overall, the German manager still has faith that his players will be able to recover before they return to domestic action on Nov. 20 and a must-win Champions League match at home against RB Leipzig on Nov. 24. Due to their injuries, they will not participate in the international break with their respective countries, allowing them to achieve their needed level of fitness. Kylian Mbappé and Neymar Jr. are also recovering from an injury, but reports say they will defy the club’s request and play for their national teams, something that will definitely anger those at the French capital.  

Oh yeah, the match. The Parisians’ battle to remain fit takes away any relevance the match may have garnered. Overall, it was a dominant performance by the French champions; they pressed Stade Rennais and did not let them breathe throughout the entirety of the match. Kean opened the scoring in the 11th minute off a poor giveaway in the back by the Rennais defense. Ángel Di Maria made it two 10 minutes later, receiving an excellent through ball by center midfielder Ander Herrera to leave him one-on-one with the goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, simply chipping it into the back of the net.  

Di Maria would get his brace late in the second half, receiving a ball from right back Colin Dagba before cutting in and directing it toward the bottom left corner. Although he did get lucky with the deflection, it was still a clinical, world-class finish. The game finished 3-0, and Stade Rennais were relieved to hear the final whistle after a 90-minute pummeling by the richest club in France.  

Midfielders Leandro Paredes and Herrera had an excellent match and will be crucial for the squad in the weeks to come. Moreover, Kean is proving to be a scoring machine, bagging his fifth goal in all competitions, and Di Maria looks as if he is finally back to 100% after a stint on the sideline. Ultimately, if these players continue performing at such a high level, the pressure on Tuchel and the team will drastically decrease.  

Entertainment

A mid-table clash for the ages, as RC Lens and Stade De Reims battled it out in a 4-4 thriller at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis. Simon Banza opened up the scoring for Lens, heading it into the back of the net off a corner in the 21st minute. Reims forward Kaj Sierhuis was the catalyst for the team’s second, heading it back toward left winger Mathieu Cafaro, who had acres of free space. Cafaro would drive and slot it into the goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca’s near post, leveling it up at one a piece.  

Leca would make a crucial error to give Reims their second, as a shot by forward Boulaye Dia that should have been easily dealt with sneaked past him, giving them the 2-1 cushion. Lens then tied it up thanks to an own goal by left back Thomas Foket in the 77th minute, with Reims responding two minutes later, scoring off a shot by Dia deflected into the net by Lens midfielder Seko Fofana, and then Dia would cause havoc again in the 80th minute, easily splitting the Lens defense to make it four.  

Three goals in three minutes. It can’t get any crazier than that, right? Wrong. Lens forward Florian Socota headed it into the net in the 90th minute to make it 4-3, with added time the only hope of getting an equalizer. A cross that went into the net in the 91st minute was headed in by Socota and despite being cleared by the goalkeeper, crossed the goal line; against all odds, they tied it up at four, and found a way to split the points with Reims.  

Without a doubt, this was the craziest and most thrilling match of the season. With this draw, Lens fell to 11th in the table with 14 points, and Reims fell to 16th with nine points.  

LOSC Lille’s unbeaten streak in all competitions finally came to an end on Sunday, Nov. 8, when they shockingly lost to Stade Brestois 29. The match took place at the home of Brestois, the Stade Francis Le Ble; the home side took an early advantage, with right back Ronael Pierre-Gabriel heading in a cross by fellow fullback Romain Perraud to make it 1-0. 

Downright shock

Less than five minutes later it was two, with Perraud taking a shot on the half volley and putting it into the back of the net. Although it was an excellent hit, goalkeeper Mike Maignan’s view was obstructed, which most likely had a strong influence on him conceding the goal. Then, just before the half, an excellent header by forward Ivan Cardona made it 3-0 for the hosts.  

However, Lille responded quickly. In the first half additional time, “Les Dogues” won a penalty which was slotted home by forward Burak Yilmaz. Without delay, he would score his second early in the second half, receiving a pass in the box which he smashed into the bottom left corner.  

Despite the valiant effort, it would not be enough; Brestois held on to win and knock off Christophe Galtier’s undefeated Lille side. For the most part, Lille’s surprising lose can be attributed to the jam packed schedule they have; they are becoming more accustomed to handle both domestic and European competition, but it still comes as a challenge, especially with their unsurprising lack of depth, as they do not have large sums of money like PSG.  

In brief, it’s an exciting time for the league, as such entertaining and competitive matchups are usually few and far between. Moreover, an increase in fatigue, as previously stated, will only lead to much more of these intriguing end-to-end matchups.  

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