The return of Ligue 1 this weekend saw clubs champing at the bit to reassert themselves, resulting in an unusually high number of RCs and associated shenanigans.
The result of the week goes to Rennes, whose 4-0 destruction of Arles demonstrated that they remain a legitimate threat to take home the Ligue 1 title.
Saturday, January 15th:
Auxerre 1-1 Monaco – The club from the principality continued to struggle, falling into the relegation zone with the draw against an Auxerre side that has had a string of 5 straight 1-point results. It was the latter that started more quickly, with a cross from Hengbart forcing a clearance under pressure. The sides then settled into a slower pace, with the opening goal finally arriving in the 26th minute when Quercia finished off a good 1-2 sequence with Oliech to send his shot into the top corner. Oliech was then denied a goal of his own on the half-hour mark when he sent his shot straight into the arms of Monaco GK Ruffier. For their part, Monaco didn’t wake up until the second half, with Gapke hitting the post in the 55th minute. Their increased attacking verve saw a shot from Haruna in the 69th minute that required an excellent save from Auxerre GK Sorin, who tipped the effort onto the post. Their efforts were rewarded in the 71st minute when Puygrenier flicked on a corner kick to be volleyed home by Adriano. They could have even taken the full points in the waning moments, but Haruna was denied by a fantastic save from Sorin.
Brest 1-3 Caen – Brest took 24 shots (putting 9 on frame) and held 61% of the possession, but a wild ending to the match saw them turned away in disappointment. Caen struck first, as in the 11th minute a cross from Hamouma was flicked on by Traore for a shot from Nivet that found the back on the net after a deflection. The remainder of the first half was relatively listless, with both sides sending in tame efforts on goal. Things seemed to turn in the 44th minute when Heurtaux received his 2nd YC (having been issued his first just 4 minutes earlier) for a bad tackle on Soumah in the box. Grougi converted the resulting PK, and Brest went into the half level at 1-1 and with a man advantage for the remainder of the match. In the 49th minute Grougi missed his brace when he sent his header over the crossbar, but Brest seemed destined to break through within the next few minutes. Indeed, only an outstanding save from Caen GK Thebaux denied a volley from Poyet. After El Arabi sent his header wide, things turned once again, this time in favor of Caen. In the 81st minute Brest GK Elana took down Hamouma in the box, and El Arabi converted the resulting PK. Despite their disadvantage, Caen continued to press, and the full points were secured in the 87th minute when a shot from Yatabare was pushed out by Elana to a waiting Hamouma.
Lens 2-1 Saint-Etienne – Lens bounced back from their embarrassing exit in the Coupe de France with a gutty performance in a match that saw all three goals come in the final 15 minutes. Les Verts always seemed on the back foot, with only Payet appearing ready to play, starting with an early volley that drew a good save from Lens GK Runje. Near the half-hour mark Runje had some miscommunication with his defender Varone, resulting in a shot from Payet that the netminder did well to get back and save. Lens finally got things going shortly before the break, with Maoulida forcing an excellent save 1-on-1 from ASSE GK Janot. The second half began in the same way as the first, with Payet drawing yet another save from Runje. As the teammates of the former seemed content to stand around, his final effort was blocked by Lens defender Kovacevic. Still, in the 78th minute some good work from Riviere allowed Sako to get off a shot that was deflected by Chelle for an OG. That lead only lasted 4 minutes, as Janot brought down Eduardo in the box and Roudet sent home the resulting PK. It took only one more minute for the match-winner to arrive, with a volley from Jemaa taking a deflection off Perrin for an OG.
Lyon 3-0 Lorient – Les Gones continued to exhibit the prowess that saw them take 7 consecutive Ligue 1 titles, completely bossing Lorient off the pitch to the tune of 62% of the possession and 20 shots (11 on frame). They began their pressure very quickly, with a volley from Gourcuff eliciting a great save from Lorient GK Audard in just the 2nd minute. The netminder was called into action again just one minute later, this time producing a wonderful save to deny a close-range header from Lovren. Another Gourcuff volley was turned away by the increasingly-busy Audard, who then made yet another fantastic save to deny a rocket from Bastos. The beleaguered goalkeeper was helpless in the 41st minute when a Reveillere header was volleyed home by Gomis, but Lorient considered themselves fortunate to go into the break only trailing by 1 goal. Shortly after the restart, Kallstrom was turned away by Audard, but in the 54th minute it was the Swede who came out ahead, sending a hard shot into the bottom corner for a 2-0 lead. The match was truly out of reach just 4 minutes later when a Reveillere cross intended for Kallstrom (who flailed at it) found its way to Gomis, who headed home to complete his brace. The final action of the match saw Gomis denied a hat-trick when his shot was cleared off the line by Bourillon.
Montpellier 2-1 Valenciennes – The southern side required two late goals to take the full points in a match that deteriorated into handbags in the final minutes. Valenciennes started more quickly, with a shot from Nam drawing a great save from Montpellier GK Pionnier early in the proceedings. However, that proved to be their only threat of the half, with Montpellier’s only attempt seeing Belhanda turned away by Valenciennes GK Penneteau. The opening goal came in the 49th minute when Dossevi finished off a good 1-2 with Samassa, but after that point Montpellier began to once again assert themselves. After Belhanda elicited a fantastic save from Penneteau, the netminder saw his side go down to 10 men when Mater received his 2nd YC for a foul on the active Belhanda. Giroud finished off the resulting PK for the equalizer, and just one minute later the match-winner arrived when El Kaoutari headed home a free-kick from Estrada. In the 83rd minute Montpellier went down to 10 men to even the sides when Stambouli received a straight RC for a bad tackle on Samassa, but Valenciennes were unable to capitalize.
Nice 0-2 Lille – The Ligue 1 leaders took 24 shots, putting 10 of those on frame, and earned 10 corner kicks in a dominant performance that was keyed by the fine play of Eden Hazard. The latter started things in the 4th minute with a shot that stung the palms of Nice GK Ospina, and that scene was replayed just a few minutes later. In the 20th minute Beria sent a shot wide, while on the half-hour mark Gervinho produced yet another save from Ospina at the other end of the pitch. In the 44th minute the netminder was unable to stop Gervinho, who finished off a pass from Hazard for the 1-0 lead. That was quickly doubled after the restart when Hazard was again the provider, this time seeing a brilliant pass sent home by Sow in the 50th minute. The latter should have had a brace in the 69th minute, but his close-range volley was turned away by an outstanding save from Ospina., who then denied Gervinho again in the waning moments of the match. Mounier had a chance to spare the blushes of a shutout, but his hard shot only found its way into the side-netting.
Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Sochaux – The club from the capital dominated early, responding to a quick goal to take the lead and then hold on for the remainder of the match. Sochaux got off to the perfect start in the 14th minute when Maiga headed home a corner from Martin, but just 2 minutes later the equalizer arrived when a corner from Nene was headed down by Camara to be volleyed home by PSG captain Sakho. The match-winner came in the 23rd minute when a cross from Armand was finished off by Giuly in front of a raucous home crowd at the Parc des Princes. A shot from Nene in the 41st minute produced an excellent diving save from Sochaux GK Cros, who surely felt relieved to go into the break only trailing by a single goal. The second half saw Sochaux surging for the equalizer, but they were continually repelled by the incredible efforts of defensive midfielder Clement Chantome (no wonder Makelele is looking elsewhere!) who finally had the type of match that lived up to expectations. After a shot from Ideye barely missed the top corner, a free-kick from Boudebouz had to be cleared off the line by Hoarau. Sochaux had a final chance to equalize in the 82nd minute after Ideye dribbled through the defense, but he was turned away by PSG GK Edel.
Rennes 4-0 Arles – A frustrated Arles side committed 20 fouls in an effort to slow down the high-flying offense of Rennes that saw them put 8 of their 13 shots on frame. In the 17th minute a free-kick from Kembo-Ekoko brought about an excellent save from Arles GK Merville, but the latter was helpless against a curling shot from Tettey in the 23rd minute. The lead was 2-0 in the 37th minute when some good work from Danze and Kembo-Ekoko resulted in a simple finish for Brahimi. Arles didn’t get off their first shot until the 53rd minute, when Kermorgant had his header saved by Rennes GK Douchez. However, the next goal came at the other end of the pitch just three minutes later when M’Vila fed the ball to Brahimi for a brace on his volley. Things got worse for Arles in the 70th minute when Soro received his 2nd YC for a bad tackle on Leroy. Although Brahimi was denied his hat-trick by Merville late in the match, Rennes still got their 4th goal when Ayasse handled the ball in the area in the 91st minute and M’Vila sent home the resulting PK.
Toulouse 1-0 Nancy – In a dour affair, Toulouse took an early lead and parked the bus to turn away the concerted attack of Nancy. The first chance came in the 20th minute when Tabanou had his shot blocked, but in the 28th minute he broke through with a volley on a cross from Capoue. Efforts on either side of the break saw Sami and Vahirua shoot off the mark before a shot from Feret drew a save from Toulouse GK Valverde. The only other action of the match saw a wild bicycle kick from Berenguer go over the crossbar.
Sunday, January 16th:
Marseille 2-1 Bordeaux – L’OM finally got the effort they had been hoping for from Andre-Pierre Gignac, with the latter opening the scoring in the 23rd minute with a volley from a Taiwo cross. Les Girondins were lucky not to go a man down in the 34th minute when Tremoulinas was only issued a YC for a nasty two0footed tackle on Valbuena, and a minute later they almost had the equalizer when Diabate was denied by Marseille GK Mandanda. In first-half stoppage time a long free-kick from Taiwo was taken down by Valbuena, whose pass found Brandao for the clinical finish (earning the Brazilian the GSTGC award for the week). The second half began with a shot wide of the mark from Valbuena, after which Marseille took their foot off the gas. Bordeaux capitalized in the 74th minute when Diawara was brought down in the box by Sane, with Modeste stepping up to finish off the resulting PK. That motivated Marseille, and Brandao sent a shot barely over the crossbar just two minutes later in what proved to be the final good opportunity for either side.
So, after Matchday 20 the top of the table looks like this: (1) Lille, with 35 points on a 9-8-2 record and a +14 goal differential (with a match in hand, to be played against Nancy on Wednesday); (2) Paris Saint-Germain, with 34 points on a 9-7-4 record and a +10 goal differential; (3) Rennes, with 34 points on a 9-7-4 record and a +10 goal differential; and (4) Lyon, with 34 points on a 9-7-4 record and a +8 goal differential.