After battling back from liquidation and multiple relegations, Strasbourg are dreaming about Champions League footballBy Adam White and Eric Devin for Get French Football NewsSavoir-faire does not translate directly from French. The closest English equiva

Strasbourg were in the fifth tier in 2012. Now they are fifth in Ligue 1

read Strasbourg were in the fifth tier in 2012. Now they are fifth in Ligue 1

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  • 2019-01-29 02:30:12 10 months ago
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Savoir-faire does not translate directly from French. The closest English equivalent would be “know-how” but the French phrase carries a sense of graceful adaptability, an ability to respond seamlessly and appropriately to any situation. Few teams in football embody savoir-faire more than Strasbourg under Thierry Laurey. Having fought back from liquidation and relegation to the sprawling fifth tier in 2011, the Alsace club are edging towards Europe and perhaps even silverware thanks to their versatile and intelligent coach. Their 5-1 win at Monaco on Saturday, which takes them up to fifth in Ligue 1, is simply their latest eye-catching achievement.

The thought of playing in Europe would have been a dumbfounding dream for Strasbourg supporters throughout the last decade. After being relegated in 2008, the club plunged down the divisions amid spiralling debts. Former player Marc Keller stepped in and took over the club, but they resumed business as fifth-tier amateurs in 2011.

Two straight titles took them back to the third tier, where they boasted record crowds – one gate in the fourth tier even exceeded 20,000. However, a 16th-placed finish in the third tier in 2013-14 seemingly meant relegation back to French football’s wilderness. But their luck started to change. Financial irregularities at other clubs gave Strasbourg a reprieve and, after winning two more titles in the next three seasons, they were back in Ligue 1. Astonishingly, they won the Ligue 2 title in 2016-17 as a newly promoted club.

Laurey joined Strasbourg at the start of that remarkable promotion campaign. Prior to guiding minnows Gazélec Ajaccio into Ligue 1 for the first time in their history in 2015, success had long been illusive for the manager. He even spent 21 months unemployed after leaving Amiens in 2009. Despite the hard times, he never considered changing careers. “I remember telling my wife: ‘This is what I want to do and I’ll continue.’ It’s hard, the phone doesn’t ring, relationships at home are tense and then one day it starts again.”

Strasbourg head coach Thierry Laurey joined the club in 2016.

Last season, Strasbourg’s first campaign back in Ligue 1 for nearly a decade, was dramatic. Their 2-1 win over PSG at the typically boisterous Stade de la Meinau was the highlight – along with the 3-2 victory over Lyon on the penultimate weekend of the campaign that secured their league status after a worrying 11-game run without a win.

Laurey has built Strasbourg’s success on vigilance, adaptability and pragmatism. His players are well drilled and organised, yet fluid and capable of achieving results by varying means. He was unapologetic after a stoic, bus-parking goalless draw away at the freewheeling Lille in November. “When I play someone who is superior to me, I try to be smart. We knew that if we left spaces we would be in danger. We are Strasbourg, the day we call ourselves Chelsea or AC Milan we’ll play differently.”

He adopted a similar tone after wrestling another point from PSG in December. “We knew we were going to defend. It’s not a sign of weakness. I am very happy to take a point.” Laurey exudes an honest and intense persona, like his club, “I wanted to be at a club with lots of enthusiasm, fervour and passion,” he explained before he extended his contract in December. “And my wish is more than fulfilled.”

Laurey often reminds his players not to get carried away. “The goal remains the same,” he said after a 2-1 win at Toulouse in January. “To stay up by doing better than last season. We would like the bottom three to be even further away. We’re managing matches better, we have a more mature team. We have the second best attack in Ligue 1, this is satisfying.”

He even remained cautious after the 5-1 mauling of Monaco – Strasbourg’s sixth win in a row in all competitions. “We lost the ball easily,” he said. “There are ways to improve the team’s performance. I was not happy at half-time because we let Monaco back in the game.” Victories over better resourced sides have become something of a specialty for Laurey, so much so that Strasbourg’s only two defeats since late September have come against promoted teams Nîmes and Reims.

Their win over Lyon in the Coupe de la Ligue quarter-final earlier this month may prove especially momentous. After PSG’s defeat to Guingamp, Strasbourg are the highest ranked team left in the competition and perhaps even favourites to win their first major trophy in 15 years and the accompanying place in European – assuming qualification does not come via the league. They are the second highest scorers in the league behind PSG so a Champions League spot is not fanciful.

Wherever their season takes them, Strasbourg will not get carried away. “Whoever gets drunk will quickly sober up,” Laurey said of his players’ joy at beating PSG last season. His constant drive for improvement and mastery of savoir-faire will see to that.

Ligue 1 talking points

Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé take a ball each after they both scored hat-tricks in PSG’s 9-0 win over Guingamp.

What now for PSG? Yes, a 9-0 win over Guingamp is a nice rebuttal to the leaders’ elimination from the Coupe de la Ligue last week, but an ankle injury suffered by Marco Verratti took much if not all of the joy from the result. The Italian’s status is still to be determined; his absence could be as brief as two weeks, but Thomas Tuchel has also ominously hinted at a more lengthy time away. Given that PSG are already saddled with the uncomfortable situation of Adrien Rabiot, and the sometime reinvention of Marquinhos and Julian Draxler as central midfielders, the club’s summer transfer policy continues to undermine their potential progress. Idrissa Gueye and Leandro Paredes have both been linked but there is no doubt that should either of the pair arrive this month, PSG will undoubtedly be paying over the odds, again perhaps limiting their future options.

If it is not Memphis, it is Memphis. His chameleonic nature was once again on show this weekend as Lyon won at Saint-Étienne. After an indifferent first half, in which he flubbed a presentable chance early on, he moved from centre-forward to the left wing after Moussa Dembélé was brought on from the bench and he started to impress, combining well with Ferland Mendy, giving Lyon genuine width and putting Loïc Perrin under serious pressure. Lyon have looked decent at times with Depay as a centre-forward, but an attacking side with Depay, Nabil Fékir and the former Celtic forward would give any opponent serious concerns, and allow Lyon to balance potential fixture congestion while still maintaining their place in the top three. More food for thought for Bruno Génésio. It was surely to the manager’s great relief to see a committed performance in the Rhône-Alpes derby.

Quick guide

Ligue 1 results

Ligue 1 results

PSG 9-0 Guingamp
Lille 2-1 Amiens
Saint-Étienne 1-2 Lyon
Monaco 1-5 Strasbourg
Rennes 0-0 Montpellier
Caen 0-1 Marseille
Reims 1-1 Nice
Bordeaux 1-0 Dijon
Nîmes 0-1 Toulouse
Angers 1-0 Nantes

Ligue 1 table

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 PSG 19 52 53
2 Lille 21 13 40
3 Lyon 21 10 37
4 St Etienne 21 7 36
5 Strasbourg 21 12 32
6 Montpellier 20 10 32
7 Marseille 20 4 31
8 Nice 21 -3 31
9 Rennes 21 2 30
10 Bordeaux 20 1 28
11 Reims 21 -3 28
12 Nimes 20 -2 26
13 Toulouse 21 -10 25
14 Nantes 21 -2 23
15 Angers 20 -2 23
16 Caen 21 -9 18
17 Amiens 21 -18 18
18 Dijon 20 -16 17
19 Monaco 21 -17 15
20 Guingamp 21 -29 14

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Strasbourg were in the fifth tier in 2012. Now they are fifth in Ligue 1

The goalscoring streaks of the season: Rashford, Messi and ... Quagliarella

When Marcus Rashford curled in Manchester United’s winner against Brighton at the weekend, he stretched his scoring streak to four league games in a row. Prior to this run of goals, Rashford had only ever scored in two straight league games but now he has a chance to do something Harry Kane has never managed: score in five consecutive league games. Eleven players have done just that in Europe’s big leagues this season – with one even scoring in 10 straight games.

Andy Delort, Montpellier: five games, five goals

Andy Delort’s career has been cursed by inconsistency. The Frenchman spent six months on the books at Wigan Athletic in 2015 and failed to score a single goal in the Championship. He endured a similarly tough start to his career at Montpellier after moving there last summer, going six league games without a goal. But, once he found his feet, he went on a great run, scoring in each of his next five games. True to form, he is now six games without a goal.

Borja Iglesias, Espanyol: five games, six goals

Borja Iglesias, who turned 26 last week, hadn’t started a single top-flight game before this season, but his return of 22 goals for Real Zaragoza in the Segunda División last season was enough to convince Espanyol to take a chance on the striker. Their faith has been repaid with nine league goals this season and the Spaniard has been linked with a move to Everton this month as a result – not least due to a streak of six goals in five games between October and November.

Sébastien Haller, Eintracht Frankfurt: five games, six goals

Sébastien Haller scored his tenth league goal of the season at the weekend and will be hoping to kickstart another run of form like the one he enjoyed at the end of the year, when he scored six goals – and set up three more – in a five-game stretch for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga.

Anthony Martial: Manchester United: five games, six goals

Anthony Martial is the only player to have scored in five consecutive Premier League games this season – although Marcus Rashford has the opportunity to join him when Manchester United host Burnley next Tuesday night. Martial’s run included a brace against Chelsea and goal at Manchester City, though he has failed to find the net in United’s last four league games – thankfully for the club, Rashford has taken up the baton.

Wahbi Khazri, Saint-Etienne: five games, six goals

His time at Sunderland was bitterly disappointing but since returning to France – first on loan with Rennes and now at Saint-Etienne – Wahbi Khazri has been revitalised. His run of scoring in five consecutive matches – including a matchwinning brace against Marseille – came to an end at the weekend, but the 27-year-old has been fantastic all season. Only four players – Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappé and Nicolas Pépé – have scored more than his total of 12 goals in Ligue 1 this season.

Antoine Griezmann, Atlético Madrid: five games, six goals

Antoine Griezmann looked as if he was suffering from a post-World Cup hangover at the start of the season. He only scored three league goals in 14 appearances before December. However, fast forward six weeks and six matches and he has scored six more. Although, like Khazri, his streak came to an end at the weekend.

Mauro Icardi, Inter: five games, seven goals

Mauro Icardi is another player whose form has been up and down this season. He did not score in his first four league games and has not scored in his last four but, between those mini droughts, Icardi hit nine goals in as many matches. The highlight of his season so far has to be his 91st-minute winner against Milan in the derby.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona: six games, nine goals

Lionel Messi has been in phenomenal form this season so it is no surprise that he makes the cut. The one shock is that he isn’t top of the list. The 31-year-old came off the bench at the weekend to score against Leganés, his 25th goal of the season and his 18th in the league. Messi has scored nine goals in his last six league games for Barcelona and you have to go all the way back to mid-September to find the last time he started a game without either providing a goal or an assist.

Krzysztof Piatek, Genoa: seven games, nine goals

Summer signing Krzysztof Piatek had a remarkable start to life in Italy. He scored all four goals on his debut as Genoa beat Lecce 4-0 in the Coppa Italia and then found the net in his first seven league appearances of the season. The striker scored nine times in that run before opening his international account for Poland against Portugal. After just five months at Genoa, he has already earned a €35m move to Milan.

Duván Zapata, Atalanta: seven games, 13 goals

Rewind to the start of November and the notion that Duván Zapata would be among Europe’s most sought-after strikers would be farcical. The Colombian failed to score in his first 10 league appearances on loan at Atalanta, so the fact he has 14 goals at this stage of the season is unbelievable. Thirteen of those goals have come in his last seven appearances in Serie A, including a hat-trick against former club Udinese, a brace against Juventus and a four-goal haul at Frosinone at the weekend.

Fabio Quagliarella, Sampdoria: 10 games, 12 goals

Fabio Quagliarella enjoyed the most prolific campaign of his career last season, scoring 19 goals in Serie A. His form is even hotter this season. Quagliarella has aged like a fine wine since moving to Sampdoria in 2016. The veteran striker turns 36 at the end of the month but his brace against Fiorentina last weekend took his goalscoring streak in the league to a sensational 10 matches. His run began at San Siro against AC Milan way back in October and Samp’s upcoming clash with Udinese gives him a chance to make history. The longest scoring streak in Serie A was set by Gabriel Batistuta back in the 1994-95 season; Quagliarella will match that record of scoring in 11 straight games if he finds the net on Saturday.

Premier League team of the week

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La Liga team of the week

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Serie A team of the week

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Bundesliga team of the week

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Ligue 1 team of the week

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Emiliano Sala, the humble forward who enriched everyone's lives

Outside of Paris, goals can be rare in Ligue 1. But since joining Nantes, Emiliano Sala has scored more than most. He was outstanding in the first half of this season and attracted interest from abroad. Having travelled to Wales twice to agree a potentially career‑defining transfer with Cardiff, he returned to Nantes to say goodbye to his teammates on Monday night.

“The last goodbye” was the caption Sala put on a social media post of himself surrounded by them at the club’s training ground before he was driven to the airport for his return to Wales and Premier League football by Nicolas Pallois, a Nantes defender and close friend. Sala was due in Cardiff by 9pm but never arrived after the plane in which he was travelling disappeared over the Channel.

Sala was born in Santa Fe in Argentina but has called France home since his teenage years. Five years spent at Bordeaux’s partner club, Proyecto Crecer, in Argentina eventually brought him to Les Girondins in 2010. He scored 18 goals on loan with the third-tier club Orléans in 2012‑13, which convinced the Ligue 2 team Niort to take the young forward, again on loan, for the following campaign. Another 18 league goals earned him a place in Willy Sagnol’s Bordeaux senior squad for the 2014-15 season.

Sala discovered a second family in Bordeaux. Marcelo Vada, the club’s under-16s coach, also an Argentinian, and his son and fellow Proyecto Crecer graduate, Valentin, housed Sala during his time at the youth set-up at Bordeaux. Valentin, who became like a younger brother to Sala, tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Come on, brother! Please return.”

Yacine Bammou, who played up front with Sala at Nantes, also felt a sense of brotherly loss when he heard the news. “It’s really very hard, even for those around me. He often came to my house, he was my brother.” Bammou had been in contact with Sala two days previously: “I spoke to him on FaceTime. I congratulated him on signing. We had a good laugh.”

Sala started the 2014-15 season at Bordeaux but, after one goal in 11 appearances in Ligue 1, he was sent on loan again, this time to Caen, where his performances improved. Sala scored five times in the second half of the season, including in a 2-2 draw with PSG. Nantes were sufficiently convinced to spend €1m to acquire his services that summer.

Profile

Emiliano Sala's career in focus

Age 28

Born Santa Fe Province, Argentina, on 31 October 1990

Position Forward

Club career
2012-15 Bordeaux
2012-13 Orléans (loan)
2013-14 Niort (loan)
2015 Caen (loan)
2015-19 Nantes: played as recently as last Wednesday, coming on as substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Nimes
2019 Cardiff City: signed 3.5-year deal for a club-record £15m on Saturday

Photograph: Sébastien Salom-Gomis/Rex Features

His form was a little undulating during his first season with Les Canaris, but six goals made him their leading scorer in Ligue 1. He grew into his role at the club. Trusted with responsibility as the sole forward by a host of managers, he became ever more efficient. Bullying defenders with his physicality and supreme aerial ability, Sala scored 12 in each of the next two seasons.

This season, however, Sala has been a revelation. A familiar total of 12 goals was reached in less than half the time it took the year before. He remained one of few constants during a tumultuous season for Nantes. Despite not being an ever-present in the starting XI under Miguel Cardoso, Sala was prolific, seemingly scoring every opportunity given to him – whether off the bench or not. At one stage only Kylian Mbappé had a better goals-to-minutes ratio in Europe’s top leagues.

Vahid Halilhodzic replaced Cardoso in October and, under the guidance of the Bosnian manager, Sala often proved unplayable. His devastating hat-trick against Toulouse was a highlight and his goal in a 3-2 win against Marseille showed – as he has many times of late – that he was becoming an all-round forward of genuine top quality. With the goals flying in, at one point he was the most prolific Argentinian forward in Europe’s top leagues – no small feat considering the competition.

His tally of 42 league goals in three and a half years generated interest from abroad and Cardiff eventually reached an agreement with Nantes. Sala, who had been happy in the city and was not seeking a move, initially considered only clubs that could offer him European football. He turned down a move to China that would pay three times as much as Cardiff because he had given the Welsh club his word that he would sign.

Sala’s transfer to the Premier League may have proved career‑defining. His Twitter profile already featured him smiling giddily in a blue Cardiff shirt. As his devastated father, Horacio, explained on Argentinian TV: “For him, like for us all, his transfer to Cardiff was a big step. He is a boy who has always fought hard. A humble boy. I cannot believe it. I am desperate … I do not know what will happen … I hope that good news will come. My family knew nothing. I had to tell them.”

Humble yet driven; that sums up Sala. His imposing presence was difficult for defenders to handle but he is adored by his former teammates and colleagues. As the Nantes president, Waldemar Kita, said on Tuesday morning: “He was a polite, kind and adorable boy, loved by everyone.” Patrice Garande, who managed him at Caen, said: “I have been in front of the news since this morning; I am waiting. I cannot bring myself to believe it – this is not possible. This boy made my life an absolute pleasure on and off the pitch for six months.”

As Bammou explained, Sala always improved the atmosphere at Nantes: “In the dressing room and in everyday life he was the first to tease. He made a lot of jokes.”

We may never know how Sala would have fared in Cardiff and the Premier League, but his combination of boundless enthusiasm and optimism on the pitch and off it, alongside a largely media-shy persona, left an indelibly positive mark on anyone who played with or coached him. The outpouring of affection and hopeful messages articulated on social media or in interviews across Tuesday from teammates, clubs, managers, fans and officials across France and beyond – with many players simply tweeting “Emi …” – is testament to this. Sala had worked hard to achieve his goals and his career had just started to blossom. His star will continue to shine brightly, no matter what.

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