“We wanted to play high and hinder Lyon’s recovery, it worked rather well. We try to play. When it does not work so well, I’ll be fired, but I want to continue anyway.” Dijon are not the most fashionable or famous of Ligue 1 clubs but, as manager Olivier Dall’Oglio confirmed, they have the right attitude as their unusual blend of fluidity and physicality fast becomes one of Ligue 1’s most eye-catching styles.
For a side only promoted last season, despite a substantial top flight history, Dall’Oglio’s Dijon have usurped expectations and stereotypes of new Ligue 1 arrivals – promoted teams tend to focus on solidity and organisation. Angers, promoted a year earlier than Dijon, underlined the potential of playing to the league’s well-worn identity by battling their way to a superb ninth-place finish. Troyes, however, were unceremoniously slapped back down following a nightmare campaign in which they made little attempt to evolve or adapt and were swiftly exposed.
Dijon have struck a balance between adapting to the league and playing the attacking football which brought them up. Dall’Oglio’s side suit Ligue 1’s physical nature but are also the most enthralling team to watch outside a distant top four.
In classic Ligue 1 style their full-backs are not the marauding faux-wingers that are ubiquitous in attacking sides of late but Oussama Haddadi and particularly Valentin Rosier provide technical ability and defensive nous that compliments a more quintessential Ligue 1 spine. The rangy Cedric Yambéré, plucked from Bordeaux’s reserves by Willy Sagnol, and a reborn Papy Djilobodji, whose imposing presence and no-frills defending is having the same effect that convinced Chelsea to sign him, holding fort in front of keeper Baptiste Reynet.
When fit, the Portuguese central midfielder Xeka, bizarrely loaned out by Marcelo Bielsa during his Lille reign, provides the bullishness needed to marshal a Ligue 1 midfield while, in partnership with Mehdi Abeid, manages to affect possession and add coverage to Dall’Oglio’s midfield. Júlio Tavares meanwhile is a focal point to the attack. Despite being a little bulky and not usually prolific, his hold up and interlinking play have been crucial to Dall’Oglio’s smash-mouth, yet fluid, football. His 11 goals this season are not to be scoffed at and equals his best tally across six seasons with Dijon, four of which were in Ligue 2.
But where Dall’Oglio’s side stand apart in Ligue 1 is with their attacking midfield options. It would be simple for a team like Dijon to play a flat, predictable 4-2-3-1 with wingers and a No 10 but Dall’Oglio’s cohesive, interchanging midfield has proven supremely frustrating for their opponents to pin down.
Rotation and unpredictably have been watch words for Dijon as their waspish forwards have repeatedly stung unsuspecting opponents. Enjoying possibly his best Ligue 1 season to date, the pacey, nimble forward Wesley Said has finally found a home for his talents having been on the fringes at Rennes. The stocky frame of Frédéric Sammaritano drifts in and out of form but the intensity and skill he can provide has often been a key weapon for Dall’Oglio. The Tunisian winger Naim Sliti, another loan signing from Lille, torments defenders from wide left while Kwon Chang-hoon can arguably be put down as find of the season. The South Korean’s guile, vision and skill has provided Dijon fans with some of their most memorable moments this campaign despite a slight dip in form of late.
Dall’Oglio’s downside is provided, perhaps unsurprisingly, by sheer inconsistency. Dijon are a compelling at home but often porous away. Their meetings with PSG underline some alarmingly undulating form as Benjamin Jeannot, another useful forward, was close to winning the home game with a stunning volley only for PSG to be rescued late on by Thomas Meunier, before the 8-0 demolition at the Parc des Princes last month. Dijon have won nine of 14 home matches this campaign, including eight of the last nine, but have the worst away form in the division.
That lopsided record may be finally evolving however. Tavares and Said both gave Dall’Oglio’s charges the lead away to a resurgent Saint-Étienne on Saturday before a thrilling encounter finished 2-2. The point was enough for Dijon to stay in the top 10. As his methods continue to work rather well and Dijon continue to play exciting football when all their relegation-threatened rivals operate conservatively on the pitch, Dall’Oglio need not worry about being sacked anytime soon.