Rennes have the money and manager to challenge the top four in Ligue 1
Rennes have the money and manager to challenge the top four in Ligue 1 - America News

Rennes have the money and manager to challenge the top four in Ligue 1

  • 3 month ago

Rennes are something of a sleeping giant in French football, but that may be changing. They were accused of being greedy when they sold Ousmane Dembélé to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2016 and did not reinvest the €15m they made from the transfer. Fans were even more unimpressed when Kamil Grosicki, Paul-Georges Ntep and Pedro Henrique left the following January. A team that was not the most prolific at the best of times had eviscerated its forward line in six months.

The club’s approach changed last summer as they started to spend some money, bringing in young forwards Ismaïla Sarr, Faitout Maouassa and Benjamin Bourigeaud to leave them with a net spend of nearly €40m. They also signed Diafra Sakho from West Ham in January and brought in Wahbi Khazri on loan from Sunderland. However, the results did not follow the financial outlay and veteran manager Christian Gourcuff was sent packing in November.

His replacement, Sabri Lamouchi, was an intriguing choice. Lamouchi had put together a decent run while in charge of the Ivory Coast, but he was inexperienced in club management, having only taken charge of Qatari side El-Jaish. Things did not improve right away. The club continued to bob along in mid-table while Nantes and Montpellier, clubs who had been considerably more parsimonious in the summer transfer window, chased the European places.

After conceding a gut-wrenching late winner to regional rivals Guingamp in early February, Rennes were still 10th, far below expectations. Some players had improved – such as goalkeeper Tomas Koubek and young defender Jérémy Gélin – but they were still underwhelming and their failure to score against Guingamp was another disappointment. That defeat has been something of a turning point, though. They have since fashioned a remarkable unbeaten run, stretching to eight matches after their draw at Nice this weekend.

In a battle that had massive implications for the top six, things could easily have gone pear-shaped after Alassane Pléa opened the scoring with a deflected shot. Rennes could have shrunk from the task and lost their unbeaten record but, inspired by Benjamin Bourigeaud, they turned things around. The 24-year-old scored the equaliser and nearly gave his side the lead just before the interval, having spotted Walter Benitez off his line. The keeper managed to tip the shot over the bar, but Bourigeaud’s performance embodies what Rennes have become under Lamouchi.

There were doubts about Sabri Lamouchi given his lack of experience, but he has taken Rennes on a remarkable unbeaten run in Ligue 1.

Gourcuff was resolute in his adherence to a 4-4-1-1, even when it clearly didn’t fit the players at his disposal, which left Rennes overly reliant on individual brilliance under the veteran manager. Under Lamouchi, however, they now play to their strengths, namely a midfield that possesses a good blend of physicality and ability on the ball.

Central midfielder Benjamin André is comfortably their best player and the team tend to line up in a flexible 4-2-3-1, with André partnering one of Sanjin Prcic or James Lea-Siliki, both of whom can function in a box-to-box role. Lea-Siliki is a converted striker who is a threat with the ball at his feet, while Prcic offers more creative nous – his return from a knee injury has coincided with their improved form.

Bourigeaud is not simply a right-sided attacker. He can drop deep to help the defence when Prcic or Lea-Siliki go forward or he can offer his own attacking threat – he leads the team in assists and is their second top scorer this season after Khazri. Bourigeaud’s flexibility and workrate give Khazri and Sarr freedom from defensive responsibilities and more space in which to work. In defence, Joris Gnagnon’s partnership with Gélin is evolving into one of the best in Ligue 1, despite their youth; Rennes have only conceded three goals in their last six matches.

The team could still do with a reliable striker and a left-back – as Ludovic Baal has struggled with fitness – but those improvements may come in the summer if they stay fifth in the league and qualify for the Europa League. Ligue 1 has been accused of having a pronounced division between the haves (the current top four) and the have-nots (the rest of the league) but, given their financial power and evolution under Lamouchi, Rennes could yet bridge that gap.

Ligue 1 talking points

Another game, another goal for Memphis Depay.

Consistency has long been an issue for Memphis Depay but this might finally be starting to change. He scored one goal and set up the other four in Lyon’s 5-0 thrashing of Metz on Sunday, which means he has now either scored or set up Lyon’s last eight goals across three league wins that have edged the club into the Champions League places. He has some way to go but Depay’s impact this season is undeniable.

Two years ago this weekend, Amiens were fifth in France’s semi-pro, third division; they are now 13th in Ligue 1, eight points clear of the relegation zone. This is their first ever season in the top flight and they are now quietly preparing for a second. Despite having the smallest budget in the league, Christophe Pelissier has rallied his players, adding quality in Gaël Kakuta and top scorer Moussa Konaté, while building and expertly drilling the third best defence in Ligue 1. Four starters in the superb 3-0 win over Caen were with the club in the third tier. No manager deserves more credit than Pellissier this season.

Marseille have endured a tough week, with their inability to find the net harming their chances of winning the Europa League and finishing in the top three in Ligue 1. Their 1-0 defeat in Leipzig and goalless draw against Montpellier highlighted their lack of a leading striker. Neither Valère Germain nor Kostas Mitroglou have proven reliable, regularly either disappearing or squandering simple chances. Despite their improvement under Rudi García – and Florian Thauvin’s glittering form – this season could yet become a backward step for Marseille.

Ligue 1 results

Quick guide

Ligue 1 results

Ligue 1 results

St Étienne 1-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Monaco 2-1 Nantes
Amiens 3-0 Caen
Angers 1-1 Strasbourg
Bordeaux 2-1 Lille
Guingamp 4-0 Troyes
Toulouse 0-1 Dijon
Nice 1-1 Rennes
Metz 0-5 Lyon
Marseille 0-0 Montpellier

Ligue 1 table

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 PSG 32 74 84
2 Monaco 32 43 70
3 Lyon 32 33 63
4 Marseille 32 26 63
5 Rennes 32 3 47
6 Montpellier 32 5 46
7 Nice 32 -1 46
8 Nantes 32 -4 44
9 St Etienne 32 -8 43
10 Guingamp 32 -10 41
11 Dijon 32 -15 41
12 Bordeaux 32 -6 40
13 Amiens 32 -5 37
14 Angers 32 -6 36
15 Caen 32 -19 35
16 Strasbourg 32 -19 34
17 Toulouse 32 -15 30
18 Troyes 32 -21 29
19 Lille 32 -21 28
20 Metz 32 -34 22