St Étienne’s unlikely band of misfits may keep them in Ligue 1
St Étienne’s unlikely band of misfits may keep them in Ligue 1 - America News

St Étienne’s unlikely band of misfits may keep them in Ligue 1

  • 4 month ago

Three months have passed since Lyon visited the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and destroyed St Étienne 5-0, a mauling that will go down as one of the worst defeats in the club’s 99-year history. Ôscar Garcia, who was only appointed manager in the summer but had clashed with the board over transfer targets, resigned soon after the defeat – and the man brought in to replace him, Julien Sablé, proved to be a disastrous appointment.

Sablé had been a promising youth coach but his lack of credentials cost the club money and points. They did not win any of his six games in charge and were fined €25,000 for each of his games in charge as the 37-year-old did not possess the mandatory coaching badges to lead a Ligue 1 club. Step forward the wizened Jean-Louis Gasset, who was installed firstly as an assistant to guide Sablé before he took over as head coach during the winter break. The club are now on their third manager of the season but Gasset seems to be turning their fortunes around.

Relegation was a genuine concern when Ligue 1 returned at the start of 2018. At the halfway point of the season, St Étienne were 16th in the league and had gone 10 games without a victory. They were floundering, with no confidence or direction, but Gasset is showing his experience and insight are still of use at this level. With four wins in their six league matches since Christmas, they are now up to 12th. They were particularly impressive in their imposing 2-0 at Amiens, which followed up a similarly stubborn triumph over Caen the week before.

Gasset has installed some organisation and purpose into the team, cajoling a sense of togetherness from his players. Reigniting their sense of belief has been no small achievement, given that the mood around the club had morphed from downcast to outright toxic. After the defeat to Lyon a leading St Étienne supporters’ group had described the players as “without desire, without pride and especially without courage.” The atmosphere the fans create at the ground is glorious but their increasing belligerence had only served to heighten the sense of chaos. Meanwhile, a lack of investment in players has been a long-running issue.

Given the lack of funds available, their activity in the January transfer window is all the more impressive. The club contented themselves with being opportunistic, perhaps even risky, in the window, but their new signing are already proving their worth. The words “Nouvelle Tendance (New Movement)” have been emblazoned across the club’s Twitter profile under the faces of new arrivals Yann M’Vila, Mathieu Debuchy, Neven Subotic and Paul-Georges Ntep. These are all familiar names but St Étienne spent next to nothing on them given their difficulties in recent years. Debuchy, M’Vila and Subotic signed on free transfers, while Ntep joined on loan from Wolfsburg.

Subotic was a hero for the Borussia Dortmund team that won the Bundesliga and made it to the Champions League final under Jürgen Klopp, but the centre-back’s form had disintegrated to the point where he was often not even making the bench at the Westfalenstadion. Winger Ntep had been on fringes of the France squad and close to a move to Liverpool while at Rennes, but injuries halted his development. Holding midfielder M’Vila, who has 22 caps for France, has struggled with disciplinary issues throughout his career, which resulted in an ill-fated run at Sunderland. And Debuchy, another former France regular, cost Arsenal £12m in 2014 but only made 13 league appearances for the club as he struggled with injuries and the emergence of Héctor Bellerín.

Gasset’s incarnation of Les Verts has the feeling of a band of misfits, a group of nearly men who have ability but have seen their reputations diminish. The club’s iconic captain, Loïc Perrin, has a conspicuous lack of international caps; goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier is in self-imposed exile from the national team; and Rémy Cabella arrived on loan in the summer because he was out of favour at Marseille.

Somehow, however, they have started to gel. Their wins over Caen and Amiens were both well deserved, with Ntep and Debuchy scoring, Subotic providing stability at the back alongside Perrin, and M’Vila bringing the necessary presence and stature in midfield.

St Étienne previously relied on Christophe Galtier’s talent for squeezing the best out of an average talent pool but now their squad boasts a wealth of experience. That maturity will be important if they are to remain in Ligue 1 and survive one of their worst seasons in decades. Despite the progress the team have made during Gasset’s first month in charge, his stay at the club has always felt like a stop-gap measure. His tenure will depend on whether his “new movement” of misfits can maintain their form without succumbing to injury or personality clashes.

Ligue 1 talking points

Giovani Lo Celso celebrates after scoring for PSG against Lille.

• Giovani Lo Celso started his seventh consecutive match in the league for Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday and was again superb in midfield, showing that he is more than just a temporary solution in the absence of the injured Thiago Motta. Capping off his performance with a sublime chipped finish for PSG’s third, the Argentinian was superb throughout. In past seasons, and even earlier in the current campaign, the team would have opted for more experience, playing Marco Verratti or Adrien Rabiot in front of the back four, but Lo Celso’s growing importance is further evidence of Unai Emery picking his team on merit, rather than reputation or pressure from the media.

• As lovely as Lo Celso’s goal was, Yeni N’Gbakoto’s winner against Rennes was even more spectacular, giving Guingamp a 1-0 win against their fellow Bretons and keeping alive their hope of cracking the top six. Antoine Kombouaré’s team failed to gain any ground in that race, however, as Montpellier rebounded from last week’s 4-0 loss to PSG in fine fashion, recording a 2-1 comeback win over Angers at home. The win moved Montpellier into sixth place, in front of Nice on goal difference. With their next three league matches against Metz, Guingamp and Strasbourg, the southern side are looking well-positioned to continue their tilt at a place in next season’s Europa League.

• Lyon suffered consecutive losses in the league for the first time in a year, losing 3-2 away to Monaco and dropping to fourth place. Despite the hosts playing half the match with 10 men, Lyon and Nabil Fékir in particular lacked the focus and precision that have been at the heart of their best moments this season. Fekir has always been dogged by the criticism that he does not turn up often enough on the road and he did little to disprove that epigram at the Stade Louis II, having been well-marshalled by Fabinho throughout. Lyon have showed more than enough ability to finish in the top three this season, but Fékir, playing even more poorly than he had at Bordeaux a week ago, needs to offer more consistency if they are to achieve that goal.

Quick guide

Ligue 1 results

Ligue 1 results

Marseille 6-3 Metz
Lille 0-3 PSG
Amiens 0-2 St Étienne
Montpellier 2-1 Angers
Nice 0-1 Toulouse
Strasbourg 0-2 Bordeaux
Rennes 0-1 Guingamp
Caen 3-2 Nantes
Monaco 3-2 Lyon

Ligue 1 table

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 PSG 24 58 62
2 Marseille 24 26 51
3 Monaco 24 30 50
4 Lyon 24 26 48
5 Nantes 24 -1 37
6 Montpellier 24 2 34
7 Nice 24 -5 34
8 Bordeaux 24 -5 32
9 Guingamp 24 -7 32
10 Rennes 24 -5 31
11 Caen 24 -10 30
12 St Etienne 24 -14 29
13 Dijon 23 -13 28
14 Strasbourg 24 -13 27
15 Toulouse 24 -10 26
16 Angers 24 -7 25
17 Amiens 24 -7 25
18 Lille 24 -16 25
19 Troyes 23 -10 24
20 Metz 24 -22 18