Ligue 1 Matchday 22 Preview – Can St. Etienne prove themselves?

Is St. Etienne on their way to the glory days of the 1970s?

Since the start of 2011, the French footballing world hasn’t gone exactly as planned. Since January, Ligue 1 teams have suffered a number of upsets in both the league and the French Cup. Earlier this week, Sochaux were the latest victim of CFA2 side Chambery. And with upset after upset happening on a constant basis, who really knows what will happen next week.

With that being said, we will look at some of the keys to this weekend, and maybe try to make sense of a Ligue 1 season that is far from making sense. So, here is what to watch for this weekend:

Lille and PSG have a chance to run away – At the start of the season, both Lille and PSG were considered possible contenders for a Champions League position. Now, they are easily in control their own destiny as they will take on two teams which are struggling.

Lille will be traveling to Auxerre. Auxerre, who has to be one of the biggest upsets of the season, have not improved whatsoever. Even with a number of injuries, they haven’t even been able to handle opponents that they should have easily beaten. In addition, Auxerre’s last win was at home against Rennes on November 14th, nearly two months ago. And even with most of their key players back, Auxerre just doesn’t look that good. Therefore Lille, who have been on fire in league play, have a chance to really take them to task.

As far as PSG, they will be taking on a somewhat struggling Rennes side. Of course, Rennes is far from dealing with a long-term drought like Auxerre, but with their recent 5-1 loss to Sochaux and French Cup loss to Stade de Reims, one must wonder if this might be the start of a downward turn, as they should have easily defeated both of these teams. As for PSG, they have become more of a complete team. At the end of last year, PSG was pretty much becoming the “Nene Show”. But with better distributing of the ball, PSG now looks like a more complete team, with the scoring coming from every angle. This has made PSG less predictable, thus more dangerous.

Can Bordeaux sneak toward the top? – I’m not saying that Bordeaux is a European-level team yet, I still refuse to go there. But with the “average” play of both Marseille and Lyon, Bordeaux could easily climb up the ladder. This weekend is their big match against Lyon. If they can at least pull off a point on the road, then Bordeaux will have a pretty easy schedule until mid-April, when they face Lille.

In addition, Anthony Modeste, who has been criticized for his play most of the year, really seems to be proving that he is the offensive leader of the team. So far he has eight goals this season (though many of them are from PKs). Nobody else has been able to produce the offense that Modeste has. Therefore, while not exactly being the best example of being an offensive leader, he is starting to prove to be one nonetheless. Hopefully in the second half of the season we will see more form youngster Cheick Diabaté.

Will transfer rumors lead to poor play? – With the winter transfer window closed, we will see how many of those who were involved with the latest transfer rumors will perform. Last year around this time, Bordeaux was still a contender for the Ligue 1 title. Of course, they would eventually slip and were knocked out of European competition. During that slide, one could easily see that both Chamakh and Gourcuff weren’t playing their best matches (with the exception of the Champions League). Everyone knew that Chamakh was leaving and many people though that Gourcuff would leave if Bordeaux with the departure of Blanc and the Champions League becoming more of a dream. Did this lead to either of these player’s lack of performance toward the end of last season? Of course, we always say “they are professionals”, but one must wonder.

Therefore, how will players who were big news during the winter transfer window perform? Will Kevin Gameiro, Alou Diarra or Adil Rami continue their high standard of play, or will they start slacking off a bit? It will be interesting to see how theses players, as well as other players who might not be with the same team next year, will perform now that they know they are stuck on the same team the rest of the season.

Are Toulouse and Brest finally falling back to Earth? – At the start of the Ligue 1 season, both Brest and Toulouse were playing stellar football. Toulouse was in first place while Brest would eventually capture first place a few weeks later. But since the first two months of the season, both of these teams have started to fall back to earth, making many wonder if it was a fluke that they were up there in the first place. In 2007/08 we had Strasbourg, 2008/09 we had Le Mans and in 2009/10 we had Valenciennes. Therefore, this isn’t uncommon in Ligue 1 competition.

Both Toulouse and Brest are hosting two teams that they should beat. Toulouse will be taking on a struggling Monaco side. Brest will be welcoming Nancy, who is one of the most unpredictable teams in the league. The home teams should be able to pull off the victory, but with Monaco’s new additions and Nancy’s unpredictability, both of the home side could lose, thus moving them down the table even further. And if they do lose this weekend, their chances of possibly being contenders for the Europa League spots are pretty much done.

Game of the Week – Montpellier vs. St. Etienne – Yes, most people are saying that Lyon vs. Bordeaux is the game of the week, but I have a feeling that this one will be more interesting to watch. Both of these teams could be the favorites to take the last Europa League spot. Therefore, this might be an interesting match to watch.

What will make this match interesting is that you have two organizations who are on the brink of being the next solid, stable club in Ligue 1. The problem with both of them is that they are lacking identity. Montpellier is dealing with new personnel up front, which is hurting their attacking a little bit. As for ASSE, some of their players that were on fire at the start of the season, like Dimitri Payet, have cooled down. On the other hand, players like Bakary Sako, as well as the teams defenders, have picked it up.

Montpellier is still a bit away from being the next great team as they still need a few more solid players. But St. Etienne have all of the pieces they need to become the next PSG. They have good strikers up front in Payet (for now) and Emmanuel Riviere. Their midfield is solid with Blaise Matudid, Bakary Sako and Laurent Batlles. Their defense is a good mix of experienced leaders like Carlos Bocanegra, Sylvain Marchal and Loic Perrin, all who have been captains of club or national teams in the past. And finally they have Spiderman, Jeremie Janot, in goal. Christophe Galtier has all the tools he needs to create a great team; now will he use them?

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