By Ryan Fleming
Things haven’t started off in Ligue 1 like anyone anticipated. The French giants, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux, were nowhere to be found at the top of the league table. Smaller, less notable teams, such as Stade Rennes, Brest and Lille were the teams worth talking about – they still are. But, as the weeks go by, the so-called heavy hitters in France are creeping their way back to their rightful place.
Les Gones fought for a 1-0 win past Nice thanks to Jérémy Pied’s first goal of the season. Despite the missed penalty by Brazilian Michel Bastos shortly after his team took the lead, Lyon proved that, though scoring seems to be at a premium, it is willing to go through a war of attrition for 90-plus minutes and battle for points.
Its hottest signing Yoann Gourcuff has seemed to calm down and get over his horrid performance at the World Cup just in time for Les Gones to take full advantage. Lyon haven’t lost a league game since Sept. 25, a 1-0 against St. Etienne, and have broken the top half of the table for the first time all season.
With a feasible test against Lens next weekend and a tough date with Paris St. Germain at the end of the month, Lyon could make a statement to the league with a full six points and a streak that is impossible to ignore.
Along with Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux are improving every game. Before last weekend’s 2-1 loss to PSG, Marseille went undefeated in league play since losing on the second week of the season back on Sept. 14 to Valenciennes. Helping Marseille, similar to Lyon, has been the improving play of its signings. Loic Remy, Andre Pierre Gignac and Andrew Ayew have lifted the under-performing players around them and provided a spark, to offset the team’s mediocre defense.
It isn’t just the newcomers doing all the work, but for Lucho Gonzalez, who leads Marsille in goals and assists (four goals, three assists), this season is almost acting like a contract season. Gonzalez finds himself only off last season’s totals by a mark each and is providing a much needed relief effort and veteran presence for the three new arrivals and the team alike.
Head West, and in Bordeaux you’ll find a team that is managing pretty well without it’s former stars. With the departure of Gourcuff, manager Laurent Blanc and striker Marouane Chamakh, questions were asked of the team who seemed to be lost out in the cold while their rivals would fight for the league title together. Les Girondins, though, are proving that they’re more stubborn than first noticed.
Heading a hot month of November, where the team remains unscathed, Bordeaux though, is giving its supporters heart attacks. In the team’s three games, the deciding goal came in the final 15 minutes of each time, most recently, a goal in the 90th minute in a 2-1 win over AS Nancy Lorraine.
Looking at the table, you can see Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon lined up near each other, sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. To them, things are starting to become normal again. To the rest of Ligue 1, “normal” is something they’ll continue to have fun opposing.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.