Lyon’s decision to sack Peter Bosz has generated the most headlines in France, but three other Ligue 1 clubs have changed managers in the last week. The merry-go-round is in full swing, but none of the four clubs enjoyed much of a new-manager bounce at the weekend.
Granted, Laurent Blanc’s debut as Lyon manager, away to Rennes, was never going to be easy and it became more difficult when Corentin Tolisso picked up an injury in the first half that will likely keep him out until after the World Cup. Blanc’s rejigged 3-4-1-2 formation looked solid going forward, but the team struggled at the back, with Sinaly Diomandé and Jérôme Boateng looking far from match fit, the German playing his first match in five months. Houssem Aouar also returned to the team, having been an afterthought for Bosz.
The hope for Lyon is that, given their individual talent and the chance they have to refocus during the World Cup – only Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi and Argentina full-back Nicolás Tagliafico are likely to be away – they will be back in the mix for a European place sooner rather than later.
Michel der Zakarian was the next to go, losing his job at Brest after a run of just one win in 10 games left them bottom of the table. Der Zakarian had been hamstrung by injuries to Steve Mounié and Jérémy Le Douaron, and a lack of form from Franck Honorat, but his dismissal made sense. His team at Montpellier had played some fantastic football, but he did not achieve the same at Brest this season.
Brest finished 11th last season and did not lose any major players in the summer yet they looked dour this season, like his Nantes sides of last decade, with Islam Slimani a lumbering targetman. Their only win was against Angers, who were down to 10 men and may be the only team in the league who have shown less quality than Brest this season. Der Zakarian had to go, especially given the small margin for error this season with four teams facing the drop.
Bruno Grougi, a club legend with more than 300 appearances, has taken over. His first match ended in a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a Nantes side who have hardly been at the races themselves. Honorat spoke after the match about feeling liberated and more comfortable in a 4-3-3, but Brest now have the worst goal difference in the league and are still four points from safety. Grougi’s inexperience makes him a big gamble, even if he seems to be far more of a players’ manager than the steely Der Zakarian.
Auxerre parted ways with Jean-Marc Furlan after a run of six games without a win. They did little in the summer transfer window and still look like a Ligue 2 side, especially in defence. Their goalkeeper, Benoît Costil, has been their best player this season, which tells the story of their campaign. Furlan hardly helped his cause by showing the middle finger to rival fans after he was sent off during Auxerre’s defeat to Clermont last weekend. More importantly, his style of play – while efficient in the second tier last season – was simply beyond the players at his disposal in the top flight, something that became more apparent with each passing week.
Auxerre also made an interesting choice of manager, bringing in Michel Padovani. A long-time assistant at clubs such as Troyes and Bastia, he knows his team will need to adopt a hammer-and-tongs style to progress up the table. That was on full display when Nice visited on Sunday, the return of Julien Jeanvier helping the hosts to earn a deserved 1-1 draw. Sterner challenges will come, but Padovani seems to know how to get the best from this limited squad.
Finally, a word for Óscar Garcia, who was sacked by Reims last week. He struggled with a raft of injuries (Thomas Foket, Azor Matuswia), his goalkeeper Patrick Pentz looking like a fish out of water following his summer arrival, and also unimaginably poor discipline, with six red cards. Another two followed on Sunday against Lorient, as Reims earned a vital point, but it remains to be seen if Garcia’s replacement, the young Belgian manager William Still, has anything approaching his tactical nous.
The Spaniard’s attempt to play possession-based football at Saint-Étienne fell flat, but his system made sense for Reims, allowing the team to remain solid defensively with Junya Ito and Folarin Balogun looking dangerous on the counter. The outlay on Ito was a serious statement of intent from the board and their desire for better performances on the back of a club-record arrival is understandable. But Garcia’s sacking could look the worst of the four come the end of the season.
Another Classique, another PSG win. Their 1-0 victory at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night was their 10th in 12 matches against Marseille. Since the start of the QSI era, PSG have lost just twice to their southern counterparts. Igor Tudor has done far better than expected this season, both domestically and in Europe, but the gap in finances between PSG and the rest of the league remains as wide as ever.
That being said, the competition below PSG looks mouth-watering. Second-placed Lorient will be gutted to have only drawn against 10-man Reims. Lens took full advantage by beating Montpellier and are now up to third, a point above Marseille, with in-form Rennes hot on their heels. A sustained title race looks unlikely, but there is still plenty of intrigue and quality football in France this season.
Some of that quality was on display as Rennes beat Lyon 3-2 on Sunday afternoon thanks to a goal from Amine Gouiri and a brace from Martin Terrier. It was a disappointing result for Laurent Blanc in his first game as Lyon manager. Rennes have struggled at times to avoid the nearly men label, especially given their largesse when compared to much of the rest of the league. But even with Warmed Omari and Baptiste Santamaria missing, they once again seem to be clicking into gear, with the departure of Gaëtan Laborde now balanced tactically with Arnaud Kalimuendo fit.