Monday, 11 February 2019

Ligue 1: January Review

It was another excellent month of action in Ligue 1 with plenty of excellent football, quality goals, surprise results and more managerial departures with two clubs waving au revoir to their manager. PSG continue to dominate while Guingamp, Monaco and Amiens make up the relegation zone.

PSG continue to dominate Ligue 1 and at the end of January their lead at the top is 13 points and even its not surprising the title is a matter of when and not if for PSG and Thomas Tuchel. However, the bigger picture lies ahead as the Champions League returns in February and Tuchel must plan for two difficult matches against high flying Manchester United who are revitilised under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Tuchel's men head into February in good form winning 4 on the spin including all three of their January matches. Victories over Amiens, Guingamp and Rennes by an aggregate of 16-1 emphasises their imperious form right now. PSG are aiming to go the league season unbeaten and you wouldn't put it past them to acheive that by May. Meanwhile, it has been a tremendous 2019 for Lille and Christophe Galtier who seem an absolute match made in heaven. Lille have won all 3 of their league games in 2019 and head into February full of confidence and a three point gap on closest rivals Lyon. The form of Ivory Coast winger Nicolas Pepe has caught the eye because he has been nothing short of sensational for Lille with 16 league goals and 7 assists. Lille could only have dreamed of a top 4 finish back in August but the way they are playing, Champions League football is firmly within their grasp. Its been a solid start to 2019 for Bruno Genesio's Lyon who have collected 8 points from their 4 league games thus far including back to back wins and a league double over bitter rivals ST Etienne. Genesio's team have started 2019 in business like fashion with the aim of securing Champions League football in their sights. But Genesio will be well aware of the competition below with plenty of sides fancying their chances of securing a place in the top 4. 4th place is currently occupied by ST Etienne who started 2019 brilliantly with back to back wins but they have ended January on a two match winless streak. Defeat to Lyon and a draw with Nantes have seen ST Etienne' positive momentum stall and Jean Louis Gasset will be hoping his side can recapture that form as February arrives.

Other sides who have started 2019 brilliantly include Strasbourg and Nice. It has been a terrific month for Strasbourg and a terrific season overall with the club absolutely flying and they end January just one point off the Champions League places. Strasbourg won all 3 of their January games and overall have won 4 on the spin with Thierry Laurey's side full of confidence, belief and goals. Victories over Toulouse, Monaco and Bordeaux in January have seen Strasbourg in just their second ever Ligue 1 season sit in a European football spot and based on their current form you'd be a brave man to bet against them. Strasbourg are a young team full of unknown players to many fans but are beginning to make a name for themselves. The impressive Kenny Lala has won plenty of plaudits for his outstanding displays at right wing back while his defensive partners Stefan Mitrovic, Lamine Kone, Pablo Martinez and Lionel Carole have also been outstanding. While strikers Ludovic Ajorque and Lebo Mothiba have been excellent replacements for the departed Stephan Bahoken who scored the goals to keep them up in the previous season. Ajorque and Mothiba have 11 goals between them with the latter notching 7 goals. A big February dawns for Strasbourg and Thierry Laurey knows their good form has to continue if they are going to achieve the unlikeliest of league finishes. Like Strasbourg, Nice have also enjoyed 2019 collecting 8 points from their 4 league games which has seen them climb into the top 7 and are just 2 points behind the Champions League. Patrick Vieira has made an excellent start as Nice manager and despite losing key players like Jean Michael Seri, Maxime Le Marchand and Alassane Plea at the start of his tenure. But despite the big losses, Vieira has created a well organised team who take their chances. 8 points collected in 2019 from their 4 games and overall have lost just once in their last 12 matches so things are going well for Vieira in his first management job in Europe. They head into February full of confidence and will hope to make a surprise gatecrash on the top 4 come the end of the season.

However, 2019 hasn't been brilliant for other clubs and two managers waved au revoir in Janaury. Dijon parted company with their long serving manager Olivier Dall'oglio who departs after 6 and half years at the club where he guided Dijon to Ligue 1 for the very first time and stabilised them in the league. However, a run of just 1 win in 15 league games having won their opening 3 league games has seen Dijon act and both parties move on. Dijon have replaced Dall'oglio with the former Guingamp boss Antoine Kombouare who arrives having been sacked Dijon's relegation rivals Guingamp in October. His first game in charge was a difficult home game with Montpellier and they managed to sneak a draw with Michel Der Zakarian's side. As January ends, Kombouare has had 3 matches in charge and collected 4 points. Kombouare is tasked with ensuring Dijon avoid relegation and he will be confident he can deliver what he couldn't with basement side Guingamp. The other side to dismiss their manager in January was Monaco who have become a shambles of a club right now with the club sacking Thierry Henry after just over two months in charge. Henry's appointment was a disaster from the start throwing in a rookie manager into a very hard situation. Henry won just 2 league games during his reign. Monaco's problems run throughout the club with owner unrest, unhappy fans and players as well as the worst home record in Europe with Monaco the only club in Europe's top 5 leagues without a home win. Henry's replacement is the man Henry replaced back in October with Monaco re-appointing Leonardo Jardim. Jardim is tasked with a much more complicated challenge which is ensuring Monaco are not relegated from Ligue 1. He was in the stands as Monaco suffered another defeat this time against Dijon. Jardim's first league game back in charge is a must win home match against Toulouse and with a completely new squad available to him, Jardim must hit the ground running immediately because a poor start and relegation becomes an even more realistic possiblility.

One side enduring miserable 2019, run of form and overall season is Marseille who are going through all the elements of bad luck and a bad atmosphere is brewing at the once fortress Velodrome. Rudi Garcia is feeling the heat despite recently signing a contract extension at the club. Marseille have enudred a disappointing Janaury winning just one league game and collecting just one point in their other 3 matches. Marseille's overall form is no better with just 1 win in their last 7 league games which has seen them slide down the table and they end January in 8th place 5 points off the Champions League places and that is simply not good enough. The fans are majorly unhappy with the players, the manager and their American Owner who is witholding his cash meaning their squad isn't as strong as the Marseille fans would like. The players are feeling the heat from fans with missles thrown at full back Jordan Amavi in a recent league game while the players were booed for the entire match in their derby draw with Monaco. The Velodrome is becoming extremely toxic and their season is becoming to implode. Something has got to change at Marseille whether that be the fans' approach, a change in management or a boost to the playing staff and could Mario Balotelli be that man to change the atmosphere of the club? We shall wait and watch but one things for sure Marseille's season must drastically improve and fast.

January was another top month of Ligue 1 football and with the business end of the season in sight, things are only going to get better with more goals, excellent football and surprise results. February begins with a tasty clash between in form sides Lille and Nice while Lyon will be looking to end PSG's chances of an invincible season. There are plenty of crucial matches in February including Monaco vs Toulouse, the second Languedoc derby of the season between Nimes and Montpellier, Strasbourg vs St Etienne, Marseille vs Bordeaux, a huge six pointer between Amiens and Caen, Nice vs Lyon, Montpellier vs Monaco, the second Garonne derby of the season between Toulouse and Bordeaux, ST Etienne vs PSG, PSG vs Montpellier, Monaco vs Lyon and if all this wasn't enough there is also the second Atlantique derby of the season between Nantes and Bordeaux. So a big month of Ligue 1 action to come and could February be the month where the league becomes much clearer in terms of Champions League football and the relegation battle? We shall wait and see.

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