By Paul Douglas Grant
Writing about anticipated Ligue 1 football results has something of the flavor of writing about fireworks: while busy describing the scintillating compositions, the explosive power, and the possible forms the fireworks might take, the show is already over and the descriptions were, well, all wrong. Then, I wondered thoughtfully who would rightfully take third in week 34: Olympique Lyonnais or Montpellier? It was Lille…
The end of the 2009-2010 season in the Championnat has clubs usurping other rightful clubs’ spots on the table, perennial but unstable favorites are being bumped, and overlooked—even dismissed—teams are making names for themselves in the face of critical punditry and blasé media reception. Ultimately, there are two heated battles raging, not unlike the Premiership, at the top of the Ligue 1 table: a rabid contestation for third, and an unceasing neck and neck for first.
But first Bordeaux…
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Girondins Bordeaux were an incredible team, they took the Championnat last year and were the favorite of the two (yep count ‘em, two), French teams to compete in the quarterfinals of the Champions League this year. But Bordeaux hit a hit a nasty slump, which unceremoniously really plunged after their defeat in the Champions League by fellow Frenchmen Olympique Lyonnais. The agony of this descent has been best chronicled, not in the detailed speculations of the manifold possible reasons for their demise, but more precisely in a pictorial paper trail throughout the French sports press, that has Girondins manager Laurent Blanc head in hands or cheeks puffed in exasperation or quite simply in an agonized, and perplexed, grimace as he watches his team continue its losing streak. The black cloud that is the current Girondins club was best summed up on the cover of a recent weekend edition of the bi-weekly French football journal France Football, which pictured Blanc head slung low under the text “Bordeaux Série Noire.”
Making Bids on Third
The thorn in the side of Bordeaux has to be Olympique Lyonnais, they played them three times in one month and even with a win were unable to, well, win. OL is rollercoaster team to support: their last 12 matches have resulted in five ties, three wins and four losses, which means that their bid for a top three spot in the Ligue 1 table at home, and the possibility of a return to the Champions League next year, has recently come under pressure. But still, OL are a team to watch, and when Lisandro attacks it is magnificent, and when their 23 year old goal keeper, Hugo Lloris saves it is no wonder that both Manchester United and Bayern Munich have their eyes on the Frenchman.
Currently, Lyon remains at 59 points with one match behind the other contenders. This means that for the time being they are a full 12 points away from Olympique Marseille’s Ligue 1 leading 71 points, and two points away from Lille’s third place. What is odd here is again the importance of the club relative to its position on the table. OL should easily be able to claim at least third, but what, apart from the sometimes moody tactics of the Lyonnais could be at the root of this strange reordering? Quite simply, underdogs.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Montpellier have been getting a fair amount of press this season and their 33rd week match against Toulouse was a great source of pressure on the table’s third place. Obviously Montpellier had their sights set on replacing OL at 59 points. With a 1-1 tie against Toulouse, Montpellier has succeeded in achieving 59 points themselves and was therefore running a very tight race with the Lyonnais last week.
Unfortunately another tie (0-0) against Nancy in the 34th week has them down at 4th with 60 points. But quite clearly this could be upturned again in the next four matches. Its those damn fireworks again.
But the real heat is at the top of the table. Aj Auxerre and Olympique Marseille are running a very tight race, not necessarily numerically but in that the gap does not widen or diminish, both teams are consistently winning matches. Auxerre has leapt onto the Ligue 1 table and has been consistently making sports journalists eat their words. News and punditry in France has largely been filled with scoffs at Auxerre’s placement at position two in the table.
While clearly any look at the other major leagues reveals that coaches are not unaware of the French prowess in football (ultimately isn’t Arsenal more or less a French team??), there is something even more tantalizing about Ligue 1 when one examines the table and the point spread. If La Liga is absolutely dominated by two teams, and the Premier League is more or less dominated by three or four, the French Ligue1 manages to have room for upsets like a possible Auxerre win. Try and think about Racing Santander making a serious challenge to Real or Barça, or Sunderland putting the pressure on Chelsea or Man U? Not likely. It makes being a football fan in France a real pleasure, and when one is able to unhinge from the sometimes useless supporting of a single team, and begin to approach the game like any other art, or narrative, looking at the whole, then one can feel real sweet about seeing an underdog shake up the establishment. So, obviously, there is a collective gulp when thinking about this Friday’s week 35 sold out match between Auxerre and Marseille. To attempt to predict is to speculate about fireworks, but to hope is quite simply, well, football.