5 things to know about the French league
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain will be confident of extending its unbeaten run to 33 matches when it plays visiting Nice on Saturday. Nice has lost its past two games, and will be facing PSG’s potent attack. Striker Edinson Cavani is the league’s top scorer with nine goals, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has plundered 11 goals in seven games for club and country.
PSG is the only team in the league yet to lose after Monaco surrendered its unbeaten record when it lost 2-0 at Lille last weekend to fall behind Lille and into third place. Lille travels to mid-table Guingamp and Monaco looks to bounce back with a home win against Evian.
Here are five things to know about this weekend’s games:
Forget Gianluigi Buffon, Hugo Lloris and David De Gea, the goalkeeper really catching the eye in Europe this season is little known Vincent Enyeama, whose superb run of form has propelled Lille above Monaco into second place in the French league.
The Nigeria goalie has not conceded a goal in his past seven league games, has allowed only four in 12 overall, and kept 10 clean sheets. The last time he picked the ball out of the net was when Argentine striker Dario Cvitanich scored his second goal on the stroke of halftime in Nice’s 2-0 win on Sept. 15.
The 31-year-old Enyeama was Lille’s reserve goalie last season and failed to get a game, so he was loaned out to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
But it is not just Enyeama who is responsible for Lille’s iron defense. Coach Rene Girard has got the whole team playing solidly at the back.
“We have to defend the flanks and we work as a unit,” said striker Nolan Roux, who scored both goals against Monaco on Sunday.
Two seasons ago, coach Rene Girard won the league title against all odds as Montpellier edged big-spending Paris Saint-Germain into second place.
Now, he is working his magic again as coach of Lille, which is just two points behind PSG after 12 games ahead of Saturday’s trip to mid-table Guingamp.
Girard’s watchwords are discipline and teamwork and he has the ability to get even the most creative players on his team to graft. That was evident in last weekend’s 2-0 win against title contenders Monaco — the club’s first league defeat of the season.
He is close to his players, and rarely criticizes them publicly, helping to build trust and a tight bond.
“I know Girard, he always finds the right words,” said Lyon left back Henri Bedimo, who won the title with Montpellier under Girard’s orders. “What they did against Monaco was huge. Technically, collectively, they suffocated Monaco for the whole game.”
Thiago Silva is set to start his first game since tearing his hamstring when leader PSG plays Nice on Saturday.
Silva limped off against Monaco on Sept. 22 and came on midway through the second half of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Anderlecht in the Champions League, when the score was 0-0. The Brazil captain looked rusty and Anderlecht scored shortly after he came on as PSG left too much space at the back.
“I wanted him to be involved, I had hoped he would come on in different circumstances,” coach Laurent Blanc said. “But if I wanted to pick him against Nice, I had to give him some playing time.”
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
Bottom club Sochaux is trying everything to kickstart its season and get out of the relegation zone.
Coach Herve Renard took over at the start of last month after Eric Hely’s resignation, but the club’s form has yet to pick up, despite a promising 2-2 draw with Monaco.
In a bid to pump up his players, Renard has set up a sound system in the dressing room.
“One day, he arrived and said ‘Guys, why the long faces? Why is there no music here?’” midfielder Joseph Lopy told sports daily L’Equipe. “When we do a warmup, we get in a circle and we dance.”
Lopy says that, when it’s Renard’s turn to DJ, he often plays Zambian music — having coached Zambia to the African Cup of Nations title last year.
Sochaux is away to fifth-place Marseille on Sunday.
Mathieu Gorgelin suddenly finds thrust into one of the biggest games of the season on Saturday night.
The 23-year-old is Lyon’s third-choice goalkeeper, but because of injuries to No. 1 Remy Vercoutre and No. 2 Anthony Lopes he is almost certain to play against bitter rival Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
Lopes is out until the new year after suffering a double fracture to his vertebrae in last weekend’s 2-0 win against Guingamp, and Gorgelin came on in the first half to make his league debut.
Now he has to hold his nerve in the club’s biggest game of the season, against its biggest rival, and faced with a notoriously hostile crowd.
The good news for seven-time former champion Lyon, which is languishing in 12th place, is that Vercoutre is close to returning from a long-term knee injury. Vercoutre played for the reserves last weekend, but is probably lacking enough sharpness to face Saint-Etienne.