Saint-Etienne’s revival continues in French league
PARIS (AP) — Nearly forty years after making the European Cup final, Saint-Etienne is enjoying a domestic revival in the French league.
After a run of five consecutive wins, Saint-Etienne is challenging Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance, trailing the cash-rich club by just one point after seven rounds. Saint-Etienne is the most successful club in French football with 10 league titles, but eight of those came between 1964 and 1976.
“Every year we miss a podium finish by a narrow margin,” winger Romain Hamouma said. “Obviously we are ambitious, but there is still a long way to go before we May.”
This season, Saint-Etienne is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its 1976 European Cup final loss to Bayern Munich. Four decades ago, Saint-Etienne reigned over French football, boasting the likes of Ivan Kurkovic, Gerard Janvion and Dominique Rocheteau in a team that received a hero’s welcome on the Champs-Elysees after the bitter 1-0 loss in Glasgow.
Times have changed, and Saint-Etienne last played in Europe’s top competition in 1982. The team is competing in the Europa League this season.
Compared to PSG’s 490 million euros ($550 million), Saint-Etienne has very limited funds with a 68-million euro budget ($76 million). But coach Christophe Galtier’s rotation policy is paying dividends so far. After making six changes in the 2-0 win over Nantes last Sunday, Galtier brought in seven different players to prevail 1-0 at Troyes midweek.
“We have great momentum, the coach is rotating the squad well — bringing in fresh players when needed,” Saint-Etienne defender Jonathan Brison said. “The depth in our squad makes us strong.”
Saint-Etienne hosts Nice on Sunday while PSG — the only team to remain unbeaten — travels to Nantes on Saturday. Three points behind PSG, third-place Rennes plays host to Troyes. Here are other things to know ahead of this weekend’s games:
KALULU IN THE SPOTLIGHT
With Nabil Fekir out for months with a serious knee injury, Lyon is turning to Aldo Kalulu, another product of its renowned academy.
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder, who turned professional this summer, scored his first league goal in Lyon’s 2-0 win against Bastia midweek after earning a penalty in a Champions League match the week before.
Partnering Alexandre Lacazette up front, Kalulu not only scored a superb goal with a subtle lob against Bastia, he also created havoc in the visitors’ area throughout the evening, drawing comparisons with Fekir.
“I am Aldo Kalulu,” he said. “I want to be myself, I’m working hard and I don’t want to look like anybody else.”
Kalulu’s goal helped Lyon to its first home win this season, a result that closed the gap with PSG to five points before a trip to Bordeaux on Saturday.
MARSEILLE UNDER SCRUTINY
Marseille supporters need to behave when Angers visits the Stade Velodrome on Sunday after crowd trouble marred the southern club’s previous home game.
Marseille is facing sanctions from the French league authorities after its fans threw projectiles onto the pitch in a 1-1 draw with Lyon last weekend, forcing the referee to suspend the match for about 20 minutes.
Marseille officials, who have been summoned to a league meeting, said they will install safety net in front of the stands to protect the players and club president Vincent Labrune has pledged to restore a safe climate in the stadium.
Marseille is nine points behind PSG.
DOMENECH IS DIARRA’S FAN
Former France coach Raymond Domenech has been impressed by Lassana Diarra’s performances since his return to France.
Diarra, who also played for Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid, is back in the French league with Marseille, where he has imposed himself as the new team leader in the space of two months.
According to Domenech, who launched Diarra’s international career during his six-year tenure, the midfielder has no equivalent at his position.
“He’s one of those players you can rely on all the time,” Domenech said. “He reminds me of (Claude) Makelele at Real Madrid.”