One of the best teams in France’s Ligue 1 in the last month has been Nantes- a club that seem to famously struggle season after season. But after the pressure of not getting sucked into a relegation battle together with knowing that they would not be able to secure enough points for European qualification, the shackles have come off the club and they have been simply superb.
On form Nantes would be in 1st place having won their last 5 games and those victories are not just against any clubs. It’s more a roll call of the best teams in the league which include PSG, Lyon and Marseille. Indeed had Nantes started the season in this fashion people would be taking the club seriously on a league challenge and most certainly a chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
Valentin Rongier has been a big part of Nantes revival. The midfielder who has played 33 times this season has been a rock in the middle of the field and has scored 4 goals and assisted in 5 others.
At the weekend Nantes beat relegation threatened Dijon 3-0 in a very easy win at home and Rongier scored the 3rd and final goal to seal victory with 10 minutes left. This past weekend Rongier by scoring from midfield and with his club keeping a clean sheet earned 8 points in Ligue 1 Fantasy football which is more than any other player at the weekend.
Those 8 points have put Rongier of 37 points which means he is the 54th best player in the league according to the rankings and the 18th best midfielder in the league. His value is 4.5m.
Rongier scored at the weekend after being set up by Samuel Moutoussamy to slide the ball home. Nantes manager Vahid Halihodzic said: “We created some very good chances in the first half, but unfortunately we didn’t take them. At half-time I told them to keep their pace up but to try and stay organised, because they have one or two boys who can hurt you with individual actions. In the second half, it was almost logical that we scored three goals. The team played at a good level, especially going forward. We were still a bit wasteful. We have to make better choices.”
Nantes could yet break into the top 10 and finish there and they look almost certain to do so if they can keep up their terrific form. They have certainly been the best side led by Rongier for the past month.
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Frustration would have been at the heart of it as Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic just can’t see a way that his side are going to keep on picking up points and get out of the mess that they are currently in.
Nantes latest defeat came in spectacular fashion at the weekend when they lost at home to 2nd placed Lille 3-2. It was a game that had plenty of twists and turns and excitement but also another game for Nantes and another loss and after it Halilhodzic was close to tears with frustration and kind of put his players through the wringer so to speak and did it through the press.
Halilhodzic in his press conference said: “Did we lose our nerve? I’m not sure, but you have to ask this question because it’s not the first time this has happened. It may be a psychological problem, maybe they’re afraid to win. It’s inexplicable, it’s really a total nightmare. Because I also think they played a good match! We worked so hard for this game and everything fell apart in seven minutes.”
The opposition manager Christophe Gaultier agreed that the game had been a crazy one but was obviously much more happier than Halilhodzic and commented: It was a crazy game, it must have been fun for the spectators. There were a lot of twists and suspense but the most important thing is that we won. At this time, only points are important. We had the wind at our backs and we have the same advantage (this is four points) over Lyon. We have to focus the players but without curbing their attacking instincts.”
This latest defeat has left a once proud Nantes side in 15th place. The good news is that they should be safe from relegation given that they are 8 points from the drop. Having said that there are still 24 points on the board. But Nantes have won just 1 game in their past five matches and have not tasted victory since beating Bordeaux at the end of February. This loss also means back to back defeats and their next game will be away to Toulouse.
We have seen in the Premier League for example what it means when a coach criticises his players through the media and it will be interesting to note if Nantes players will dig deep or not dig at all. The question will be have they just lost respect for their manager after his controversial comments?
Late last week we were all told of the news that we already knew, although this brought it home to us that the Argentinian player Emiliano Sala had died in a plane crash. This tragic news is of course beyond comprehension and at only 28 years old with his whole football career and life still ahead of him, Sala has lost that opportunity to shine even more than he already has.
Sala’s plane went down back on January 21st as the player had just agreed terms with Cardiff City to join the Premier League strugglers from Nantes in a deal wort £15m. On reflection this looked like a stunning deal for Neil Warnock and Cardiff and a bad one for Nantes. Sala had already scored 14 goals this season, and it seemed bizarre that Nantes would sell their star striker in the January transfer window. Alas Nantes needed the funds and Cardiff needed the player.
What happened next is incredibly sad. Sala’s plane went missing. There was of course some hope that he would be found in some kind of miracle rescue. But as hours turned into days and days turned into weeks that hope had faded. Everyone knew that he and pilot David Ibbotson had perished in the most horrific way possible. That confirmation hit the world of football hard at the end of last week.
Sala was a versatile player and was on the cusp of making the Argentina national squad, true his great form and scoring ability had started late in life but he had shown over the past 18 months at Nantes that he was developing into a proper centre forward. He would have been the perfect player for Cardiff, and would have saved them from the relegation battle that they face now in the Premier League.
But football of course has to take a step back, when life comes first and it is sad to think of all the great opportunities that Sala will now miss out on. Of course he reached and achieved his dream of being a professional football player but at the same time he was about to make that step up and play in the most competitive league in Europe.
While Sala’s family have at least some sort of closure with his body being recovered the poor family of the pilot Ibbotson do not have that joy, with his body still missing somewhere presumed in the sea.
Sala’s memory will live on and the great cities of Nantes and Cardiff will now be forever connected in this way.
This week’s Euro Fantast Football Ligue 1 player of the week accolade is this week afforded to Bordeaux’s number one Benoît Costil, whose outlandish goalkeeping feats saw his side secure an unlikely away win at FC Nantes.
Costil’s side took a surprise lead over the fifth placed Ligue 1 side in the early exchanges of the fixture when centre forward Nicolas de Preville’s latched onto a driven a cross from the right byline to grab a 26th minute bullet header, his fourth goal of the season.
With his side ahead, Costil was forced to earn his pay for the remainder of the match, with a string of fine saves – four in total – giving his side an unlikely victory at Stade de la Beaujoire. Continue reading →