This week's best result was a tough choice, with two big scorelines surprising me on Sunday. In the end, the absolute drubbing of Marseille by Nancy was slightly more impressive than bottom-feeder Valenciennes drawing with PSG. The gap between the latter two clubs is bigger in the table, but the way that AS Nancy throttled Olympique de Marseille was simply too much to ignore.
Saturday, December 20th:
Grenoble 2-1 Le Mans - Grenoble had scored 0 goals in their last 6 matches but were able to generate enough offense to take the 3 points in this match. They began the pressure early, with Batlles forcing a save from Le Mans GK Pele. Batlles maintained that pressure and his free-kick in the 34th minute found Djadjedje. The latter's shot crashed off the crossbar, but Baning was there to put in the rebound. Almost immediately after the break it was a Paillot header off another free-kick that gave Grenoble the 2-0 lead. Several minutes Gervinho sent in a shot that was parried by Grenoble GK Le Crom, and the rebound went directly to Maiga for the finish. Le Mans had one final chance to equalize and rescue the points, but Le Tallec's header was saved easily be Le Crom.
Lille 3-1 Le Havre - Lille's trio of firepower all scored to put down Le Havre in a match where the latter had more yellow cards shown than shots on goal. In a sign of things to come, the first chance of the match came for Lille in the 14th minute when Bastos played a backheel to Cabaye, whose pass to Obraniak resulted in a shot saved by Le Havre GK Revault. The result was a goal in the 30th minute when Bastos played an excellent pass through to Obraniak. The first chance for Le Havre came in the 42nd minute when ben Idir hit the crossbar, but they did not equalize until the 61st minute, on a nice shot from Alla (God Shammgod thinks that is an awesome name). In the 65th minute Revault was forced into a save by more excellent work from Bastos, followed shortly by Cabaye hitting the crossbar. In the 82nd minute Grenoble took the lead when Cabaye put the corner from Bastos into the back of the net, and the favor was returned in the 94th minute when Cabaye played Bastos through onto goal, beating the offside trap for an easy finish.
Lorient 1-2 Rennes - Continuing an incredible run, Rennes remained unbeaten in their last 17 matches to vault back into the top of the table. It was their physicality (20 fouls to 9; 4 yellow cards, including 1 to Bocanegra) which allowed them to boss Lorient all over the pitch, but they needed 2 late goals to take the 3 points. It was not from lack of trying, however, as Lemoine (17th minute), and Pagis (37th minute) forced Lorient GK Audard into saves. Lorient then began to pressure, with Jouffre having his shot cleared off the line in the 45th minute. That pressure paid off, as a Vahirua corner was slotted home by Morel in first-half injury time. Lorient looked to increase their lead with second-half pressure from Jouffre and Vahirua, both of whom forced Rennes GK Douchez into good saves. Rennes equalized in the 75th minute with Gyan (in his 1st Ligue 1 goal) on the end of a cross from Sow. The latter sealed the 3 points late in the match, receiving a pass from Pagis and dribbling around the stranded Audard.
Nantes 1-1 Sochaux - Despite only getting 1 shot on goal, Sochaux were able to make that shot count and hold on to 1 point in this match. In contrast, Sochaux GK Richert was kept busy, particularly in the first half as he was called upon to make saves on Da Rocha (30th minute), Djordjevic (35th minute), and N'Daw (40th minute). However, it was Sochaux who broke through first, with Erdinq scoring off a cross from Birsa in the 70th minute (despite also earning a yellow card, Erdinq doesn't get the honors this week because Sochaux are still firmly in the relegation zone). Nantes rescued the point in the 86th minute when Capoue finished off a nice pass from Abdoun, who had been an 83rd minute substitute.
Saint-Etienne 2-0 Auxerre - Saint-Etienne got their 3rd win in 4 matches, and sent Auxerre to their 5th defeat in their last 7 but both teams remain towards the bottom of the table. Saint-Etienne found early pressure through Gomis and Gigliotti, but it was teammate Machado who got the goal in the 12th minute after sending his free-kick into the wall and collecting his own rebound for the finish. The second-half started with equal difficulty for Auxerre, as GK Riou was forced into an acrobatic save on a bicycle kick from Gomis. After having had no chances on goal in the first-half, Auxerre stepped up their play with Kahlenberg and Niculae eliciting nice saves from Saint-Etienne GK Janot. Gomis cemented the 3 points in the 89th minute with a cheeky lob over Riou that came against the run of play.
Toulouse 2-2 Nice - Nice scored 2 bookend goals around a brace from Gignac to earn the draw. The first goal came in the 6th minute when Modeste finished a pass from Echouafni, and Nice looked to be in good position. As the match progressed, it was Toulouse who began to look more comfortable, particularly Gignac who forced Nice GK Ospina into a good save before slotting a shot past him in the 33rd minute on a pass from Bergougnoux. The latter then played Sissoko through on goal, but Ospina made the save again. In the 86th minute a long ball from Bergougnoux resulted a volley from Mathieu. The shot was stopped by Ospina, but the rebound came directly to Gignac for his brace. Hognon left it late to rescue the 1 point, as he headed home the equalizer for Nice in the 93rd minute.
Caen 0-1 Lyon - Olympique Lyonnais had only taken 2 points from their last 4 matches, but Benzema made sure that his club would come out with the full 3 points against Caen. In the 15th minute Fred had a very weak shot easily saved by Caen GK Plante, and the mercurial Brazilian promptly disappeared for the rest of the match. 1 minute later, Savidan forced Lyon GK Lloris into his only save of the match. Juninho and Benzema then provided all the pressure, with the latter slotting home a 20-yard strike in the 44th minute for the match winner. Plante was kept busy for the rest of the match, making saves on Boumsong and Juninho in quick succession. Caen had an opportunity to equalize in the 79th minute, but Toudic's volley was well off-target. Benzema thought he had a brace in the 87th minute, but he was adjudged to be offsides, and he had one last chance in the dying moments after receiving a pass from Govou but put the effort wide.
Sunday, December 21st:
Marseille 0-3 Nancy - The first day of winter brought a chilly reception for Marseille, as 22 shots and 67% of the possession went for naught. Nancy began early, with a header from Luiz in the 8th minute forcing a save from Marseille GK Mandanda. It was not until the 30th minute that L'OM got their first chance, with a shot from Cheyrou easily taken by Nancy GK Bracigliano (who later picked up a yellow card in an increasing trend for him). Just minutes later Nancy were ahead 1-0 on some defensive miscues, as Hadji jumped on a Gavanon corner amidst a scramble in the goal mouth. In the 39th minute, just 5 minutes after his first, Hadji had a brace as a pass from Brison sprung the trap and Marseille stood with their arms in the air clamoring for offsides. Marseille's only other legitimate chance came in the 55th minute after Samassa forced a good save from Bracigliano. Just 1 minute later the destruction was complete as Dia poached the ball from Ziani and lashed a 20-yard strike past Mandanda. The damage could have been even worse in the 63rd minute as Gavanon hit the post, but I'm sure Nancy were satisfied with the 3-0 thrashing.
Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 Valenciennes - The club from the capital looked to take the 3 points, but twice Valenciennes fought back from a deficit to equalize. In the 10th minute a Belmadi diving header was well-saved by PSG GK Landreau, and Hoarau immediately responded with a goal for PSG but was adjudged to have been offsides. Hoarau would get his goal in the 27th minute off a cross from Ceara, and the rest of the first-half was relatively listless. The second-half started off quickly, with some poor PSG defense on a cross allowing Mater to score in the 46th minute for the equalizer. PSG pushed to regain the lead, with a well-struck volley from Giuly well-saved by Valenciennes GK Penneteau in the 57th minute. The pressure resulted in a goal in the 72nd minute when Penneteau was only able to push aside a shot from Sessegnon directly into the path of Rothen for the finish. Sessegnon was then extremely unlucky in the 76th minute, as his shot hit both the crossbar and the post. PSG would rue that missed opportunity as Pujol lashed a shot off the crossbar in the 84th minute and Tiene put the rebound into the back of the net for the equalizer.
Monaco 3-4 Bordeaux - In perhaps the craziest match of the season, Monaco scored on every shot on goal to go up 3-0, only to watch Bordeaux steal the 3 points with 2 goals in the last 3 minutes. Pino opened the scoring for Monaco in the 13th minute with a vicious 30-yard free-kick that found the top-right corner of the goal. Bordeaux then had their only opportunity of the first-half snuffed out as Monaco GK Ruffier made a nice save on Cavenaghi. Licata gave his club the 2-0 lead right before the half as he took advantage of some hesitant defense to score. Almost immediately on the other side of half-time, Licata completed his brace when he headed home an excellent cross from Pino. Monaco must have felt in complete control, even when Chamakh (a half-time substitution) cut into the lead by heading home a Gourcuff free-kick a short time later in the 53rd minute. When Diarra sent in a 20-yard strike that beat Ruffier in the 67th minute, Monaco must have gotten slightly more nervous. When Chamakh completed his brace in the 87th minute by heading home a Gourcuff corner, Monaco must have been praying for the whistle to preserve the draw and the point. And when Chamakh provided the assist to Cavenaghi for the winning goal in the 89th minute, the club from the principality were left with nothing for their efforts. Despite his yellow card coming for his celebratory antics, Chamakh does indeed take home the "Goal-scorer to get carded" awarded on the basis of his Gordie Howe hat-trick. Freddy Adu watch: Freddy came on for Licata in the 75th minute, and promptly earned a yellow card in the 76th minute. Normally I'm all for getting Freddy some playing time, but Licata had a brace and by the 75th minute Monaco were only leading 3-2 - maybe Licata wasn't the best guy to take off?
So, after a thoroughly entertaining matchday 19, the top of the table looks like this: (1) Lyon, with 38 points on an 11-5-3 record and a +11 goal differential; (2) Bordeaux, with 35 points on a 10-5-4 record and a +4 goal differential; (3) Rennes, with 34 points on an 8-10-1 record and a +11 goal differential; and (4) Paris Saint-Germain, with 33 points on a 10-3-6 record and a +7 goal differential. In a week that featured numerous high-scoring games and an avalanche of yellow cards (was Howard Webb in charge of all of these matches?), Bordeaux jump from 3rd to 2nd, L'OM fall from 2nd to 5th, and Rennes jump from 5th to 3rd, while Lyon and PSG stand pat.
Stay tuned for the "Ligue 1 Halfway Review" later this week!