La Ligue is back with a bang as clubs cast off their defensive shackles and go in search of goals
By Howard Johnson in Paris
France is off and running and for once there’s hope that this really could be a season to savour. In the first weekend’s 10 Ligue 1 games a healthy 27 goals were scored, the highest total for an opening day in 22 years. And given the quality of some of the strikes and the enterprising nature of most teams’ play it looks like France’s managers have finally decided that attack is the best form of defence.
There was much criticism of the sterile nature of play in French domestic football during the last campaign and much of the discontent was directed towards Lyon coach Claude Puel, who seemed almost pathologically incapable of letting his players go out and express themselves. But even dull-as-ditchwater Lyon set the ball rolling with a four goal thriller of a draw at Le Mans, a game which acted as something of a microcosm of the overall spirit of Ligue 1.
Le Mans, themselves not exactly noted for their past ambition in the final third of the pitch, played their part in a cut and thrust match by unveiling a new, offensive approach that was highly entertaining to watch. They led twice and were only denied victory by a last minute strike from Lisandro Lopez, the Argentinian striker who was making his Ligue 1 début after moving to Lyon from Porto. The guy looks like he’ll add some real bite to Lyon as they try to reclaim their title from Bordeaux.
And what’s all this that we saw over on the west coast? Laurent Blanc’s team putting four past promoted Lens. Bordeaux? The team that won the title more through efficiency than elan served up a fiesta of football with a goal of beautiful subtlety from Brazilian midfielder Wendel that would have graced any game in the world. Blanc will be more than happy to see his team adding panache to their natural rigour, especially as star turn Yoann Gourcuff chipped in with a brace.
But as good as the spectacle offered up by the champions was, the most brilliant moment of the day surely belonged to Rennes striker Ismael Bangoura, who took just six minutes to begin repaying some of the £9million fee that Rennes paid Dynamo Kiev for the Guinean’s services. The force with which he struck a fast-moving ball from the edge of the penalty area was frankly remarkable and set Rennes on their way to a 3-0 win over newly-promoted Boulogne, the first time they’ve recorded an opening day victory in five seasons.
If the hugely-athletic Bangoura turns in a good campaign this season it’s easy to see him leaving for one of the big European teams. Or maybe not. Ligue 1, for so long a small stepping stone along the way to bigger things for highly talented French youngsters, has lost less talent and recruited more high profile players for season 2009-10 than anyone could have expected.
Marseille have contributed much to the overall cause with Lucho Gonzalez, Fernando Morientes and Gabriel Heinze arriving in the country. Gonzalez missed out on the opening day 2-0 victory away at Grenoble through injury, but L’OM showed they will be an attacking threat against anyone with striker Mamadou Niang looking sharp as a tack and opening his account after just two minutes. No wonder coach Didier Deschamps declared himself satisfied with his first game’s work. Unlike new Paris Saint-Germain striker Mevlut Erding, who missed a couple of chances and could do nothing to stop Montpellier from leaving the capital with a draw.
There are big expectations in Paris this season, but then again when hasn’t that been the case? There’s a whole lot less pressure on Nice’s Loic Remy, the former Lyon striker who was the subject of a much-publicised bid to get him back to his former club in pre-season. Remy was star man as Nice beat Saint-Etienne 2-0 and again underlined his qualities as a frontman to fear. Not so Andre-Pierre Gignac in his first match of the new campaign.
The much sought-after Toulouse striker was powerless to stop his side slipping to a 1-0 defeat against Monaco. But he was almost the only big gun in France to fire blanks on a day that has given all of us who follow the French domestic game good reason to be optimistic for a campaign that will keep us on the edge of our seats.