Three months have passed since Lyon visited the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and destroyed St Ãtienne 5-0, a mauling that will go down as one of the worst defeats in the clubâs 99-year history. Ãscar Garcia, who was only appointed manager in the summer but had clashed with the board over transfer targets, resigned soon after the defeat â and the man brought in to replace him, Julien SablÃ©, proved to be a disastrous appointment.
SablÃ© had been a promising youth coach but his lack of credentials cost the club money and points. They did not win any of his six games in charge and were fined â¬25,000 for each of his games in charge as the 37-year-old did not possess the mandatory coaching badges to lead a Ligue 1 club. Step forward the wizened Jean-Louis Gasset, who was installed firstly as an assistant to guide SablÃ© before he took over as head coach during the winter break. The club are now on their third manager of the season but Gasset seems to be turning their fortunes around.
Relegation was a genuine concern when Ligue 1 returned at the start of 2018. At the halfway point of the season, St Ãtienne were 16th in the league and had gone 10 games without a victory. They were floundering, with no confidence or direction, but Gasset is showing his experience and insight are still of use at this level. With four wins in their six league matches since Christmas, they are now up to 12th. They were particularly impressive in their imposing 2-0 at Amiens, which followed up a similarly stubborn triumph over Caen the week before.
Gasset has installed some organisation and purpose into the team, cajoling a sense of togetherness from his players. Reigniting their sense of belief has been no small achievement, given that the mood around the club had morphed from downcast to outright toxic. After the defeat to Lyon a leading St Ãtienne supportersâ group had described the players as âwithout desire, without pride and especially without courage.â The atmosphere the fans create at the ground is glorious but their increasing belligerence had only served to heighten the sense of chaos. Meanwhile, a lack of investment in players has been a long-running issue.
Given the lack of funds available, their activity in the January transfer window is all the more impressive. The club contented themselves with being opportunistic, perhaps even risky, in the window, but their new signing are already proving their worth. The words âNouvelle Tendance (New Movement)â have been emblazoned across the clubâs Twitter profile under the faces of new arrivals Yann MâVila, Mathieu Debuchy, Neven Subotic and Paul-Georges Ntep. These are all familiar names but St Ãtienne spent next to nothing on them given their difficulties in recent years. Debuchy, MâVila and Subotic signed on free transfers, while Ntep joined on loan from Wolfsburg.
Subotic was a hero for the Borussia Dortmund team that won the Bundesliga and made it to the Champions League final under JÃ¼rgen Klopp, but the centre-backâs form had disintegrated to the point where he was often not even making the bench at the Westfalenstadion. Winger Ntep had been on fringes of the France squad and close to a move to Liverpool while at Rennes, but injuries halted his development. Holding midfielder MâVila, who has 22 caps for France, has struggled with disciplinary issues throughout his career, which resulted in an ill-fated run at Sunderland. And Debuchy, another former France regular, cost Arsenal Â£12m in 2014 but only made 13 league appearances for the club as he struggled with injuries and the emergence of HÃ©ctor BellerÃn.
Gassetâs incarnation of Les Verts has the feeling of a band of misfits, a group of nearly men who have ability but have seen their reputations diminish. The clubâs iconic captain, LoÃ¯c Perrin, has a conspicuous lack of international caps; goalkeeper StÃ©phane Ruffier is in self-imposed exile from the national team; and RÃ©my Cabella arrived on loan in the summer because he was out of favour at Marseille.
Somehow, however, they have started to gel. Their wins over Caen and Amiens were both well deserved, with Ntep and Debuchy scoring, Subotic providing stability at the back alongside Perrin, and MâVila bringing the necessary presence and stature in midfield.
St Ãtienne previously relied on Christophe Galtierâs talent for squeezing the best out of an average talent pool but now their squad boasts a wealth of experience. That maturity will be important if they are to remain in Ligue 1 and survive one of their worst seasons in decades. Despite the progress the team have made during Gassetâs first month in charge, his stay at the club has always felt like a stop-gap measure. His tenure will depend on whether his ânew movementâ of misfits can maintain their form without succumbing to injury or personality clashes.
â¢ Giovani Lo Celso started his seventh consecutive match in the league for Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday and was again superb in midfield, showing that he is more than just a temporary solution in the absence of the injured Thiago Motta. Capping off his performance with a sublime chipped finish for PSGâs third, the Argentinian was superb throughout. In past seasons, and even earlier in the current campaign, the team would have opted for more experience, playing Marco Verratti or Adrien Rabiot in front of the back four, but Lo Celsoâs growing importance is further evidence of Unai Emery picking his team on merit, rather than reputation or pressure from the media.
â¢ As lovely as Lo Celsoâs goal was, Yeni NâGbakotoâs winner against Rennes was even more spectacular, giving Guingamp a 1-0 win against their fellow Bretons and keeping alive their hope of cracking the top six. Antoine KombouarÃ©âs team failed to gain any ground in that race, however, as Montpellier rebounded from last weekâs 4-0 loss to PSG in fine fashion, recording a 2-1 comeback win over Angers at home. The win moved Montpellier into sixth place, in front of Nice on goal difference. With their next three league matches against Metz, Guingamp and Strasbourg, the southern side are looking well-positioned to continue their tilt at a place in next seasonâs Europa League.
â¢ Lyon suffered consecutive losses in the league for the first time in a year, losing 3-2 away to Monaco and dropping to fourth place. Despite the hosts playing half the match with 10 men, Lyon and Nabil FÃ©kir in particular lacked the focus and precision that have been at the heart of their best moments this season. Fekir has always been dogged by the criticism that he does not turn up often enough on the road and he did little to disprove that epigram at the Stade Louis II, having been well-marshalled by Fabinho throughout. Lyon have showed more than enough ability to finish in the top three this season, but FÃ©kir, playing even more poorly than he had at Bordeaux a week ago, needs to offer more consistency if they are to achieve that goal.