FEATURE | Is this the year when Nantes is relegated from Ligue 1?
Much of the focus on Ligue 1 this season has been on the exciting title race between Lille, Lyon and PSG. However, at the bottom of the division, only seven points separated Nîmes, 20th, and St-Étienne, 16th, before this weekend’s games. Right in the middle of this relegation fight is Nantes. Of all the lower teams, Nantes’ position is the most surprising on paper; they finished just four points from fifth place last season.
This season, they have quietly collapsed. Last year they were a strong and robust defensive team, but it all went out the window in 2020/21. Only four teams have conceded less than their 37 league goals, six more than they conceded last season in five fewer games. They are currently on track to concede 62 goals this season.
What caused their collapse?
The main problem last season was the attack. Nantes struggled to complete quality chances, and the same is true once again in 2020/21. Through Understand As a measure of expected points, Nantes have had enough chances to have scored 28 league goals this season, but only managed 22.
They often missed gaping opportunities, like in their game against PSG in November. Moses Simon missed a completely open net two yards away while the game was still 0-0. Nantes would also miss a penalty in the same match, with the Canaries ultimately losing 3-0.
It was not due to the former manager, Christian Gourcuff. The only notable players on the team are Alban Lafont and Jean-Kévin Augustin. Lafont failed to take big steps forward in his once exciting career. Its save percentage of 70% has remained the same over the past five years. Although quietly impressive, he failed to hide the cracks in the Nantes defense and he did not throw in the glove to be considered one of the top 5 goalkeepers in the division.
During this time, Augustin, a graduate of PSG, would have joined Nantes specifically to work under Gourcuff. He arrived on a free from RB Leipzig. He swore “Don’t make the same mistakes” speaking after his move in October 2020. The 23-year-old has failed to score in three appearances, with no injuries noted and no history of COVID this season. Interestingly, he could still end the season as Nantes’ top scorer if he has a sudden increase in goals, as Ludovic Blas holds that medal with a total of five so far.
This crescendo of bad form reached its peak in December 2020, when Gourcuff became the 17th dismissal of club owner Waldemar Kita’s, 14th season in charge. After a disorderly period where Nantes saw police launch a search of the training center in a money laundering case, and Laurent Blanc reject the club’s advances, Raymond Domenech has been appointed controversial manager of the club.
Who is Raymond Domenech?
The 56-year-old was best known for leading the French team’s dive at the 2010 World Cup. It had been almost 30 years since he last managed a club. Nantes fans were completely furious and blasted the circus music around the training center eight days after the meeting.
In the seven games since the official announcement on December 22, 2020, Domenech has failed to silence the skeptics. Nantes’ horrible form has continued with four draws and two losses since the start of the new year.
Nantes recently drew with their struggling compatriots Saint-Étienne and the coming games look worrying. Nantes have to face Lille, Angers, Marseille, Reims and PSG in their next six matches.
What impact has Domenech had?
There are a few small positive signs. Nantes have scored four goals in those six league games, which is a slight improvement over previous procedures. Raymond Domenech has largely returned the Westerners to a simplistic 4-4-2 formation (from a usual 4-2-3-1). Football has been tight, compact and counter-attacking in Nantes since the game against Rennes on January 6, although against St Étienne he experienced a midfielder three relying more on the creativity of Imran Louza, which Also looked promising and could have resulted in his first victory as Canaries boss if the displayed finish was better.
However, the defense has yet to make much progress. An awkwardly high and flat defensive line was caught by Metz, when Aaron Leya Iseka scored in the opener. This was accompanied in the same match by a terrible lack of pressure on the ball, allowing Boulaya to carry the score 2-0.
They could have conceded even more goals if Gaël Kakuta had scored a penalty in the match against Lens. That, or if AS Monaco hit the target with more than 14 shots when the teams met on January 31.
The attack saw a small improvement. While Nantes have just scored four goals in six matches in 2021, even in the game against Rennes, the team seemed more confident in attack. They certainly need a goalscorer to pick up the torch and get back into shape.
Previously underrated striker Kalifa Coulibaly has teamed up with 22-year-old Randal Kolo Muani. Only Kolo Muani marked during the reign of Domenech. He had a nice finish against Saint-Étienne, after a good job on the wing of former Manchester United full-back Fabio. As the duo walked away to celebrate, a face of Domenech stone watched.
During weak offensive parades, and sometimes calamitous defensive performances, Raymond Domenech has been at the center of attention in recent weeks in Brittany. Not only because no one could have predicted his return from the desert, but because of his personal conduct.
Recently, Domenech was approached by a journalist from Mediapro / Telefoot “Do you regret having had to come out of retirement to become a Nantes manager?” Domenech boldly said he could ask the reporter the same question, referring to the Mediapro-TV rights deal fiasco. This story is just one of many interesting and often hilarious quotes from the former national team coach. He even recently compared his coaching strategy to that of Zinedine Zidane.
Is relegation possible?
No matter how entertaining Domenech is, what matters in Nantes is his Ligue 1 status. Although Saint Étienne’s form continues to deteriorate (Claude Puel’s team won two out of 15), Nantes is in bad shape. After Lorient’s recent shock victory over PSG seeing them go level with Nantes in points, the pressure is strong.
There were small signs of increased confidence in the Domenech team. However, Nantes need to start producing more of their 2019/20 defensive form and start taking risks. If they fail to do so, it is far from inconceivable to imagine Nîmes or Dijon catching up with the camp and leading Nantes in Ligue 2.