Ligue 1 review: Part 2 – Diabate, Bielsa & Puel’s next gig

Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer.

In case you missed it, click here for Part 1, but below is Part 2 of his epic look back over what was an incredible season of football in Ligue 1. Settle in and enjoy.

The story of FC Metz‘s season can only really be discussed as pre-Cheick Diabaté and post-Cheick Diabaté. This was a club mired in problems for the first half of the season, the fans sending an opposing goalkeeper to hospital with a flare and the club apparently agreeing to accept a sponsorship from the tourist board of Chad, a country in the midst of an economic crisis.

The Malian international arrived on loan from Turkish side Osmanlispor in the January transfer window and appeared to single-handedly turn their fortunes around. Diabaté’s eight goals on the field and good attitude in the club house helped FC Metz over the hump, and the play of many other players seemed to improve, not least Ismaïla Sarr, the youngster with two entries in my own-goal of the season competition.

Moving up another spot and it’s odd to think that Toulouse at one point looked like they were going to push for a European spot. When they brought in Andy Delort back to France from Tigres in January, his goals and form had them pushing for a place in the Europa League. Unfortunately for fans of the other TFC, Delort cooled off and the team as a whole fell back. This is a squad with a lot of excellent young players, however, particularly Alexis Blin in midfield – who missed much of this season through injury – Issa Diop and Christopher Jullien at centre-back, and Alban Lafont in goal. If they can keep this spine together and maybe add some flair or guile up top there’s the potential to do well in the future.

12th place went to Angers – a team likely delighted at their comfortable mid-table spot. Whilst they didn’t match their 9th place finish from last season, they never looked in danger of going down and the strategy of creaming off top Ligue 2 talent paid dividends in the play of Karl Toko Ekambi and Famara Dhiedhiou. Nicolas Pepe is an exciting young player as well, but they seem unlikely to retain all of this talent. They also had the excitement of a cup final this year, facing PSG in the Coupe De France final.. The minnows held out valiantly and the prospect of extra-time loomed before the unfortunate Issa Cissokho turned the ball into his own net in the 90th minute. A heartbreaking moment that should in no way undermine what a good year this team had.

Lille finished above Angers in 11th place, but seemed to be in cruise control from the moment that Marcelo Bielsa was announced as incoming coach for next season. Vincent Enyeama remains one of the best in a league chocked full of goalkeeping talent and Nicolas De Préville had a good year up front, bagging 14 goals in the league, but if we’re all being honest with ourselves, this season might as well have not have happened for Lille. Next year, however, they will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.

Internationally beloved En Avant de Guingamp sat right in the middle, taking 10th position on the league table. Good early form died off towards the end of the year, in spite of Jimmy Briand’s good play all season and Marcus Coco’s occasional flashes of skill and verve. The real fear would have been losing Antoine Kombouare to the newly managerless St.Etienne over the summer, but that looks to have passed.

Guingamp’s local rivals pipped them in the game I watched earlier this year and in the table as well, finishing one spot above them in 9th. Giovanni Sio’s handsome beard sort of sums up the vibe of the season and it will really have to go down as a missed opportunity. That said, it was always going to be tricky losing a player of Ousmane Dembele’s quality and, as exciting youngsters Joris Gnagnon and Adama Diakhaby are, they couldn’t make up the shortfall. Selling Paul-Georges Ntep in January could only be classed a mistake and losing goalkeeper Benoît Costil to the free agent market this summer will no doubt be a blow.

My personal pick for jersey of the season, Saint-Étienne, ended up in 8th. Looking at the squad and they way they played, it’s close to miraculous they even did this well. Christophe Galtier was always a defensive coach, but ASSE seemed bereft up front and couldn’t create through the middle either. Jordan Veretout remains a good player – despite his unfortunate time at Aston Villa – but he couldn’t single-handedly power this team. Galtier leaving will mark the begin of a new era for the club; he had turned a moribund club around and had kept them in contention for all eight seasons he was in charge. Claude Puel is strongly rumoured to be next in line for the job, which actually probably wouldn’t change things at the club that much.

Part 3 of Colin’s Ligue 1 review will be up tomorrow, in which we learn about soon-to-be Ranieri’s Nantes, Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon. Things only get hotter. Keep an eye out!

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