By I. Holyman
FC Nantes will seek to continue their push for a top-three finish when they face struggling AS Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
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Claudio Ranieri’s arrival in the summer sparked delight among Nantes fans who saw in the genial Italian a man who could – having worked the miracle of Leicester City’s 2015/16 Premier League win – revive the club’s fortunes.
The eight-game unbeaten run that followed the cold shower of defeats in the opening two matches of the campaign suggested that would be the case, and though there was another dip in form after that, the midweek defeat of reigning champions AS Monaco leaves the 2000/01 title-winners fifth, just three points off the top-flight podium ahead of Week 16.
“It was important to get back to winning ways after two defeats on the trot,” said Ranieri after seeing substitute Lucas Lima claim all three points with the very last kick of Wednesday’s game. “We won against the champions, so these three points are golden.
WATCH: Lima’s late goal sees off champions Monaco
“We played a good match and I’m satisfied with my team. We were vigilant, especially from free-kicks, which are one of Monaco’s strengths. My players were focused and shut down the spaces. After two defeats, it was important to reconnect our brain.”
Saint-Etienne were the envy of Nantes when they beat FC Metz 3-1 in Week 9 to end the round of games in third place. That threatens to be the highpoint of the season though if the ten-time Ligue 1 Conforama champions do not halt their worrying slide down the table.
Perrin: ‘Do it together’
Since that win, Saint-Etienne have picked up just two points from their following five league outings, and more worryingly still for side whose strength lies at the back, they have conceded a massive 13 goals in their last four league matches. They had conceded less than one per match in their opening 11.
“When you are not confident and you concede a goal quickly, it makes things difficult,” said Loïc Perrin after Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat at Girondins de Bordeaux, a loss in which Les Verts found themselves behind after just five minutes through Alexandre Mendy’s early goal.
WATCH: Mendy’s early goal that puts Saint-Etienne on the back foot
“For the goal, we lost all our challenges. From the moment you do that, it’s difficult to win matches. We’re really in a difficult spell. We’re going to have to get out of it, but it’s going to be complicated. If there’s a moment where we have to dig in this season, this is it.
“There’s a match coming this weekend that’s going to be super important. We have to get back to winning ways again quickly. We can’t continue like this. We have to react and do it quickly all together. We’re making the effort. It’s not a lack of desire, but we have to put it in together. We have to get back a team with everything that that means.”
Saint-Etienne: to follow
Nantes: to follow