Conceição chases semi berth
By D. Crossan
If Sergio Conceição can maintain his winning streak as Nantes coach against Nancy on Tuesday then Les Canaris will find themselves in the last four of the Coupe de la Ligue.
Coupe de la Ligue quarter-final
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
The Portuguese boss has a perfect record of four victories from as many games in all competitions since succeeding René Girard. Nantes were stretched, however, by fifth-tier Blois in the Coupe de France round of 64 on Saturday before progressing 2-1 thanks to a Mariusz Stepinski brace.
Conceição felt qualification was deserved: "The atmosphere was superb. The Blois players gave everything. It is always like that in the Cup and there is never an easy match. With their spirit, their ambition, their desire to make an impression, the teams from lower leagues are capable of raising their game. Congratulations to Blois, but we were superior."
Conceição's methods have won over the squad and the results have followed. Full-back Léo Dubois revealed: "The real change is that we spend much more time together and we spend longer at the La Jonelière training complex. There are more links between the players than before. New people have been brought in and they have different demands. We work much more now for the collective unit than as individuals."
Ligue 1 survival is the number one aim for both Nantes and Nancy, though neither club would turn their nose up at the opportunity to claim silverware. Nantes have never won the Coupe de la Ligue, though they did reach the 2004 final, and haven't claimed any trophies since the last of their eight Ligue 1 titles in 2001.
Dubois: "We're going to try to win a trophy"
Dubois admitted: "We know that January will decide how our season goes. Everybody is focused and ready and wants to rise to the challenge. We speak about things within the squad and we're going to try to win a trophy this season and make our supporters happy."
Nancy won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2006 in Pablo Correa's first spell in charge and so the competition is close to the Uruguayan tactician's heart. The Lorraine club enjoyed a more comfortable time than Nantes in the Coupe de France on Saturday, scoring three goals in the space of seven minutes late in the first half to win 3-0 at fifth-tier Besançon.
The Ligue 2 champions were able to take their foot off the pedal and conserve energy in the second half, pleasing Correa: "We never allowed them to express themselves," he said. "It was a professional performance from us despite it being difficult to play because the players' bodies were fighting against the cold temperatures. We managed to get in front and the game was over by half-time."
Coupe de France stroll
Michaël Chrétien returned after two months out of the first-team picture at centre-half at the weekend, compensating for the sale of Clément Lenglet to Sevilla. Such was the ease of Nancy's victory that Correa was able to withdraw veteran skipper Youssouf Hadji, the scorer of the club's opener, with more than half an hour to play.
The two clubs drew 1-1 at the Stade Marcel Picot back in mid-September, but both have improved markedly since then. Nancy are on a handy little run and have been defeated only once in their last nine outings in all competitions. Nancy are two points above Tuesday's opponents in the Ligue 1 table but will have to cope with an incredible atmosphere at the Stade de la Beaujoire as Nantes' famously loud supporters get behind their rejuvenated team.
FC Nantes: Dupé; Dubois, Vizcarrondo (c), Diego Carlos, Lima; Ab. Touré, Gillet, Iloki, Harit; Stepinski, Sala
AS Nancy-Lorraine: Chernik; Cuffaut, M.Diagne, Chrétien (c), Badila; A. Diarra, Guidileye, Cétout; Dia, Puyo, Dalé