Same survival aim, different problems
By A. Scott
While SM Caen's biggest problem this season has been putting the ball in the net, Sunday's opponents RC Strasbourg Alsace have often been let down by defensive frailties since their return to the elite.
SM Caen - RC Strasbourg Alsace
Caen: Cup euphoria and Crivelli
There is an understandable feeling of euphoria in Normandy just now after Caen's 1-0 win over Olympique Lyonnais on Thursday that saw them qualify for the semi-finals of the Coupe de France for the first time in their lengthy history. They will host the holders Paris Saint-Germain in the last four in April, but before that they have six Ligue 1 Conforama games as they focus on top-flight survival.
"The semi-final is a long way away. Our main objective is staying in Ligue 1, continuing for the club," admitted veteran skipper Julien Féret.
The win over Lyon highlighted Caen's ability to stay solid defensively, even without regular first-choice goalkeeper Rémy Vercoutre or the injured centre-back Damien Da Silva. Shutting out Lyon's attack is no mean feat, but it still took a defender in Ismaël Diomandé to get their winning goal.
Caen, who started the weekend four points above the bottom three and one point better off than Strasbourg, have scored a paltry 20 Ligue 1 Conforama goals this season in 27 games, fewer than anyone else.
Highlights: Caen draw another blank in defeat at Dijon
Coach Patrice Garande, a prolific scorer of goals during his own playing days, is left relying on Ivan Santini and Ronny Rodelin to deliver for Caen. Between them, they have scored 13 of the team's league goals, eight for the Croatian and five for the man from the island of Réunion.
The January signing of former France under-21 striker Enzo Crivelli on loan from relegation rivals Angers SCO was meant to ease the strain on them, although he has so far delivered just one goal for Caen. Having been ill during the week, Crivelli only appeared as a second-half substitute against Lyon, while last weekend his presence alongside Santini and Rodelin in attack could not prevent Caen slumping to a 2-0 defeat at Dijon.
Their last two home league games do provide grounds for optimism though - Caen came from behind to draw 2-2 with Rennes and also beat FC Nantes 3-2 at the Stade Michel-d'Ornano in February.
Strasbourg: Cup shock and defensive errors
In contrast to Caen, Strasbourg suffered a humbling Coupe de France exit in midweek, losing 1-0 to third-tier minnows Chambly in freezing, windy conditions in Beauvais that coach Thierry Laurey insisted were a great leveller.
Laurey was quick to point out that it is only 18 months since his team were in the third-tier Championnat National themselves, in an attempt to play down the scale of the upset. The reality is that it was a big opportunity missed for the Alsace club, but now the focus is fully on ensuring they beat the drop in their first top-flight campaign in a decade.
Strasbourg held Montpellier Hérault SC to a 0-0 draw at the Stade de la Meinau last weekend but prior to that they were beaten 5-2 at Paris Saint-Germain, not helped by the concession of some soft goals against the league leaders.
Highlights: Strasbourg keep rare clean sheet against Montpellier
Laurey's men have won just one of their last five Ligue 1 Conforama outings, and coming into the weekend only Dijon FCO and bottom club FC Metz had let in more goals than Strasbourg's 47, of which 29 have been shipped on their travels.
Speaking recently, Laurey said: "We try to be coherent in what we do, and the boys are receptive. They give their best on the field, sometimes they make mistakes but they work hard. We have lost stupid points, it's true, but sometimes you need that in order to learn."
Certainly, Strasbourg have been one of the more entertaining sides to watch this season, and now they will go looking for a first ever win at Caen in the top flight, although they are again without skipper Kader Mangane. He is out until April with a thigh injury.
Caen: To follow
Strasbourg: To follow