Hatem ben Arfa produced some trademark moments of brilliance - hitting the woodwork twice - but Stade Rennais FC could not find a way through Montpellier Hérault in Sunday's goalless draw.
Stade Rennais FC 0-0 Montpellier Hérault SC
The question before kick-off was which solutions would new boss Julien Stephan find for his Rennes team after seeing his four-game winning start ended surprisingly by En Avant Guingamp in midweek?
It was not immediately clear he had found them against a Montpellier side that, though they were winless in four league games, started brightly, though the fact they been struggling for goals lately was also apparent as their good approach play brought no final product.
With Clément Grenier and Ben Arfa in their midfield, Rennes had the quality that had brought the pair a combined 20 France caps, and the latter's delicious ball down the right gave Ismaïla Sarr the first shooting opportunity (7').
James Léa-Siliki, employed as a makeshift left-back smashed an effort wide after anticipating well to win possession (14'), but Ellyes Skhiri might have done better than drag the ball across the face of Tomas Koubek's goal after confidently striding into the hosts' penalty area (31').
With their first-choice goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte sidelined by injury for the first time since his summer 2017 move from FC Lorient, Montpellier gave Dimitry Bertaud his top-flight debut — the 20-year-old repaid Michel der Zakarian's faith with a smart reflex stop to deny Benjamin Bourigeaud before the break (39').
Koubek's fingertips were all that stood between Florent Mollet and the opening goal as the Czech goalkeeper pushed the Montpellier midfielder's shot onto a post (51') before Ben Arfa almost turned the game Rennes' way.
First, the slightest deflection off the wall took a free-kick onto a post (52'), while there was no touch to the ball the former Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille man sent arcing off the opposite upright soon after with Bertaud a relieved spectator (55').
He watched Ben Arfa whip a free-kick just over (59') before a mix-up between himself and Paul Lasne provided Clément Grenier with the chance to win it. The ex-OL man shot wastefully with the goal at his mercy (88') to give Montpellier something to show for their long trip to Brittany.
THE PLAYER: Hatem ben Arfa
Now 31, the 15-time France international has lost none of his talent. His turn of speed — allied with devillish trickery — remains one of the French top-flight's most exciting sights, and he was so nearly Rennes' matchwinner.
THE STAT: 4
These two have scored just four goals in their last four league meetings at Roazhon Park.