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Saliba leading Sainté past Toulouse and into Europe?

Publish on 25/04/2019 at 00h00 - S. WILLIS

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With four wins from five and William Saliba growing in influence, AS Saint-Etienne are optimistic of ending their three-year European hiatus with Toulouse FC up next.

AS Saint-Etienne - Toulouse FC 

Sainté last qualified for continental competition in 2016 when they finished sixth in Ligue 1 Conforama before progressing to the last 32 of the following season's UEFA Europa League.

League finishes of eighth and seventh have since followed, but Les Verts look capable of going at least three better this term, with Jean-Louis Gasset's side hitting form at just the right time.

13 from 15 points

Last Sunday's 2-0 win at fellow European aspirants Stade de Reims was Saint-Etienne's fourth in five games - the other having been a draw - and they come into their Week 34 clash with Toulouse in fourth, just three points behind Derby du Rhône rivals Olympique Lyonnais, who occupy the final UEFA Champions League place.

"We have 56 points and we're among the six or seven clubs who are targeting Europe," explained Gasset at the Stade Auguste-Delaune. "A lot of teams have lost here and even [second-place] Lille only managed a draw."

With veteran centre-back Neven Subotic picking up a knee injury in the 2-2 draw at Amiens SC three weeks ago, 18-year-old Saliba has started the last two games at the heart of the defence.

Saliba shining

Two clean sheets and a fresh contract which runs until 2023 later, Gasset has been sufficiently impressed with the France U19 defender, who had been attracting admiring glances from some of European football's biggest spenders.

"We knew we'd have to put in a great performance in order to get the three points," he said. "We were in control of the game from a technical standpoint and built out from the back without any panic whatsoever."

Toulouse begin the day in 15th, some 20 points worse off than Sunday's hosts, and, in stark contrast to Sainté, have only won one of their last five. Alain Casanova's men looked dogged in holding LOSC to a goalless draw last Sunday, though - a result which handed Paris Saint-Germain the title before the capital club's evening kick-off against AS Monaco.

Smells like team spirit

"The point is just reward for the team's spirit," said Gasset's delighted opposite number Casanova after the game. "We defended very well in the second half when Lille pushed hard. Our collective efforts bore fruit. We respected the gameplan perfectly. We could've led in the first half but we're satisfied with the point."

Eight points above Dijon FCO, who occupy the relegation play-off place, Toulouse are not safe yet, but they could give Saint-Etienne a game of it if the reverse fixture - a narrow 3-2 loss in September - is anything to go by.

Midfielder Yannick Cahuzac could return after picking up a knock in training before the LOSC game, and Casanova has no fresh injury concerns. Uruguayan goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea has made a quicker than expected recovery from a knee injury, but Sunday will come too soon for him.


Possible teams

Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Debuchy, Saliba, Perrin, Polomat; Aït-Bennasser, M'vila; Hamouma, Cabella, Khazri; Beric

Toulouse: Reynet; Amian, Shoji, Moubandjé; Moreira, Sidibé, Sangaré, Sylla; Durmaz; Dossevi, Gradel