These are testing times for AS Saint-Etienne, as Claude Puel's side languish in the lower reaches of the Ligue 1 Conforama table heading into Sunday's trip to Montpellier Hérault SC.
Montpellier Hérault SC v AS Saint-Etienne (kick-off 1500 CET on Sunday)
The nine-game unbeaten run with which Puel began his reign in charge of Les Verts is beginning to seem like a long time ago now. Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard left Saint-Etienne 15th in the table. It was their second defeat in as many games in the space of four days, and their sixth defeat in their last seven Ligue 1 Conforama outings. Indeed, in nine rounds of matches played since the start of December, only Amiens SC and Toulouse FC - the bottom two coming into the weekend - picked up fewer points than Saint-Etienne’s six.
“It is a complicated spell for the team. We are not conceding many chances but it feels as though every our opponents are scoring with every chance they get,” admitted Puel after the Marseille defeat, which followed a 3-1 loss away to FC Metz last Sunday.
Despite their awful run, the record 10-time champions ended the midweek card still with plenty to play for, sitting just six points adrift of Montpellier in fifth place. In contrast, they were seven clear of the bottom three, but Puel acknowledges that he is currently more interested with keeping a safe distance from the danger zone.
“I have been looking down the way for a little while now, especially as the games have just not stopped coming for six months. For six months we have had injured players coming back only to then get injured again, because the demands on us are so high. Against Metz we were not concentrated enough, but I can’t accuse the players of not fighting,” added the former Leicester City boss.
Despite Puel’s complaints, almost all of his major players were fit to face Marseille. However, Yohan Cabaye was taken off at half-time while both Wahbi Khazri and Romain Hamouma also suffered injuries. If the latter two are both absent at the Stade de la Mosson there will be extra pressure on Denis Bouanga, who is Sainté’s leading scorer in the league with seven goals but has not added to that tally in two months. “We need to bounce back with 10 times more determination,” Bouanga said after Wednesday’s game.
More excitement this time?
Montpellier have had a difficult last 10 days themselves, with an elimination from the Coupe de France on penalties to lower-league Belfort being followed by a 5-0 thumping away to Paris Saint-Germain last weekend. On Wednesday they were held 1-1 at home by FC Metz, despite Téji Savanier giving Michel Der Zakarian’s side an early lead.
However, that result should perhaps be seen in the context of Metz’s excellent recent form, and the 2012 champions have only been beaten by PSG in their last 13 home matches in all competitions.
“It is nothing dramatic, even if it has not been an easy last week for us,” said Gaëtan Laborde after the Metz draw. His team-mate Jordan Ferri added: “We are entitled to be disappointed given that other results went our way, but now we have an important match coming up against Saint-Etienne and the coach has told us to look ahead now.”
In contrast to Saint-Etienne, there is no question that there are goals in this Montpellier team - Savanier, Laborde, Andy Delort and Florent Molllet have scored 23 times between them in the league. Neutrals will be hoping for more excitement than the last meeting of the teams in November, when they dished out a disappointing 0-0 draw at Le Chaudron.
Montpellier: To follow