Claude Puel Christophe Galtier Saint-Etienne Lille
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Saint-Etienne - Lille: Puel and Galtier face former clubs

Publish on 27/11/2020 at 13:18 - A. SCOTT

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LOSC’s Christophe Galtier and AS Saint-Etienne’s Claude Puel face each other and their former clubs on Sunday. But while Lille are one of Europe’s form teams, Les Verts are desperately hoping to end a worrying run of defeats.

AS Saint-Etienne - LOSC Sunday at 21:00 CET (2000 GMT)

Lille have been beaten just once in 15 games in all competitions this season, most recently coming from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Serie A leaders AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday thanks to Jonathan Bamba’s second-half strike.

“The point allows us to hope for good things in the coming matches,” was how Galtier summed up the result. After years of disappointing results in Europe, LOSC are well placed to qualify for the knockout stages of that competition, but the domestic front is their priority.

Les Dogues ended last weekend in second place in the Ligue 1 Uber Eats table, two points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain after crushing struggling FC Lorient 4-0 at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, with Turkish international Yusuf Yazici scoring twice. Record signing Jonathan David also netted his long-awaited first Lille goal in that match, as Galtier’s team cruised despite being without the likes of Renato Sanches, Zeki Çelik, Burak Yilmaz and José Fonte because of injury or suspension. Right-back Çelik is again sidelined this weekend.

Highlights: Yazici nets twice as Lille crush Lorient

“He will be absent for another few matches,” Galtier said. “I have three full-backs available, two left-sided ones and one right-footed. I also know that Tiago Djalo can do a job for us there. We will have to think about who can play against Saint-Etienne and then against Sparta (Prague) on Thursday.”

A trip to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is a special occasion for Galtier. He didn’t get to come back to face his old club last season as this fixture was scheduled for after the campaign ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Galtier will always be fondly remembered for the work he did in seven and a half years in charge at Saint-Etienne, turning around the fortunes of a struggling side and leading the club through their best period since the end of their glory days in the early 1980s.

Seven straight defeats for Sainté

But now, while he admits that his current squad at Lille is the strongest he has ever worked with and as he looks to lead the northerners back into the Champions League, all is not well at his old club three years on from his departure.

Puel’s Saint-Etienne are floundering, with a good start to the campaign now but a distant memory. Les Verts won their first three games, then threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 away at FC Nantes in their next match and have gone on to suffer seven straight defeats since then, most recently a 4-1 thumping by Stade Brestois 29 in Brittany last weekend.

Highlights: Saint-Etienne torn apart by Brest

The average age of Puel’s starting line-up in that game was 24, with the likes of Lucas Gourna-Douath and Charles Abi featuring as the manager puts the emphasis on youth. Having sold the outstanding defender Wesley Fofana to Leicester City for a record fee at the start of the campaign, the wonder is whether Puel’s level of faith in the remaining young talent is perhaps a little misplaced. A club who have sidelined experienced goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier, and allowed another experienced player in midfielder Yann M’Vila to leave in the close season, ended last weekend just two points above the bottom three.

“We are all conscious of the situation in which we find ourselves. We need a reaction quickly. The match against Lille is vital,” Puel said after the Brest defeat. “I like when my team plays, is aggressive and adds intensity. We need to be much more solid defensively. We can’t offer up as many chances to the opposition. Against Lille we will have to be much more coherent.”

Another defeat would set an unwanted club record of eight straight top-flight losses. Their current sequence of seven matches their existing record set in October and November 2008. As a footnote, Laurent Roussey lost his job as coach during that run and was replaced by Alain Perrin and his assistant. That man was called Christophe Galtier and became coach in his own right little over a year later.

Probable teams

Saint-Etienne: Moulin; Debuchy, Moukoudi, Kolodziejczak, Trauco; Nordin, Neyou, Camara, Bouanga; Khazri, Hamouma

Lille: Maignan; Djalo, Fonte, Botman, Bradaric; Araujo, André, Soumaré, Bamba; David, Yilmaz