After flirting with relegation last term, FC Nantes have come out fighting this time around…
Les Canaris soared to victory against Stade Brestois 29 last time out, scoring three times inside the first hour and going on to win 4-1.
Following three consecutive losses it mean back-to-back wins Nantes, who also eased past Angers SCO 4-1 last weekend.
'Knew luck would turn'
"We've played well and had chances in the previous games, but we hadn't been putting them away," Nantes midfielder Ludovic Blas explained to the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. "That was frustrating, but we've been encouraged by the performances. We knew it would come, that our luck would turn at some point."
Watch: Highlights of Nantes' 3-1 win over Brest
Antoine Kombouaré was handed the short-term mission of keeping Nantes up, but now the coach is looking to build. The ex-Nantes defender knows all about Nantes' historical passing style, and is keen to get the team playing good, fluid football once again.
"We've kept on playing as if we were high up in the standings," he said. "With confidence and with calm. We want the players to feel like they can express themselves and play with freedom."
The Nantes squad hasn't changed much, but the mental fragility that hampered them last season has vanished. The recent wins followed defeats by Stade Rennais FC, Olympique Lyonnais and OGC Nice, yet the team played with real confidence.
"We've had some tough times and a run of bad results," Blas continued. "But those three defeats were against top teams. You can't let your heads drop after a run like that. It really feels like we've learned our lessons from last season."
Nantes committed 16 fouls in the Angers game - not a stat to be proud of, but clear proof that Kombouaré has forged a team of battlers. The ex-Paris Sint-Germain boss has overseen almost 450 Ligue 1 Uber Eats games, and his vast experience has helped him transform the Nantes dressing room.
"When you're on a run of three straight defeats, you need to think about how the players are feeling, about what's going on in their heads," Kombouaré said. "Doubt creeps in, you're unsure and you can even become gripped by fear."
Ahead of the trip to Stade de Reims, fear has been replaced by confidence. The eight-time French champions have scored four goals in three of their last five away games. The Nantes attack looks formidable, with the young No.9 Randall Kolo Muani starting to fulfil his potential.
"He's so fast, he can go past players and he scores goals," Kombouaré said of the France youth cap. "He can lead the attack or he can play out wide. he's clinical in front of goal and he's a real team player. There's no question he's taken a step forward - even if he was already extremely good last season.
"I'm still learning," the 22-year-ood striker said of himself. "I try to do my best and always try to learn. The opposition are starting to know me now, and I have more confidence in my ability. So I'm ok, I'm feeling better and better out on the pitch."
The next challenge for free-scoring Nantes is to find consistency. Last year, they didn't manage to win back-to-back games until the 35th round of the season!
Beginning to soar
"We need to keep playing as we have been recently, and we'll get the rewards in the end," Kombouaré concluded. "But we remember who we are and understand that we have to keep on working in order to get better."
The front three of Blas, Kolo Muani and Moses Simon has been involved in nine out of 10 of Nantes' goals so far. With their combination of guile, power and speed, Kombouaré's men could go very far indeed this season.