Ben Arfa influence growing on Rennes
By A. Scott
Hatem Ben Arfa's influence is growing at Stade Rennais FC, who host Stade de Reims on Sunday afternoon determined to bounce back from a disappointing defeat in the UEFA Europa League.
Stade Rennais FC - Stade de Reims
Ben Arfa is hoping to return to the Rennes starting line-up at Roazhon Park after being restricted to a 74th-minute entrance as a substitute when the Breton side lost 2-1 at home to Dynamo Kiev on Thursday.
The 31-year-old was unable to make a decisive contribution against the Ukrainian giants, who were reduced to 10 men before snatching an 89th-minute winner through Vitaliy Buyalskiy. Clément Grenier had earlier equalised for Sabri Lamouchi's team, who are now up against it as they look to qualify for the knockout rounds.
"We have made mistakes too often since the start of the season. We play matches to win, but when you can't win, you need to make sure you don't lose. It is a really big blow, but we still have a chance of qualifying," insisted Lamouchi, whose team have lacked consistency domestically and in Europe.
Rennes come into this weekend in mid-table having won just once in seven games in all competitions. Nevertheless, they have just taken four points from back-to-back away trips to AS Monaco and then AS Saint-Etienne, with Ben Arfa playing a major role in both matches.
Watch: Ben Arfa stars against Saint-Etienne
The former Paris Saint-Germain star scored the goal that clinched a 2-1 victory in Monaco, and then lit up the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard at times last weekend, coming close to scoring a superb solo goal in the first half against Les Verts before winning a penalty after the break, only to squander the spot-kick by putting his effort off the outside of the post and wide.
"It was probably his best performance. He is on the right road and so are we," said Lamouchi after that game, which finished in a 1-1 draw, Ismaïla Sarr netting for Rennes.
Ben Arfa has started four straight Ligue 1 Conforama matches, while playing a lesser role in Europe, and Rennes fans will hope he can unlock a Reims defence which was the best outside the top three coming into the weekend.
Reims struggling with step up
After romping to the Domino's Ligue 2 title in record style last season, Reims are nevertheless finding the step up difficult. They came from behind to draw 1-1 with Angers SCO last weekend, a result that left David Guion's team without a win in eight matches since they started the campaign with back-to-back victories.
They have drawn five of their last six games - four of them ended goalless - with the exception being a 4-1 loss at Paris Saint-Germain, and there is no question that they miss Jordan Siebatcheu. The American-born forward left for Rennes for a reported €12 million fee in the summer, and Reims have the worst attack in the top flight this season with only five goals scored.
Watch: Reims fight back to hold Angers
"I'm not worried, we're creating chances. I prefer to have these situations. We are working on what we do in the final third. That is very important in football. We are aware that we need to improve in that area because we are solid," said Pablo Chavarría recently.
He is their top scorer after getting his second of the season last weekend. The Argentine - who broke through a decade ago with his local side Club Atlético Belgrano of Córdoba - is hoping to start racking up the goals after netting 14 in the run to the second-tier title.
But standing in his and his team's way this weekend could be Abdoulaye Diallo - the Senegal international goalkeeper, who was born in Reims, has recently been given a chance to prove himself in the Rennes side ahead of Tomáš Koubek.
Rennes: (To follow)
Reims: (To follow)