Best of the rest the aim for Ranieri's Nantes
By A. Scott
With the clubs above them breaking away, FC Nantes are targeting ending the year in fifth place and establishing themselves as the best of the rest as they host derby rivals Angers SCO at the Stade de la Beaujoire on Sunday.
FC Nantes - Angers SCO
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Nantes saw the gap to Olympique Lyonnais, AS Monaco and Olympique de Marseille increase last weekend as that trio all won while Les Canaris went down to a 2-1 defeat at home to a resurgent OGC Nice, despite Yacine Bammou giving them the lead early on.
They have not been lower than fifth since late September but their recent form has been inconsistent while the likes of Nice and Stade Rennais FC have been making up ground. Indeed, Nantes ended last weekend just six points better off than Dijon FCO down in 13th.
Claudio Ranieri's men have won just one of their last five Ligue 1 Conforama outings, with just two wins in eight games in all competitions. Finding the net remains their big problem, their average of less than a goal a game undermining a defence that has been well drilled by the Italian and has conceded just 18 times in 17 outings.
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"I watched the start of the season from the sidelines but I think we have a lot of quality in the squad. I think we deserve to be up in fifth place. We are capable of achieving something this season," Bammou told the club's website ahead of the final two matches of 2017, with a midweek trip to Amiens SC following this encounter.
"Our next two matches will be vital in determining how the rest of the season goes for us. If we keep playing as we are, with the same mentality, then I think we can stay up towards the top of the table."
Of the defeat against Nice which ended a run of five straight home wins, the Moroccan forward added: "We know that we're going to lose matches over the course of a season. We need to learn from our errors and bounce back on Sunday to start a new run. It is an important match. We need to ignore the league table and try to get a victory that is very important for us as we approach the end of the year."
Angers in drop zone
Just 90 kilometres separate the two cities, although this fixture perhaps lacks the tension of a derby between Nantes and Rennes. For Angers it is a special game, though, and a vital one as well as they make the short drive down the Loire in the relegation zone.
Stéphane Moulin's side have won just twice in the league all season and have not won any of their last eight league games, picking up just three points in that time. Last weekend they had to come from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Montpellier Hérault SC, and they have not managed a single Ligue 1 Conforama victory in front of their own fans this season.
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They did boost confidence in midweek, however, beating FC Metz 1-0 at the Stade Raymond Kopa in the last 16 of the Coupe de la Ligue thanks to a wonderful strike by Angelo Fulgini. Now they are hoping to claim a first league victory since mid-October and Moulin is pondering whether to stick with the same formation that has brought rewards in the last week.
"I went again with the 4-4-2 with the diamond midfield knowing that certain players were not really suited to the system," Moulin said after the Metz game. "But it is an interesting set-up in terms of taking the game to the opposition and creating danger, and given our position in the league we need to be able to take risks to win games."
Angers lost three times against Les Canaris last season, including in the Coupe de la Ligue, and their only win in Nantes in the top flight came in 1967. Moulin will bring back several players who were rested in midweek. Nantes have been without Kalifa Coulibaly, Joris Kayembe and Préjuce Nakoulma. Diego Carlos can play before sitting out the Amiens trip due to suspension.
Nantes: (To follow)
Angers: (To follow)