Bielsa v Ranieri: A battle for tactical mastery
By D. Crossan
Ligue 1 Conforama boasts a plethora of coaching talent and Sunday's match between LOSC and FC Nantes means a fascinating battle of tactical wits between Marcelo Bielsa and Claudio Ranieri.
Bielsa is back in the French game two years after his sudden resignation as Olympique de Marseille boss, while Ranieri led Leicester City to an astounding Premier League title in 2016 and is also familiar with the French game having finished runners-up in Ligue 1 Conforama with Monaco in 2014, a year after leading the principality club to the Ligue 2 title.
LOSC finished 11th last term at the end of a turbulent campaign and owner Gérard Lopez will expect better this time around having recruited Bielsa, an exceptionally influential coach nicknamed El Loco.
Return of El Loco
The Argentinian has a well deserved reputation for working his players hard and, initially, it worked at OM as he led them to the symbolic title of "autumn champions" in 2014-2015 before fading to fourth in the second half of the campaign.
Judging by the words of summer signing Edgar Ié, a young Portuguese defender signed from Belenenses, Bielsa has not changed one iota. Ié said: "Marcelo Bielsa is a great coach and I'm both happy and proud to be playing for him. It's also the first time I've worked with a coach who places so much emphasis on physical work. I'm happy to be playing for him as I know I'll progress."
Bielsa: "I think what I can bring to the club is what the club needs"
Bielsa has kept his public words scarce since being appointed, though has expressed his delight at working with Lopez's advisor Luis Campos, who did so much to help put together Monaco's title-winning squad between 2013 and 2016. Bielsa commented: "Working with Luis Campos is a major plus when it comes to putting the squad together. I think what I can bring to the club is what the club needs. The training ground is perfect and that is stimulating for our work. It's hard to imagine better conditions."
LOSC have a much-altered squad with the accent placed on recruiting South American talent. Making them gel fast is Bielsa's challenge. Bielsa habitually plays three defenders and Ranieri's Nantes may line up with something similar, having experimented with three at the back in a friendly against Genoa last weekend.
Ranieri lifts Nantes after Conçeicao exit
At 66 years old, Ranieri needed a rules exemption on age grounds in order to be able to take up his post. While losing Sergio Conçeicao to Porto was a major blow - the Portuguese led them to seventh after taking over Les Canaris in 19th position, the appointment of the experienced Ranieri maintained the optimistic mood at La Beaujoire.
At his presentation in June, Ranieri said: "I'm happy to be here. I know Nantes because of football. The club has won the league eight times. I know the supporters are great and it's important for us to work in a humble way but with the ambition of doing good things."
Rongier: "Someone even more impressive"
Midfielder Valentin Rongier commented: "I didn't expect Conçeicao to leave, especially not after we'd wished each other happy holidays. It's a bit frustrating to put things in place with one coach whose methods we understood, but I have to take my had off to the president who didn't get down and instead recruited someone even more impressive. Even if Conçeicao is a very good coach, Ranieri's list of trophies won is far superior to his."
Full-back Léo Dubois added: "The two coaching methods are more or less based on the same things. We need to work together as a team and be strong defensively in order to attack well. Ranieri's an Italian and so he demands a lot of rigour when we lose the ball and in both penalty boxes."
LOSC: Maignan; Malcuit, Ié, Alonso, Ballo-Touré; Amadou, Thiago Mendes; El-Ghazi, Benzia, Araujo; De Préville
FC Nantes: Dupé; Dubois, Djidji, Diego Carlos, Moutoussamy; Kacaniklic, Touré, Rongier, Thomasson; Sala, Nakoulma