Nantes head to Strasbourg with first place in sight
FC Nantes have got off to a flying start this season, and kick off Week 6 on Friday knowing that a win at RC Strasbourg Alsace could see them go top of the table, for 24 hours at least.
RC Strasbourg Alsace - FC Nantes
Les Canaris have been flying since teaming up with fellow Breton institution Christian Gourcuff this summer - the 64-year-old former FC Lorient, Stade Rennais and Algeria coach replacing Vahid Halilhodzic in August - and are undefeated since their opening 2-1 loss at LOSC.
Last Sunday's 1-0 win over Stade de Reims, sealed thanks to Kalifa Coulibaly's second goal of the season, was Nantes' third victory on the bounce. A fourth would leave them top of the league, at least until Olympique de Marseille play Montpellier Hérault SC on Saturday evening.
Transfers not needed?
Coulibaly's form has been particularly important. Nantes signed Marcus Coco from EA Guingamp in the summer but an LCL knee ligament tear has restricted him to one appearance. Peru attacker Kevin Quevedo is only available in the winter transfer window, meanwhile.
Watch: Highlights of Nantes' 1-0 win over Reims
Gourcuff, though, is satisfied with the young squad he already has at his disposal.
"It's much nicer to be near the top of the table because it has a good impact on team spirit," he explained after the Reims win. "I don't want to forecast what we can achieve this season but we have to stay clear in our thoughts and I think we can still improve."
Coco aside, Nantes' only other injury worry is Rene Krhin, a knock picked up in pre-season meaning the Slovenia midfielder is yet to feature this term. Brazilian midfielder Andrei Girotto looks set to continue at centre-back, meanwhile, after an impressive performance at the Stade de la Beaujoire.
Friday's hosts Strasbourg began the season in the UEFA Europa League qualifyíers having won the Coupe de la Ligue in March, but they were knocked out by Eintracht Frankfurt in the play-off round, and are yet to pick up win in the league.
Sitting third from bottom with only AS Monaco as Dijon FCO below them, Le Racing's point haul of three rather belies how well they have been playing of late, though. Thierry Laurey's men were moments away from holding champion Paris Saint-Germain last Saturday, only for the returning Neymar Jr. to snatch an injury time winner.
Watch: Highlights of Strasbourg's narrow 1-0 loss to PSG
'Don't play PSG every week!'
"We played how we had to, cutting Paris off and using our possession well," explained the coach. " We even had some good chances in the first half. It's frustrating and cruel but there wasn't much we could do about it. If you leave them any space they'll exploit it. But I'm very proud of my players, they did what was expected of them. [Keylor] Navas made two top quality saves. We must rebound knowing that we don't have to play PSG every week!"
Strasbourg beat Nantes 1-0 when the teams last played in May, and they could be further boosted by the return of France U21 defensive midfielder Anthony Caci, who picked up an injury at the UEFA European U21 Championship in Italy and San Marino in June and is yet to feature in the 2019/20 campaign.
Youngsters Kévin Zohi and Adrien Lebeau are carrying thigh and hamstring injuries, however. Strasbourg are unable to make many changes, then, with two-goal midfielder Adrien Thomasson set to continue as a makeshift striker.
Strasbourg: Sels; Koné, Mitrovic, Djiku; Lala, Martin, Caci, Liénard, Carole; Thomasson, Ajorque
Nantes: Lafont; Fabio, Girotto, Pallois, Traoré; Touré, Abeid; Louza, Rongier, Lima; Coulibaly