Rennes on rebound, Sousa makes Bordeaux bow
By A. Scott
Stade Rennais FC must pick themselves up after their European exit as they return to Ligue 1 Conforama action on Sunday away to a Girondins de Bordeaux side under new management.
Girondins de Bordeaux - Stade Rennais FC
Rennes saw their UEFA Europa League run come to an end in agonising fashion on Thursday, as they went down 3-0 to Arsenal in London in the second leg of their last-16 tie, the result overturning their 3-1 lead from the first leg. Julien Stéphan's side had travelled across the Channel with such high hopes but their advantage was wiped out as Arsenal scored twice in the opening quarter of an hour. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's second-half goal, his second of the night, then clinched the tie for the Premier League side.
Despite that, Rennes go out with their heads held high. There have been plenty of positives to take from their best ever run in European competition, which featured a rousing victory over Real Betis in the previous round.
"We need to digest this and analyse things, but we can congratulate the players for their remarkable run which ends against a stronger side for whom we made life difficult last week," said Stéphan, adding that the tie would "allow everyone to grow".
Return to Europe?
"We will retain the positives from all of this and we thank our supporters," added Hatem Ben Arfa, with a nod to the 5,000 fans of the Brittany club who made the trip to the Emirates Stadium. "I hope that next year and the following years Stade Rennais will continue to play in Europe and keep progressing."
Highlights: Rennes beat 10-man Caen
There is still every chance that Rennes could be back in Europe again next season. They head to the Matmut Atlantique having ended last weekend in eighth place, three points adrift of fifth - which could be enough for a Europa League spot - and with a game in hand. They also have a Coupe de France semi-final against Olympique Lyonnais to look forward to early next month.
The Bretons have been brilliant at home recently - they are unbeaten in 14 matches at Roazhon Park since Stéphan took charge in December - but they have lost their last three away league outings, something they need to improve on when they face a Bordeaux side seven points further back and in the bottom half.
Sousa set for debut
This is a big occasion for Bordeaux, who play their first game since new coach Paulo Sousa officially took charge of the team. The 48-year-old Portuguese was appointed on a four-year deal late last week, and arrives with a new management team to replace the previous pairing of Éric Bedouet and general manager Ricardo Gomes.
Sousa, whose last job was in China and before that coached Fiorentina in Italy, is the first new coach to be named at the Matmut Atlantique since the American takeover of the club in the autumn. He watched last Saturday's 1-1 draw away to AS Monaco from the stands at the Stade Louis II and will have been encouraged by what he saw.
Highlights: Bordeaux battle to draw in Monaco
"Compared to the last matches I had seen, I thought the players had a better mentality, played with more aggression and went looking for a good result. We need to keep that attitude both individually and collectively," said Sousa as he was officially unveiled earlier this week.
Themselves eliminated from the Europa League in the group stage, Bordeaux have won just one of their last nine games in all competitions and have taken only five points from the last 24 available in the league. They appear to have little more than pride left to play for between now and the end of the campaign.
"I don't see this project as a revolution, but I have come here with new ideas. I hope to be able to help things evolve naturally and I will take decisions for the coming seasons," Sousa said. "There will be tactical differences to see how the players react. I want them to have the ambition to go out and win at home and away. At the end of the season we will see who has that mentality, who can stay and who has to go."
Bordeaux: Costil (cap.) – Koundé, Pablo, Jovanovic – Y.Sabaly, Otavio, Basic, Poundjé – Kamano, Briand, De Préville
Rennes: Koubek – H.Traoré, Da Silva, Mexer, Bensebaini – I.Sarr, André (cap.), Bourigeaud, Léa-Siliki – M.Niang, Hunou