Saint-Etienne shining under Claude Puel
Something remarkable is happening at AS Saint-Etienne. It started five days before the derby against Olympique Lyonnais. Its cause? The Claude Puel effect.
Since starting his tenure with derby day victory, Puel has masterminded wins over Girondins de Bordeaux, AS Monaco and FC Nantes, collecting 13 points from a possible 15.
That return represents the best start made by a coach in the club's history, and has catapulted Saint-Etienne from 19th up to fourth in the table.
"I'm not looking at the table," Puel insisted on the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. "Since I arrived here my only goal is to see this team, to see this squad improve by working on the little details.
Watch: Highlights of Saint-Etienne's Derby du Rhône victory over Lyon
"All the better if we're picking up points during this time. Nothing helps you progress more. Equally, it makes the working environment more enjoyable!"
Puel's first two victories could hardly have been more exciting either. Both were snatched in the last few seconds. Tension has become almost guaranteed. Each win has come has come by a one-goal margin.
'Luck's been on our side'
"Luck's been on our side, yes, but I think that’s because of the effort and togetherness that we're showing," Puel continued. "We're improving in possession too, even though I'm still hoping for more!"
Puel can be satisfied with the choices he's made so far. His deployment of a back three has led to just four goals being conceded in five games. Not bad for a defence that was the second worst in the league before he arrived in early October.
Bouanga is only three away from matching his eight-goal baul for Nîmes Olympique lasts season.
A regular starter since, Zaydou Youssouf's midfield energy has been key to Sainté's successes. Further forward, Denis Bouanga has scored four goals in the last three games. Indeed, under Puel, Saint Etienne are getting the best out of every single squad member.
"We're trying to put a rotation system in place so that we're in good shape both physically and mentally," he said. "It'll also allow us to give players chances and make everyone in the squad feel important."
In his five Ligue 1 Conforama matches to date, Puel has used 24 players. An example of the benefits of this squad rotation could be seen in the last match at Nantes.
Watch: Highlights of Sainté#s 3-2 win over Nantes last Sunday
"[Harold] Moukoudi made an appearance having not played for a little while.," said Puel. "[Franck] Honorat made his debut, [Mahdi] Kamara also made his first start. We have some very interesting possibilities. There are players confirming their status, others coming through, players who come in and uphold the team spirit and give everything. That's pretty good."
His rotation methods may not be to everyone's taste, but while Sainté are picking up points, morale remains high at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
"Be it those who started the game, or who were on the bench, those left off the team sheet, it doesn’t matter," concluded Puel. "We had a feeling of cohesion, extraordinary collective strength and I hope that we'll be able to maintain this state of mind in the future."