Rennes grabbing the spotlight in French league
PARIS (AP) Giovanni Sio, Pedro Henrique and Paul-Georges Ntep certainly don’t have the same pedigree as Paris Saint-Germain’s stars.
The Rennes trio of attacking players doesn’t make headlines, but they score goals and now have the chance to lift the Brittany side to the top of the French league standings with a win against Lille on Friday.
Rennes has been the surprise package of the early season as Philippe Montanier’s team picked up 12 points in five matches, one behind leader PSG, and is enjoying a four-match winning streak.
”No one was expecting us to be in this position,” Ntep said.
True. Especially with estimated budget of 40 million euros ($45.3 million) – less than a tenth of PSG’s 490 million ($555 million) – and after Ntep’s shinbone stress fracture over the summer threatened to derail both his burgeoning international career and Rennes’s ambitions.
But Ntep has recovered quicker than expected, scoring one goal and providing one assist in two league matches. With Benoit Costil, the club also boasts one of the best French keepers while the rebuilding strategy that started a year ago with the signing of more than a dozen of new players is finally bearing fruits.
”We’re happy, although we don’t take anything for granted. This is our best start since the 1950-51 season,” said Montanier. ”But do you know how we ended that season? In 14th place.”
PSG, which dropped its first points last week in a 2-2 home draw with Bordeaux, travels to Reims on Saturday while Marseille hosts Lyon on Sunday.
Here are some other things to know ahead of this weekend’s matches:
GOURCUFF’S NEW CHALLENGE
Without a club since his contract with Lyon expired this summer, French football’s former golden child Yoann Gourcuff is trying to boost his declining career at Rennes.
Once hailed as the new Zinedine Zidane, the attacking midfielder has been struggling with injuries since his move to Lyon from Bordeaux in a deal worth up to 26 million euros ($33.3 million) in 2010.
Gourcuff, who also lost his spot in the France squad, has signed a one-year deal with Rennes but is not immediately available because of a foot stress fracture.
Gourcuff, who has scored four goals in 31 caps with France, started his career at Rennes. He also played for AC Milan.
GUINGAMP FANS SEING RED
Angered by the hefty price tag for tickets at the Parc des Princes, a group of Guingamp supporters has decided to boycott next Tuesday’s match at Paris Saint-Germain.
The Red Kop of Guingamp said in a statement it decided not to travel to the French capital to ”defend popular football” values.
”The appalling reception and access conditions are not allowing us anymore to support our players and represent our colors as we would like to,” the group said.
The visitors’ tribune at the Parc des Princes will remain open to traveling fans, though, with tickets sold at 38 euros ($43).
COURBIS ON HIS WAY OUT?
Montpellier coach Rolland Courbis has no illusions about his future at the southern club after a very poor start this season.
”I would not be surprised if they were to hire a new coach in the coming weeks,” Courbis said ahead of the 2012 champions’ trip to Caen. Montpellier has secured just one point from its five first matches.
According to L’Equipe newspaper, Montpellier has targeted two possible replacements for Courbis: Former France manager Raymond Domenech and Frederic Hantz.
FEKIR BACK IN SPRING
Nabil Fekir’s hopes of making the France squad for Euro 2016 have not completely vanished.
Fekir, who suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his right knee earlier this month while on international duty, is now expected to return in April or May, according to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas.
The 22-year-old Fekir, who was voted the French league’s best young player after scoring 13 league goals for Lyon last season, underwent surgery this week.
”We’re counting on seeing him back in action in the spring time. We don’t know yet whether it will be in April or in May,” Aulas said.
The Euros will be held in France from June 10-July 10.