There’s a surprise name on top of one of Ligue 1’s tables. Paris Saint-Germain’s Nene, with a Sunday hat-trick at Rennes, sits with 21 goals, tied for the French first division’s lead. It’s a stature few would begrudge PSG’s oft-under-appreciated Brazilian, even if the ranking’s caught some1 by surprise.
We had become accustomed to seeing Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud at the top of that list, but as of Sunday, he has to share the perch. The 25-year-old No. 9, in only his second season in France’s top flight, sprinted to the top of the scoring list, scoring eight times in Montpellier’s first 10 league games. At the same time his club, which most picked to battle relegation, staked a claim in a title race that was supposed to be contested between Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and PSG. As MHSC resolutely set France’s blistering pace, it was difficult to decide which was more shocking: Montpellier’s place atop Ligue 1 or Giroud pacing the league’s scorers.
While we reamin a bit bewildered by MHSC’s title persistence, Giroud’s place as France’s most prolific scorer started to make sense. He broke into the French national team. By season’s end, he was being linked with a high profile moves to England and Bayern Munich, having made a name for himself with a list of pushpin performances:
- Scoring the only goal in Montpellier’s first statement of the season, a 1-0 August win at Lille.
- An October hat trick against Dijon.
- Three at Sochaux in November.
- The only goal in MHSC’s January win over Lyon.
- A stoppage time winner in a January 1-0 at Nice.
- An 89th minute winner against Saint-Etienne in March.
Whatever August ideas we had about Giroud2 have been usurped by this doppelganger leading a no-time champion to its first title.
At least, title-bound is where Montpellier stands after their Manchester Citian defeat of Lille on Sunday.3 The defending champions visited MHSC knowing a win would keep their defense alive. As time built and a scoreless draw seeming inevitable, Lille coach Rudi Garcia drove his team forward, knowing one point for this third-place side was as good as none.
The strategy backfired, with Giroud providing for (instead of scoring) the match’s winning goal:
If Nene wins the scoring title, so be it. Ascending where the likes of Javier Pastore have fallen short, it’s a fair result for the brightest on a team of individual talents – a man who can claim to be the best non-Eden Hazard player in France.
Giroud, on the other hand, has been the man who’s led a title charge. The scoring title in exchange for the league? That only seems right.
Elsewhere in France
Ajaccio 1-0 Lyon
Bordeaux 1-0 Lorient
Brest 1-0 Valenciennes
Caen 1-3 Sochaux
Dijon 1-1 Toulouse
Marseille 3-0 Auxerre
Montpellier 1-0 Lille
Nancy 3-2 Saint-Etienne
Nice 1-1 Evian
PSG 3-0 Stade Rennes
Champions League: Montpellier (79 points/37 games played), PSG (76/37), Lille (71/37)
Europa League: Lyon 64, Bordeaux 58 (Marseille has already qualified by virtue of winning the Coupe de la Ligue)
Survival (relegation): Valencciennes (40/37), Nice (39/37), Lorient (39/37), Sochaux (39/37), Brest (38/37), Caen (38/37), Ajaccio (38/37), Dijon (37/36) (Auxerre has already confirmed relegation)
Stuff that stuck out:
- The year’s other breakout goal scorer, Saint-Etienne’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scored again on Sunday. The 22-year-old Gabonese attacker is up to 15 goals (fourth in Ligue 1). Like the rest of us, he’s been linked with Arsenal. If he does move, Les Verts will get a quick return on the $2.9 million they gave Milan in December.
- Unlike most of its European brethren, France has one weekend to go. As you can see by the relegation battle (right), most teams will have something to play for.
- Those teams would include Montpellier and PSG. With a point at Auxerre next Sunday, Montpellier confirm their first title. PSG needs a Montpellier loss and a win at Lorient.
- Wait – so Bordeaux is good again? Apparently. Francis Gillot’s side has won five in a row, taking advantage of France’s mid-table madness to climb into a Europa League spot. On Sunday, it was Yoan Gouffran’s third goal in two games – a stoppage time penalty kick while down a man – that downed Lorient.
- In Marseille, Didier Deschamps condescended to play Andre Pierre Gignac for 40 minutes, at the end of which the still 26-year-old striker scored his first goal of the Ligue 1 season. Hopefully APG finds a new home this summer.
Up next: While Montpellier is at Auxerre, PSG will need to win at Lorient on Sunday, with the league’s 10 matches all scheduled for 3 p.m. ET kickoffs. The day’s biggest game? Probably Bordeaux’s visit to Saint-Etienne, where the league’s last Europa League spot will be at stake. Among the league’s remaining games, only Nancy’s visit to Lille is meaningless. The rest have some influence on the relegation battle.
Your takeaway video:
The second of Nene’s three against Rennes. And to think, this is the club that almost signed Becks:
1 – I often refer to myself as ‘some’.
2 – We had no ideas about Olivier Giroud in August.
3 – Montpellier’s Sunday win bared very little resemblance to City’s, but for a little while, I’m going to feel obligated to label any stoppage time-snagged win as Citian.