It is Max Gradel’s world and Toulouse are living in it … dangerously

first_img3Lyon281450 Angry Bayern let it all out and nudge Dortmund off their throne 10Strasbourg281038 While his colleagues were perhaps not of the same standard, Galtier famously squeezing the best from middling resources, Gradel handled the pressure expertly. Although Saint-Étienne repeatedly fell short of the top three, Gradel’s match-winning displays convinced Bournemouth to spend £7m to acquire his services. Without Gradel, Saint-Étienne were noticeably diminished with his leadership, goals and consistency very difficult to replace.Having ruptured a knee ligament on his full Premier League home debut, when Gradel eventually returned to fitness he found himself on the fringes and bereft of confidence, rhythm and form. Unable to assert himself on the south coast, having discussed a move with a number of Ligue 1 clubs, Gradel joined Les Violets at the start of last season under the stewardship of the inspirational, if one-dimensional, Pascal Dupraz.Dupraz had somehow kept Toulouse in the division a year earlier, having joined with a 10-point gap to safety with 10 games to play, but his ferocious man management and aggressive intensity had quickly worn off. The club meekly dropped down the table after a lightning start the following year and the onus was on Gradel to perform and lead upon arrival. Perhaps encapsulating his Toulouse career, the Ivorian forward bagged the opening goal on his debut at Parc des Princes, underlining his quality and fearlessness.Toulouse went on to endure a disastrous campaign. Dupraz was replaced by his assistant Mickaël Debève as the team slumped to 18th in the table, which would have relegated them a year previously, but they instead became the first beneficiary of the relegation play-offs. Their opponents Ajaccio were without various suspended players and were forced to play their home leg in Montpellier behind closed doors after a lengthy brawl in the previous round. Gradel’s superb free-kick opened the scoring and inspired a 4-0 aggregate win. European club football Read more 14Nantes27-331 Members of the ultra group,Les Indians Tolosa, protest at the weekend. Photograph: Rémy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Reuse this content Despite the slight improvement in results, all is not well at the Stade Municipal. Ultra group, Les Indians Tolosa, who placed ‘wanted’ posters featuring club president Olivier Sadran (supposedly “the killer of passion”) around the ground this weekend and staged a protest over repeatedly poor results during the narrow defeat of Guingamp. “Weary and resigned”, according to an Indians statement, the opening 20 minutes were boycotted while a sarcastic minute’s worth of applause was held in the 40th, the average number of points that the club has finished with since the 2014/15 season.Although 86% of fans polled on want Casanova sacked, the manager has remained diplomatic stating his “situation is secondary to that of the team and that his squad were very concerned about the future of the club’’, nevertheless his stay beyond the summer remains unlikely. Despite joyous dressing room scenes after the win over Guingamp depicting a united squad, if they lose the player wearing the armband, they may have little else to celebrate for the foreseeable future.Talking Points• After 28 games last season, Lille sat second bottom. A prohibitively youthful squad lacking in confidence and direction after Marcelo Biesla’s disastrous spell seemed doomed to relegation with the incoming Christophe Galtier, who had rescued and rejuvenated Saint-Étienne nearly a decade before, appearing unable to repeat the feat. Lille are now second top at the same stage. Galtier has carefully added experience, cajoled consistency from talented youngsters and enjoyed the explosion of Nicolas Pépé. The Ivorian’s late strike, his 17th in Ligue 1, secured another win at Saint-Étienne and a seven-point gap to third. Few in world football have had a better year than Galtier.• Upon promotion, Reims were organised and stubborn, but rarely captivating. That mattered little to David Guion as wins over Marseille and Lyon propelled this team towards Europe. Now, however, SDR are starting to evolve. Kosovan midfielder Arber Zeneli’s arrival from Heerenveen, where he had reached double figures for assists, has been a revelation. His vision, pace and eye for goal have proven uncontrollable; creating three and scoring two in his last four, as Reims netted nine in that undefeated run. Despite a frustrating draw at Dijon this weekend, Zeneli (24) equalising, with top scorer Rémi Oudin (23), striker Boulaye Dia (22) and gifted midfielder Mathieu Cafaro (21) all on form, Reims’ vibrant new attack is one to watch.• Since winning Ligue 1 in 2009, Bordeaux have struggled. Lately relegation form has resulted in mid-season sackings. Willy Sagnol, Jocelyn Gourvennec and Gus Poyet were all party to this vicious cycle. With American investors GACP now on board and general manager, Ricardo Gomes, dismissed with Les Girondins again struggling, former Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa was unveiled this weekend. Sousa’s first task will be to reinvigorate an exasperated fan base, but longer term he will be expected to push for Europe while coalescing with the focus on youth development. Although he will be afforded greater resources, this will be a tough and lengthy project. The next implosion may again be just a few months away. Thank you for your feedback. Show Moise Kean’s explosive return offers Juve secret weapon against Atlético Pinterest 6St Etienne28243 Share on Twitter 8Rennes27340 2Lille282257 11Nimes27-236 1PSG266471 4Marseille28947 PosTeamPGDPts 9Nice28-840 13Bordeaux28-333 Monaco 1-1 Bordeaux, Dijon 1-1 Reims, Amiens 2-1 Nimes, Strasbourg 2-2 Lyon, Marseille 1-0 Nice, Rennes 3-1 Caen, Toulouse 1-0 Guingamp, St Etienne 0-1 Lille, Montpellier 2-2 Angerscenter_img Share on WhatsApp Hide Share on Messenger 20Guingamp28-3319 Quick guide Ligue 1 results Share on Pinterest 18Dijon27-2021 17Monaco28-1527 7Montpellier28742 Was this helpful? 19Caen28-1620 5Reims28343 Topics Twitter Guardian Sport Network 12Angers28035 Read more Share on Facebook Facebook features 16Amiens28-1928 Having started the year in the bottom two, Gradel leading his team to safety had become a theme, while those around him wilted. Although Gradel’s eight strikes made him the club’s top Ligue 1 scorer, his unexciting statistics conceal the influence he had on the team; dictating play, leading by example, initiating attacks, maintaining possession under pressure and leading less experienced players through difficult games. Gradel quietly sacrificed himself for the team.However, having been made captain, Gradel has assumed responsibility for just about everything since. A bizarre decision to reinstate Alain Casanova, who left with the club fighting relegation in 2015, as coach this summer has seen the team fail to kick on. Without their talisman’s 10 goals and four assists to date, Toulouse, who currently sit 15th and clear of danger, would likely be in the bottom three.Toulouse have Gradel’s goals, assists and influence to thank for a host of points they barely deserved. A late Gradel equaliser against 19th placed Caen two weeks ago saved TFC from being sucked back into the relegation fight, while another late leveller secured a creditable draw with Reims last month. A brace away at second place Lille to win 2-1 in December, a goal and assist in saving a point against strugglers Dijon two weeks before and another equaliser in a fortunate 1-1 at Strasbourg before Christmas all underline the forward’s importance and were pivotal in setting up a relatively stress free run-in. 15Toulouse28-1531 With modern football characterised by intensity and collective ideals, for a team to be completely dominated by one player is rare. But few clubs across European football are as dependent on one man as Toulouse are on Max Gradel. After years of scrapping a Ligue 1 existence via miraculous escapes and relegation play-offs, the potential loss of the Ivorian this summer could signal disaster at the Stade Municipal.Talismanic status is not new for Gradel. Before a misadventure with Bournemouth, his time at Saint-Étienne under Christophe Galtier, now coaching Lille, focused on one thing: qualifying for the Champions League. Ligue 1’s most successful ever club, Saint-Étienne are a proud and historic outfit with a raucous fan base, but forays into Europe’s premier club competition have been rare of late. With Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and others gone, Gradel became the epicentre of Les Verts’ hopes. Ligue 1last_img read more

Read More »