As one of the most decorated teams in French football, the glories of the past must feel like a lifetime ago for the fans that pack the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard each week.
Inconsistency has plagued the current campaign, and although Paris Saint-Germain are running away with the title, there are two Champions League places available, and early-season form suggested that this could finally be Saint-Etienne’s year.
Now in sixth place, there is a sense that the once great club could miss out on a huge opportunity to bring back the glory days. With 10 league titles, six Coupe de France, and one Coupe de la Ligue in the trophy cabinet, Les Verts are still one of the country’s traditional big teams, but 35 years have passed since they were last kings of Le Championnat.
Christophe Galtier has been in charge at the club since December 2009; there is no doubt that the former Marseille and Lille defender has done an amazing job, but a finish in the top three has always eluded him. In his first year, he helped the team finish 17th and escape relegation. Two fifth-place finishes and a fourth spot followed, and every year, the fans would hope they could take that vital last step into Europe’s elite competition.
Just 10 points separate Monaco in second and Nantes in 11th, meaning that every position is still up for grabs, but this last week has shown that there will have to be significant changes if Les Verts want to finish in the top three.
Despite their 1-0 derby win over Olympique Lyonnais in front of their own fans, Saint-Etienne’s performance left a lot to be desired. Galtier knew this, and following their Coupe de France exit to second division side AC Ajaccio, the coach blasted his player’s efforts. French newspaper L’Equipe posted on Friday that he had created a “blacklist”, naming players that would either have to find new clubs or contemplate playing in the reserves.
Just as quick as the story was up, Saint-Etienne released an official statement to deny any such list existed, apologising to fans for the inaccuracy. It would be safe to say the truth could be found somewhere in the middle – Galtier was obviously far from happy with his team’s performances and something had to change.
The hoped reaction failed to materialise against Stade de Reims this weekend. Galtier went from his normal 4-2-3-1 to a 5-2-3 – looking to get width with wingers and over-lapping full-backs – but a poor pitch at the Stade Auguste Delaune hampered the free-flowing football.
A moment of magic from Jean-Christophe Bahebeck gave the away side the lead, but rather than build on that momentum, Les Stephanois sat back and switched off. Reims equalised at the death – and without a number of key saves from Stephane Ruffier, it could have been much worse.
Amazingly for a team with Champions League aspirations, Sunday was actually their first point on the road since the end of September; the draw stopped a run of six defeats in a row – form that just isn’t good enough.
With only eight goals scored on their travels, it is not a surprise, but it’s not good enough and perhaps part of the reason behind Galtier’s bad mood. Injuries have played their part, as summer signing Robert Beric was lost for the season through injury, but Alexander Soderlund, bought from Rosenborg this month, looks like a great addition.
The next two home games are against PSG and Monaco, putting more pressure on the side’s away form. But Rennes and Bordeaux will not make things easy, so the next month will be crucial.
For a club starved of recent success, only the inconsistencies of the other teams in Ligue 1 have kept things close. However, if results don’t change, this could be a huge case of the one that got away for Saint-Etienne.