Ligue 1: Coupe de la Ligue returns as the top flight gets interesting

With Ligue 1’s title race at an unsettling, competitive point, Coup de la Ligue resumed last week to turn some attention away from the top flight. Given the action we’ve seen in Ligue 1 so far this season, it’s going to be in interesting proposition when the teams enter the competition after the next round, as Philippa Booth discusses. 

 

It’s still a bit weird and unsettling at the top of Ligue 1. Paris Saint-Germain kicked off the weekend away at Lille, who started with two full-backs in a defensive move that very nearly worked – but Edinson Cavani managed to put one chance away to give the reigning champions the win. Next up, Monaco went to St Etienne looking to stay safe in second, but only managed a point as les Verts have weathered an injury crisis and now have defenders available.

Attention turned to Nice on Sunday as they welcomed Nantes to the Allianz Riviera, and le Gym smacked down any ‘can they keep this up?’ mutterings with a largely Wylan Cyprien-inspired 4-1 defeat of les Canaris to stay six points clear, and still unbeaten, at the top of the table.

While the league plays out in an increasingly interesting fashion, there are other competitions on. This week sees the return of European competition, but last week was the entry of the fourteen Ligue 1 teams not – at least theoretically – in Europe into the Coupe de la Ligue.

The  famously huge ‘senior’ cup, the Coupe de France, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Over 4,000 teams participated in the second round in September, to be gradually joined by another 245 from the overseas and top five divisions until Ligue 1 arrives for the ninth round in January. The League Cup started its current format in 1995 and is very much a smaller proposition.

Professional status doesn’t go deep down the French football pyramid – third-tier National being amateur – but recently relegated teams are able to hang onto professional status for a season or two to transition.

The first round was supposed to feature 12 matches including the 20 Ligue 2 teams and four from the National. However, relegated Creteil got a bye as did Evian, who went bye-bye and out of business. The other ‘minnows’ went through, Paris FC winning the derby against Red Star and Chateauroux beating Nimes – both on penalties.

The second round brought more success for the smaller teams; Creteil went out to Clermont, but Paris FC won another penalty shoot-out, at Lens, and Chateauroux pulled off the result of the round – beating Le Havre 5-2 away. In knock-out competitions in France, you count the matches, not the teams, so given the numbers involved with the Ligue 1 teams joining in, last week saw the ‘sieziemes’ (sixteenths, or round of 32), which were in fact ‘dixiemes’.

Goalfest of the round was the ‘what the hell, why not’ derby of Nancy and Caen, who are both in the relegation zone in the league. It ended 4-2 for the hosts, and by weird coincidence, they faced off again three days later in the league where Nancy again took the spoils, winning 2-0.

The two remaining third-tier National sides are out. Chateauroux lost 2-0 to Bordeaux and Paris FC made it to penalties again but were beaten by Metz after a 1-1 close encounter. Of the four Ligue 2 teams, only Sochaux made it through by beating Dijon, also on penalties after a 1-1 draw. If you’re thinking ‘huh, a lot of these matches go to penalties’, well spotted; that’s partly because they aren’t bothering with extra time this season – except in the final.

The next round will be played mid-December, and with the entry of the European teams, the huitiemes will actually feature eight matches, order is restored. PSG have won the last three editions – which may not help the competition’s profile – but if Ligue 1 is showing itself to be more interesting and competitive this year, hopefully the same will be the case for the Coupe de la Ligue.

Follow Philippa on Twitter at @Philby1976

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