Pitchside Europe

Innovative Gillot steers Bordeaux back on track


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Thanks to a coach with a penchant for tactical innovation, Bordeaux have been transformed over the last 12 months and now have their sights set on making their presence felt in Europe once again.

It could be argued that there is not a great deal of tactical variety at football's highest level these days. It is usually rather easy to predict how any leading team will line up from one game to the next. Unless the coach of that team is Francis Gillot.

Gillot has developed a reputation for going against the grain in recent years, and his methods have produced results. Bordeaux head into a Europa League clash against Newcastle United on Thursday unbeaten in 17 competitive matches since April. Their 2-0 victory at Lyon on Sunday that took them to fifth in the table may have had more than a touch of good fortune about it, but Gillot - in charge since the summer of last year - insisted after the game that his team deserved to win for their courageous and dogged approach.

Squeezing the very best out of the players at his disposal is one of Gillot's specialities. He led Lens to successive top-five finishes before departing in 2007, since when they have been relegated twice. Gillot then spent three-and-a-half years at Sochaux, turning an unfashionable provincial club into one of France's most exciting in 2010-11, when they finished fifth to qualify for Europe. With the likes of Marvin Martin and Modibo Maïga featuring in a cavalier 4-1-3-2 line-up, Sochaux were often a joy to watch, but they have struggled ever since Gillot left. It was easy to see why Bordeaux were so keen to persuade him to revive a club that had slipped slowly into crisis following their 2009 title triumph.

It was always going to take time to turn around a side that appeared devoid of ideas and motivation under previous coach Jean Tigana, and Gillot never panicked when his team lay in the relegation zone in November last year. "I knew what I was getting myself into. If I'm given the time, the situation will improve," he vowed.

The recovery has been stunning, with Bordeaux fighting back to snatch a Europa League place on the final day of last season. This season, despite not bringing in any new players, Bordeaux are one of only three clubs still to lose in Ligue 1 after seven matches. The others are PSG and Lorient, the two biggest spenders over the summer.

The key to Bordeaux's revival has been Gillot's decision to line his team up in a 5-3-2 formation that makes them tough to break down and brings the best out of their attacking full-backs, Brazilian Mariano on the right and the excellent Benoît Trémoulinas on the left. Others, such as Ludovic Obraniak and Yoan Gouffran, have flourished too, but there are no stars on the books now to rival past greats such as Alain Giresse, Tigana, Zinedine Zidane or even Yoann Gourcuff. Instead, this current Bordeaux team's strength is the collective.

"The Bordeaux door was double-locked and we couldn't break it down," said Lyon striker Bafétimbi Gomis after their 2-0 home defeat to Gillot's men on Sunday. Les Girondins are not infallible by any means, and have conceded injury-time goals to draw at home to Nice and Ajaccio this season. But they are at their most dangerous when they can hit opponents on the break, and their best results this season have come on the road.

Bordeaux are back in Europe for the first time since reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2009-10, and Gillot has made the Europa League a priority this season.

"We can't put the same level of effort into the league and Europe. It's impossible to play on a Thursday and then again on a Sunday afternoon," Gillot said after watching his side squander the lead in the 2-2 draw against Ajaccio that followed a 4-0 European win against Club Brugge. "Physically, it's not possible. That is why we're choosing to put all our efforts into Europe, so we can expect to drop points in the league in the coming weeks."

Newcastle should therefore be in for a stiff test at St James' Park on Thursday night.

Follow Andy Scott on Twitter - @andpscott.

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