Pitchside Europe

Year in Review: David pips Goliath


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We are asking all of our experts to give us their picks of 2012. Here Andrew Scott reviews the year in Ligue 1.

Best Match

Mega-rich PSG were destined to sweep all before them this season, not lose 2-1 home to a Rennes side that played for most of the second half with nine men. Yet that is exactly what happened in November, with Rennes surviving the sendings-off of goalkeeper Benoît Costil and Aston Villa loanee Jean II Makoun. The outcome of this incredible game would surely have been different had Zlatan Ibrahimovic not been suspended, though.

Best Moment

Apologies here to Ali Ahamada, the Toulouse goalkeeper who scored a backward diving header in the fifth minute of injury time to earn his team a 2-2 draw with Rennes in September. As remarkable as that was, it could not match the moment Montpellier became champions for the first time in their history.

Needing just a draw in Auxerre on the last day of last season, they fell behind in the first half and saw the game halted for 41 minutes due to crowd trouble in the second half before eventually running out 2-1 winners to take the title by three points from PSG, a veritable David versus Goliath achievement.

Funniest Moment

Joey Barton's French accent takes some beating, but what about Claudio Ranieri, whose first words on being unveiled as coach of Monaco were: "Hello, my name is Catherine Deneuve"?

And then there was Louis Nicollin, the larger than life (in more ways than one) Montpellier president who promised to dye his hair in the club's blue and orange colours and copy the mo-hawk style of winger Rémy Cabella if his team won the title. They did, and he stayed true to his word. And what a sight it was.

Best Player

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the only player that matters in Ligue 1 these days, or so it seems. The Swede has scored 18 goals in just 16 league appearances for PSG and has simply been brilliant. But that is still not quite enough to deny Eden Hazard this award.

The Belgian prodigy was magnificent towards the end of his time at Lille, and racked up 13 goals and ten assists in 19 league appearances in the first six months of the year. It is little surprise that Lille's form has tailed away badly this season since selling him to Chelsea.

Biggest Surprise

Rebel without a cause Adrian Mutu's decision to sign for Ajaccio in August was not something anyone saw coming. His claims that he would outscore Zlatan Ibrahimovic this season are going well - the Romanian is just 14 behind the Swede at the halfway stage.

Nevertheless, the biggest surprise of the lot came in the French Cup, where tiny Quevilly, a small-town third-tier outfit from Normandy, made it all the way to the final, beating Marseille and Rennes along the way, before losing 1-0 to Lyon at a Stade de France where the majority of the crowd were supporting the minnows.

Worst Moment

It has to be the moment when five France under-21 players, including Yann M'Vila, thought it would be a good idea to get a taxi from their training base in Le Havre to Paris for a Saturday night out on the Champs-Élysées.

All this in between the two legs of a playoff against Norway for a place in the European Championship, which France ended up losing. In a country that has become tired of the attitude of footballers ever since the disaster of the 2010 World Cup, it was a moment of extreme stupidity and showed just how disconnected some modern footballers have become from reality.

Biggest Disappointment

M'Vila. The Rennes midfielder was set for the move of his life in the spring, with Arsenal among the clubs queuing up to sign the talented France midfielder. Then came an altercation with supporters after his club had been knocked out of the French Cup by Quevilly.

That was followed by a disappointing Euro 2012, which ended with him refusing to shake the hand of France coach Laurent Blanc after being substituted against Spain. His involvement in the now infamous night out with four France under-21 teammates in October led to him being banned from the national set-up until June 2014, ending his chances of going to the World Cup in Brazil.

Unsung Hero

Daniel Sanchez is now 59 but is only in his second season coaching in Ligue 1. The man who was recognised as an outstanding manager in the second tier at Tours, where he helped launch the careers of Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud, has quietly worked his magic at Valenciennes. The unfashionable northern side have even drawn comparisons with Barcelona in some quarters for their attractive style of play. It is just a shame for Sanchez that he was never given a chance to work at the top level earlier in his career.

Who To Look Out For In 2013

It is worth keeping an eye on Lucas Digne, the Lille left-back who is on the radar of the continent's very biggest sides just now. That said, the player everyone should be looking out for in 2013 is Lucas Moura, the Brazilian midfielder who agreed his €40 million-transfer to PSG in the summer and will arrive in January, having recently helped São Paulo to glory in the Copa Sudamericana.

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