“We wanted to play high and hinder Lyon’s recovery, it worked rather well. We try to play… When it does not work so well, I’ll be fired, but I want to continue anyway.” Dijon are not the most fashionable or famous of Ligue 1 clubs but, as manager Olivier Dall’Oglio confirmed, they have the right attitude as their unusual blend of fluidity and physicality fast becomes one of Ligue 1’s most eye catching.
For a side only promoted for the start of last season, despite a substantial top flight history, Dall’Oglio’s Dijon have usurped expectations and stereotypes of new Ligue 1 arrivals. In a league often seen as defensive and cautious where goals can be, especially for bottom half outfits, difficult to ensnare, while promoted teams tend to buy into this paradigm and focus on solidity and organisation.
Angers, promoted a year earlier than Dijon, unlined the potential of playing to the league’s well-worn identity in bulldozing and battling their way to a superb 9th place finish. Ligue 2 winners in Angers promotion season, Troyes, however, were unceremoniously slapped back down following a nightmare campaign in which they suicidally made little attempt to evolve or adapt, financial issues aside, and were swiftly exposed.
Dijon however have managed to strike the balance between adapting to the league and playing the brand of attacking football on which they ascended. Dall’Oglio’s side paradoxically suit Ligue 1’s physical, stoic nature while simultaneously becoming comfortably the most enthralling side to watch outside what is now a well-established and rather distant top four.
In classic Ligue 1 style their full-backs are not the marauding faux-wingers that are seemingly otherwise ubiquitous in attacking sides of late but Oussama Haddadi and particularly Valentin Rosier provide technical ability and defensive nous that compliments a more quintessential Ligue 1 spine.
The rangy Cedric Yambéré, plucked from Bordeaux’s reserves fairly late into his career by Willy Sagnol, and a reborn Papy Djilobodji, whose imposing presence and no fills defending is having the same effect that convinced Chelsea to sign him from Nantes, holding fort in front of keeper Baptiste Reynet – nominated for Ligue 1’s best shot-stopper last term.
When fit, Portuguese central midfielder Xeka, bizarrely loaned out by Marcelo Bielsa during his Lille reign, provides the bullishness needed to be martial a Ligue 1 midfield while, in partnership with Mehdi Abeid, manages to affect possession and add coverage to Dall’Oglio’s midfield. Julio Tavares meanwhile acts as a focal point to the attack.
Despite, in classic Ligue 1 style, being a little bulky and not usually prolific, his hold up and interlinking play have been crucial to Dall’Oglio’s brand of smash mouth, yet fluid, football. Meanwhile, his 11 goal haul so far this season is not to be scoffed at in this league and equals his best tally already across six seasons with Dijon, four of which occurred in Ligue 2.
But where Dall’Oglio’s side stand apart from established Ligue 1 norms is with their attacking midfield options. It would be simple for a team like Dijon to play a flat and predictable 4-2-3-1 with wingers and a number 10 but Dall’Oglio’s cohesive, interchanging midfield has proved supremely frustrating for their opponents to pin down and has combined to provide Tavares with the chances that have made Dijon the league’s top scorers outside the big four despite their seemingly perpetual mid-table position.
Rotation and unpredictably have been watch words for Dijon as a host of waspish, jinking forwards have repeatedly stung unsuspecting opponents. Enjoying possibly his best Ligue 1 season to date, the pacey, nimble forward Wesley Said has finally found a home for his talents having been on the fringes at Rennes. The stocky frame of Frédéric Sammaritano drifts in and out of form but the intensity and skill he can provide has often been a pivotal weapon for Dall’Oglio over the past few years.
Equally surprisingly loaned by Lille as Xeka, Tunisian winger Naim Sliti continues to jink his way past defenders from wide left while Kwon Chang-Hoon can arguably be put down as ‘find of the season’. Although a slight dip in form has seen him flitter in and out of late, the South Korean’s guile, vision and skill has provided Dijon fans with some of their most memorable moments this campaign. A swift one-two and beautifully shaped first time 25-yard effort away at Amiens being a highlight for Kwon.
Dall’Oglio’s downside is provided, perhaps unsurprisingly, by sheer inconsistency. Dijon are a compelling, cohesive, all-action outfit at home but often drab and porous away from Stade Gaston Gerrard. Dijon’s drew a blank at home tonight against Amiens, and you can partake in for Dijon’s next run of games.
Their meetings with PSG underline some alarmingly undulating form as Benjamin Jeannot, another useful mobile forward, was close winning the home game with a stunning volley only for PSG to be rescued late on by Thomas Meunier, before the 8-0 demolition at the Parc des Princes last month in the reverse fixture. Dijon have won nine of 14 home matches this campaign, including eight of the last nine, but still suffer the worst away record in the division.
That lopsided record may be finally evolving however. Tavares and Said both gave Dall’Oglio’s charges the lead away to a resurgent St Étienne on Saturday night before a thrilling encounter finished 2-2. The point was enough for Dijon stay in the top 10. As his methods continue to work rather well and Dijon continue to play exciting football when all their relegation-threatened rivals continue to operate conservatively on the pitch, Olivier Dall’Oglio need not worry about being fired anytime soon.
1 | Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Troyes seemingly garnered more notice in the footballing world for the debut of Timothy Weah, son of George than anything else, but one would be remiss not to mention another impressive youngster. Last season, Christopher Nkunku played an important role in Unai Emery’s squad, starting a dozen matches across all competitions and providing a dose of creativity in midfield. This season, he has been eclipsed by the emergence of Giovani Lo Celso, and his first start, on Saturday, saw him play wide on the left, rather than in his customary central role. He will not have made anyone forget a certain Brazilian, but his determined performance showed that he is more than deserving of further chances in the weeks to come.
2 | After a unremarkable yet ultimately accomplished first half of the season, Caen slipped dramatically over the early part of 2018, uncharacteristically struggling to score as long-term injuries to left backs Adama M’Bengue and Vincent Bessat robbed the team of much of its attacking width. Things have looked up for the club recently; after beating Strasbourg 2-0 yesterday, they have lost just once in seven matches. Playing a 3-5-2 with Enzo Crivelli preferred to Ivan Santini up top has freed rampaging right-back Frédéric Guilbert to get forward even more than usual, and it is no coincidence that the two former Bordeaux players were both on the scoresheet Sunday at the Stade d’Ornano, their combination of pace and physicality ideally suited to the team’s new tactical approach.
3 | Rennes would have been frustrated to concede a late winner against rival Guingamp a month ago, losing 1-0, but the squad seems to have used that result as motivation, winning three of their last four matches with Wahbi Khazri among the goals in each. The Sunderland loanee has netted nine times in sixteen starts, turning in the kind of form that saw him initially move to England from Bordeaux. His country’s participation in the World Cup may be a motivating factor for the Tunisian, but Khazri also seems to be demonstrating the kind of intensity that can serve as an example for a somewhat callow squad, and a place in Europe next season looks increasingly likely as a result.
Results: Nice 2-1 Lille, Monaco 2-1 Bordeaux, Troyes 0-2 PSG, Amiens 0-2 Rennes, Angers 3-0 Guingamp, Metz 1-1 Toulouse, St Étienne 2-2 Dijon, Caen 2-0 Strasbourg, Montpellier 1-1 Lyon, Marseille 1-1 Nantes.