Saint-Etienne have long been considered as one of the sleeping giants of French football. Les Verts have won 10 titles in their history, and now after a considerable period of mediocrity they look set to battle for a place among Europe's elite.
After hammering last season's surprise champions Montpellier 4-1 in blizzard conditions at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard. Christophe Galtier's side now sit 4th in the Ligue 1 standings, just two points shy of Marseille who occupy the third and final Champions League place and five behind arch rivals Lyon in second.
One of the primary factors in the resurgence Galtier has overseen is the form of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese international who lit up a game interrupted by the inclement weather conditions with a stunning volley, performing a turn which had all the artistry of a dance to evade defender Henri Bedimo and divert the ball past a despairing Geoffrey Jourden.
The goal was a clear demonstration of just how far Aubameyang has developed in the recent seasons. The striker made just two first-team appearances at AC Milan after graduating from their youth system, spending spells on loan at Dijon and Lille before Galtier decided to take a chance and bring the Laval-born forward back to the country of his birth.
It is a gamble that has paid off spectacularly, as after spending half of his first campaign on loan at a struggling Monaco side, Aubameyang finally found the scoring touch last term, netting 16 times and notching 11 assists as Saint-Etienne secured a 7th place finish, their best since the 2007-08 season.
Aubameyang replicated this form on an international stage, scoring three times for Gabon in the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
However, if 2011-12 was a breakout year for the 23-year-old, then this season has been nothing short of spectacular, with the striker on course to comfortably beat his tally from last season, having already scored 11 times as well as providing nine assists.
Indeed, Aubameyang has undoubtedly been the star of the show at the Geoffroy Guichard so far this term, and it was he who inspired Les Verts to a dramatic win at Paris Saint-Germain, coming off the bench to score in a dramatic 2-1 triumph.
Still, the African hitman can not take all the credit for Saint-Etienne's Champions League charge, with some key additions to the squad playing a vital role in the fortunes of both the club and Aubameyang.
Galtier has not had a lot of money to spend since taking charge, but he recruited wisely in the summer, bringing in veterans Francois Clerc, Renaud Cohade and Brandao all on free transfers in addition to the signing of exciting winger Romain Hamouma from relegated Caen.
Cohade has particularly impressive since moving from Valenciennes, producing seven assists and three goals, while the presence of Brandao and Hamouma in attacking areas has helped take some of the strain off Aubameyang.
Further additions have been made in the winter window with PSG midfielder Mathieu Bodmer, Nancy winger Yohan Mollo and Andreas Laudrup—son of Swansea coach Michael—all joining on loan.
The raft of new recruits have been well complemented by youthful homegrown talents such as Kurt Zouma, Jonathan Brison and Josua Guilavogui, and the men from the Rhone region now have a squad that appears to have plenty of strength in depth.
Last term Les Verts fell just short of a return to European football. This season they appear to have the talent to take the next step, and with Aubameyang once again in top form, potentially overtake those faltering above them and secure a money-spinning return to the competition they reached the Final of in 1976.
Aubameyang has already been linked with a move to the Premier League during the campaign, but made the decision to stay with the club that has put their faith in him to return them to glory at least until the summer. Should they surpass expectations and reach the Champions League, then the Saint-Etienne top scorer may well be tempted to remain in town for a little longer.