8 Players Who Could Save Their Clubs from Ligue 1 Relegation
The battle for Ligue 1 survival has always been a historically tight affair, and this season has been no different, with a myriad of teams fighting for their lives.
Indeed, eight teams can currently be considered in danger of suffering the dreaded fate of relegation, and with the campaign rapidly hurtling towards its finale, fans from Nancy to Bastia will be looking for their respective sides to produce a run of form that can move them away from danger.
Of course for some, the situation is more desperate than others, games are quickly running out for the likes of Troyes and Evian, and they need someone to spark a turnaround before it is too late.
Often it is a piece of creativity or a moment of magic that is the deciding factor in whether a side is able to beat the drop. Despite struggling for much of the year, many of these clubs possess players that have the ability to swing a vital game in their favor.
Here are some the stars who have the biggest potential to make an impact and help their team escape the fall into the second tier.
Fabien Camus scores with a spectacular free kick against Brest
Beginning to fall away in the race for Ligue 1 survival, Troyes are in dire need of a spark after a run of just one win in their last seven games.
Fabien Camus could well be the player who provides that spark. The winger has enjoyed an excellent season since joining on loan from Belgian side Racing Genk, and now has the opportunity to steer Jean-Marc Furlan's side away from trouble.
Camus' contribution has been overshadowed by the form of veteran campaigner Benjamin Nivet, the 36-year-old who has already scored eight times so far.
However, the impact made by Camus has been just as impressive. The Arles-born man has notched six goals and laid on three assists, earning vital points for the embattled side on a number of occasions.
Indeed, the winger netted the third goal in their 3-2 win over Ajaccio, a result which ended a run of eight games without a win, and scored the opener with a stunning free kick in a recent victory over relegation rivals Brest.
Able to play on either the left or right flank, Camus' versatility is a real asset to Troyes, and with strikers Corentin Jean, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Mohamed Yattara all struggling for consistent form, his eye for goal and penchant for the extraordinary are likely to be much needed if they are to somehow climb out of the drop zone.
Saber Khelifa finds the net in Evian's 3-2 win over Montpellier
Without a win since December, Evian are a side whose awful form has left them looking for a savior in their battle to overcome second-season syndrome and save themselves from a return to Ligue 2.
The surprise package of last term under then-manager Pablo Correa, the men from the French Alps finished ninth in the table, beating the likes of Marseille and champions Montpellier in a fantastic first campaign in the top flight.
Back then few could have envisaged the decline that has taken place in a tumultuous season. Correa was sacked in early September, and while things improved briefly under replacement Pascal Dupraz, they now sit one point adrift of safety.
There have been very few highlights for Les Roses, but one of the more spectacular ones was a double from striker Saber Khelifa at Montpellier, which earned a 3-2 win at the Stade de la Mosson.
Khelifa is still Evian's top scorer with six goals so far, in spite of his absence in January due to participation in the African Cup of Nations. It is that statistic that perhaps underlines just why Dupraz's side have struggled to put together a sequence of positive results.
Still, in the pacy and exciting Khelifa they possess a forward who has the ability to tease defenses and finish with consummate aplomb. If he is able to harness that talent and rediscover his early-season form, then the 26-year-old may well be able to boost Evian's slowly weakening hopes of ensuring survival.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Stade de Reims' quest to avoid relegation in their first season back in the top flight has found new life in recent weeks, and much of that renaissance is down to the form of striker Gaetan Courtet.
Reims made an unbelievable start to life in Ligue 1 following their promotion last term, winning four of their first eight games, a run of results which came to pass thanks to the emergence of Courtet as a talisman. The forward quickly adapted to life at the top level, scoring in wins over Montpellier and Nancy before notching a double in a 3-1 victory over Nice.
However, things quickly turned sour for the men from the champagne country, who lost five of their next seven with Courtet on the sidelines due to a knee ligament injury.
Even after Courtet's long-awaited return, Reims' fortunes continued to slide. Although he was able to get back on track with goals against Lorient, Bastia and another against Montpellier, Fournier's charges did not end their winless run till their 2-1 triumph at Nancy, 16 games after that win over Nice.
Courtet did not hit the target in that encounter, but his thunderous strike against Saint-Etienne, which earned a vital point to move Reims one clear of the drop zone, acts as evidence that the striker does possess the firepower to help guarantee another year in the top flight for the former European Cup finalists.
Wahbi Khazri (left) battles for the ball at the African Cup of Nations
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A side that have become renowned for high-scoring affairs, Bastia's defensive failings have seen them slide into relegation contention.
The Corsicans sit a mere four points above the bottom three, but they have already demonstrated a huge amount of attacking prowess, much of which has come from 22-year-old rising star Wahbi Khazri.
Khazri has attracted praise for his dynamic performances this season and has tormented defenses across the league, along with fellow youngster Florian Thauvin.
The Tunisian international scored 10 goals and provided eight assists as Frederic Hantz's side raced to the Ligue 2 title last term, and he looks set to at least match that mark after scoring four times and laying on six assists in what has been an extremely successful season for the Ajaccio-born midfielder.
Still, despite Khazri's contributions—which have included a stunning free kick in the defeat to Paris Saint-Germain—Bastia are in danger of making an immediate return to the second tier following a run of just one win in seven games since the winter break.
Hantz's side have conceded a massive 51 goals in the campaign, the worst defensive record in the league. However, they should have little trouble staying in the division if Khazri can produce the kind of performances he has become known for since bursting onto the Ligue 1 scene.
Florian Raspentino nets his first goal for Brest at Valenciennes
Florian Raspentino is a name that has been on the lips of many observers of the French game in the past few years, and he now looks set to play a leading role in Brest's survival fight.
The Bretons have narrowly avoided relegation in the last two seasons since earning promotion to the top flight in 2010, and they're in prime position to do the same again following their 2-0 win at Bordeaux at the weekend.
Raspentino did not score in that triumph, but has already found the net twice in just seven appearances since joining on loan from Marseille in the January transfer window.
The 23-year-old was starved of opportunities at the Stade Velodrome, but despite failing to break his way into Elie Baup's first-team, Raspentino is a striker of undoubted potential.
The striker's rise has been nothing short of amazing. Playing in France's fourth-tier in 2011, he attracted attention by scoring 17 goals for minnows RCO Agde. His performances secured a deal to sleeping giants Nantes, where his form continued to improve.
It was his 10 goals for the eight-time Ligue 1 champions which convinced Marseille to take a chance on his services, and while he has so far been unable to make an impression for OM, his energetic displays for Landry Chauvin's side suggest Raspentino could be set to become one of the division's top attackers.
Brest are currently four points clear of danger but will know that they need to string together some more encouraging results to be sure of safety. The sale of top scorer Eden Ben Basat to Toulouse was a blow to their prospects, but the arrival of Raspentino has ensured that Chauvin has a regular goal threat to boost a squad that should be more than capable of staying up.
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Ryad Boudebouz is now the focal point of a Sochaux side that has gained momentum with a string of good results.
Les Lionceaux have taken four points from their last two outings to haul themselves away from the bottom three and up to 15th in the table.
Boudebouz has played an important role in that mini-revival, providing two assists in the dramatic 3-2 triumph over league leaders Paris Saint-Germain, taking his tally to six for the season.
Consistency has been the 23-year-old's problem this campaign. Although he possesses unquestionable potential, occasions where the Algerian has harnessed it have been rare since the 2010/11 campaign, when Sochaux surprised many by finishing fifth and qualifying for the Europa League.
Boudebouz was a major part of the success the men from Montbeliard enjoyed that term, scoring eight goals and providing eight assists, and fans at the Stade Auguste Bonal will be hoping that he can deliver similar displays in the final run-in this season.
Agile, quick with an eye for a pass and the ability to play across the midfield, Boudebouz is a special player that may look to move on in the summer months. For the meantime, he is an invaluable member of the Sochaux squad and one that has the tools at his disposal to inspire Eric Hely's side to Ligue 1 survival.
Dennis Oliech gives Ajaccio the lead against Brest
After suffering the ignominy of relegation with Auxerre last season, Dennis Oliech is a player with the desire to avoid the same fate with Ajaccio this term.
The Kenyan international joined the Corsican club from the Ligue 2 outfit in the January transfer window, and has already proved to be a shrewd acquisition netting two goals in his first five appearances since his arrival.
Those strikes have proved vital to Ajaccio in recent weeks. Albert Emon's side have lost just once following the resumption of the campaign and are the team that looks in least danger of slipping into Ligue 2.
Indeed, they're six points clear of the relegation zone in 13th position, but Emon will be aware that his troops could soon be sucked in if they are unable to maintain their recent good form.
Therefore the presence of a forward who has experienced relegation struggles in the past is a welcome boost to Ajaccio. Oliech still managed to score 10 league goals for an abysmal Auxerre side in their unsuccessful fight against the drop, and it is that kind of strike rate that will give the fans at the Stade Francois Coty hope that they can finish the job.
Powerful, robust with a keen eye for goal and exceptional finishing ability, Oliech is an upgrade on other strikers Adrian Mutu and Eduardo Ribiero. Should he replicate his early performances, then Ajaccio will have little difficulty maintaining their place in the top flight.
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Six points adrift of safety at the foot of the Ligue 1 table and without a win in their last three games, Nancy are a side in severe need of a spark if they are to have any chance of securing their top-flight status.
After loaning star player Yohan Mollo to Saint-Etienne following a dispute with former boss Jean Fernandez earlier in the season, Les Chardons are bereft of any real attacking talent to help them escape from what looks to be an unrecoverable situation.
Most of Nancy's goals this season have come from defenders. Captain Sebastien Puygrenier has scored four times, while Salif Sane and Jordan Loties have also made contributions. However, they cannot realistically look to rely on their back four to provide the goals to spur a late-season rally.
Midfielder Romain Grange had been instrumental in the two wins Nancy have been able to put together under new boss Patrick Gabriel, but with Grange out through injury, the onus may fall on Thomas Ayasse to deliver the creativity and attacking ability needed.
Ayasse has not been afforded the opportunities to make much of an impression in the first season at the Stade Marcel Picot, scoring once in a mere 12 league appearances. But fans of the basement club can take heart from the performances the 26-year-old produced for Ligue 2 Arles last term, finding the net nine times from central midfield.
Relegation looks like a certainty for Nancy. However, if Ayasse can produce some of the form from the previous campaign in the closing stages of this season, he may be able to at least give Gabriel's side a fighting chance in the final reckoning.