It isn’t exactly accurate to say it only took six minutes for Red Star’s 2017 to start with a sigh when they needed a bang – Abdoulaye Sané drew a straight red in the sixth minute of yesterday’s 3-1 loss to Clermont, sure, but the Étoile Rouge suffered a bigger blow before kickoff when Hameur Bouazza skipped across the Mediterranean to sign with Algerian champions Étoile du Sahel (glad I didn’t name this blog Bouazza’s Beard…), taking his team-leading 3 goals with him. It’s never ideal to play a man down for the last 84 minutes of any match, but it especially hurts for a team without its leading scorer, captain and most bedrock-solid defender (which unfortunately isn’t saying much about Lloyd Palun, away with Gabon at the African Cup of Nations), a new (possibly interim) head coach, and in the fog of a poor run of results in which they’ve grabbed only four points since Halloween.
Even so, Red Star managed to show a moderate amount of spark and spunk for a team quickly falling behind in Domino’s Ligue 2 table (”In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay a delicious medium two-topping pan pizza, only $8.99 si vous plait.” -Albert Camus, official Dominos’s Ligue 2 spokesperson.), if by “spark and spunk” you mean “short balls played directly to the defense, long balls over everyone’s head, and lots of knees and elbows in various Clermont torsos.” After Sané was sent off by the 24-year-old referee Willy Delajod, any structure to the planned 4-3-3 deflated into a floppy 4-4-1, with Ngamukol stranded at the top, desperately unlinked from his midfielders. On the occasions that Red Star managed to win the ball, Mhrissi (or Mexique, or Hergault) turned to find an ocean of space between them and the nearest forward green kit, with waves of Corrine Diacre’s players in between. Mhirissi in particular seemed to lose the ball with surprising vigor, dribbling directly into a clutch of collapsing defenders and kicking off his time in the #10 with a bit of a yikes match.
About the only semblance of pressure Red Star managed to direct goalward was Hergault shooting up the right flank and leading through balls to Mexique or Ngamoukol, who proceeded to either get trapped deep against the goal-line or send in a flurry of harmless headers to nobody in particular. Clermont, for their part, sealed the center of the pitch – the handful of drives in which Red Star found central space and drove to the net led to their best chances, including Chavelerin both drawing a penalty (which Ngamukol converted, the team’s only goal) and sending through a precise through ball that Mhrissi proceeded to send into the stands.
The ultimate difference in the result is that Clermont managed to hold firm at the back, while Red Star’s defense often devolved into more “Charge of the Light Brigade” than “parked bus.” Both of Clermont’s goals that came during the run of play were scored largely because Pierrick Cros, et. al. could only clear loose balls careening off of each other, bouncing around (almost comically at times) and either into the net (CF63’s first goal was a ricochet own-goal off of Cros) or to an unmarked attacker. It was solid defending in the way that falling from a mountain is the quickest manner of descent.
Red Star continues to sit in 16th on the table, with the second-worst goal differential (-11!) and upcoming matches against table-toppers Brest and current third-place Stade Reims. Unless Claude Robin can bring in some needed reinforcements, and some tactical reorganization, a team that was fighting for promotion at the end of last season could be in danger of sinking back into the murky depths of the Championnat National.