Meet Bordeaux: The gnarly Frenchmen with a Ligue 1 record intact
Who are they?
Drawn together in UEFA’s secondary competition is not where either Liverpool nor Bordeaux would like to be, but there is no doubt the French side would have been the happier of the two clubs.
Les Girondins opened their new 42,000-seat Matmut Atlantique stadium in May, beating Montpellier 2-1 on the final day of last season. The most important element for club president Jean-Louis Triaud was securing European football for the new campaign, helping the club fill the 8,000 extra seats. In the past, Bordeaux have seen some of French football’s best and brightest come through its doors: Jean Tigana, Patrick Battiston and Alain Giresse led the way, followed by goalscoring heroes Jean-Pierre Papin and Pauleta.
They may not be among Ligue 1's elite clubs currently, but their place in French football history will always see them held in high regard. Back in the 1980s Bordeaux won three titles in four years under legendary France boss Aimé Jacquet, but in recent memory it was the 2009 champions that captured imaginations when Les Girondins won their last Ligue 1 crown led by Laurent Blanc and talismanic playmaker Yoann Gourcuff. Blanc’s leadership, Gourcuff’s creativity and the goals of future Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh and Argentine forward Fernando Cavenaghi helped them edge out Marseille by just three points.
That season, Bordeaux won 14 straight league games, a record that remains to this day. Earlier in the season, PSG had the chance to equal the record, so it was rather fitting that a spirited performance from the current holders helped Bordeaux twice come from behind to steal a draw at the Parc des Princes. Today’s squad might not be quite as talented, but the spirit of 2009 is alive and well on the Garonne river.
Bordeaux are a team without big-name stars and the subsequent egos that can accompany. Any success they have this season will come from a team ethic of working hard for the cause. That's what former France and Bayern Munich defender Willy Sagnol has instilled in the team since he was installed last summer. At times they can be workmanlike and lack a killer instinct, but they are tough to break down and rarely go down without a fight. When everyone is fit the spine is solid and strong, but no matter who is brought in to cover, they all know their roles and what is expected from them.
Sagnol has turned Bordeaux into a well-organised and hard-to-beat outfit, but he has found it difficult to solve their issues in front of goal. Long-term injury to Senegalese striker Cheick Diabate hasn't helped, but the team’s 47-goal haul from last season was far from inspirational. As they sit slumped in 13th place this season, nothing suggests the situation has improved.
France Under-21 international Enzo Crivelli has shown promise at the sharp end, however, and Uruguayan Diego Rolan – though not showing it this time out – scored 15 league goals last season. The personnel is not the problem, it’s simply a case of finding the right combination and consistency.
The game plan
This season, Sagnol has favoured 4-4-2, with French-born Tunisia international Wahbi Khazri playing behind a central striker. The midfield works hard to close down the opposition before looking to use their pace down the wings to punish the opposition when they give the ball away. Bordeaux’s full-backs provide width and new boy Milan Gajic has looked particularly bright down the right. The 19-year-old joined from OFK Beograd and has caught the eye with his desire to push forward and attack.
After a big performance against PSG, the home fans will have their hopes pinned on Tunisian playmaker Khazri. He is Bordeaux’s creator, a constant source of danger from set-pieces and anywhere around the box, and usually the man who sets the tone for les Girondins. The 24-year-old rarely gives the ball away, and if and when he's in the mood, is unpredictably menacing. Able to run with the ball at pace, Khazri has a knack for winning free-kicks in dangerous areas – where you can bank on him asking questions of any defence.
The ninth-biggest city in France is more famous for its wine than a football history, but they are still one of the most successful clubs in France – only five have managed more than their six league titles. Only PSG have played in as many Coupe de la Ligue finals, but Bordeaux trail the Parisians 5-3 in victories.
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Thirteen years before Gourcuff and Blanc led Bordeaux to their sixth Ligue 1 title in 2009, they were beaten by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup final. Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry played in the two-leg final, but the star of that team was an up-and-coming 24-year-old named Zinedine Zidane. After joining as a teenager from AS Cannes, Zidane would spend four years at the Stade Chaban-Delmas and grow into one of Europe’s most prestigious talents. Despite missing the crucial first leg of the 1996 final through suspension, it was in the quarter-final against Milan that he showed his class. Bordeaux were 2-0 down from the away leg but two assists, both for Dugarry, helped the French club earn a 3-2 aggregate win. The 1996 Ligue 1 Player of the Year was sold to Juventus for just €5.34 million that summer.