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Revolution on the rampage in France's Ligue 1

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Phil Minshull | 15:21 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010

First there was 1789, then 1968 and now 2010. France is in ferment and not just on the streets in protest at President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms, with French football also in revolt.

I think it's fair to say that almost no one, perhaps even their most ardent supporters, would ever have thought they would live to see the day when Brest - Stade Brestois 29 to give them their proper name - would top the French first division.

Brest had a sustained spell in the top flight during the 1980s - during which Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain's father Jorge played for the Breton club - but by the end of the 1990s they had slithered down as far as France's fourth tier before crawling their way back up though the divisions.

It has not been been a meteoric rise for the club that can count the likes of David Ginola and Franck Ribery among their most notable alumni.

Four years in the third division were followed by another six in Ligue 2 before Brest finally won promotion as runners-up to Caen last season.

Despite losing 3-1 to Lille on Sunday, the Bretons are still in pole position in Ligue 1, leading this season's other surprise package Rennes by one point, with the pair playing each other in a fortnight in what may still be a top-of-the-table meeting.

Brest play struggling Sochaux on Saturday, in which Romain Poyet, who scored a stunning volley in that defeat to Lille, will be looking to hit the target in his fourth consecutive league game.

Romain Poyet

Brest's Romain Poyet is in a fine run of form. Photo: Reuters

If Poyet has been providing the goals, Brahim Ferradj, Ahmed Kantari, Paul Baysse and Omar Daf have been keeping them out at the other end of the pitch. Brest had only conceded four goals prior to Sunday's defeat, a game Kantari missed with his replacement Johan Martial having a shocker.

If there is a revolution going on in Ligue 1, what has been happening to French football's aristocracy?

True Paris Saint-Germain have edged their way into third and look alarmingly, at least if you are a Brest or Rennes fan, like they are getting into their stride, as demonstrated by their 2-1 win at the weekend over long-distance derby rivals and current champions Olympique Marseille.

Bordeaux, Ligue 1 winners just two seasons ago, are languishing in 10th place, while Lyon, seven-time winners between 2002 and 2008 and last season's runners-up, are just one place below them. Meanwhile Monaco are currently in the relegation zone.

Judging from previous comments on this blog, there are plenty of people who would argue that the current Ligue 1 table demonstrates the inherent weakness of French club football.

However, it's worth remembering Bordeaux reached the last eight of the Champions League last season, while Lyon went one round further after beating their French rivals in that quarter-final meeting, before they were knocked out by Bayern Munich.

Lyon's position in the Ligue 1 is mystifying given the squad contains the likes of Jeremy Toulalan, Michel Bastos and French international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and was strengthened by summer signings of midfielder Yoann Gourcuff and striker Jimmy Briand.

But Gourcuff, who moved from Bordeaux to Lyon for £20m in the summer, has so far struggled to make an impact in his new jersey.

Lyon's Yoann Gourcuff celebrates his goal against Benfica

Gourcuff has so far flattered to deceive in the Lyon shirt. Photo: Reuters

Brest's table-topping exploits have a lot to do with exceptional team spirit and the outstanding work of coach Alex Dupont, but if the Bretons are to sustain their championship challenge they are going to have to stop relying so heavily on Poyet as they are averaging just one goal a game.

Despite losing Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland, Rennes might be a different matter. Stephane Dalmat and Yann Mvila are doing a good job for them in the midfield while Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik has been a find as a central defender.

However, having seen some of PSG's performances in recent weeks, with former Real Madrid and Chelsea star Claude Makelele still in magnificent form at the age of 37 and Nene in fine fettle down the left wing, I fancy the Parisian club to lift their first title since 1994.

France coach Laurent Blanc, who named his 22-man squad to face England at Wembley on 17 November, has clearly not been impressed by Brest's impressive start as there is not a single player from the Breton club in his roster. Can anyone tell me the last time a league-leading side of a major European nation didn't have anyone in its national team?

For the first time since the World Cup debacle, Barcelona left-back Eric Abidal is included, while Lille's tireless midfielder Yohan Cabaye also gets a recall and could win his second cap.

Toulalan, who was one of the ringleaders in the South Africa strike, is still in purgatory, despite his French Football Federation imposed suspension having come to an end.

The complete squad is: Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Olympique Marseille.

Defenders: Anthony Reveillere (Olympique Lyon), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Philippe Mexes (AS Roma), Adil Rami (Lille), Mamadou Sakho (Paris St Germain), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Eric Abidal (Barcelona).

Midfielders: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon), Yann Mvila (Stade Rennes), Samir Nasri (Arsenal).

Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris St Germain), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Loic Remy (Olympique Marseille), Mathieu Valbuena (Olympique Marseille), Dimitri Payet (St Etienne).

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Q: With players like Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Dedryck Boyata, Steven Defour and Romelu Lukaku emerging, it seems like the Belgium national team will be a formidable force in the foreseeable future. Other players such as Edin Hazard, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld aren't too bad for a supporting cast either. Do these players represent (potentially) the brightest footballing generation ever for Belgium?

Amyn Merchant, Toronto, Canada

Certainly the players you mention are a very decent group but how many of them are really world-class players? Lukaku, in particular, catches my eye but does this team really compare with the ones of the 1980s, including the 1986 World Cup squad that had Jan Ceulemans, Eric Gerets and Jean-Marie Pfaff as well as an emerging Enzo Scifo, who was named the best young player of the tournament after Belgium reached the semi-finals. They could well qualify for the Euro 2010 finals, which would be a notable achievement in view of their recent failures, although I can't see them finishing ahead of Germany and topping their group However, they'll have to do better than in recent games, notably their 4-4 draw at home against Austria last month when they threw away the game in injury-time against 10 men.


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