As Paris Saint-Germain waits for the trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé to reach its full potential, another combination is taking the spotlight in the French league.
Ludovic Ajorque, Habib Diallo and Kevin Gameiro aren't global names but together with midfielder Adrien Thomasson — whose clinical efficiency has bagged seven goals and four assists — they have made Strasbourg one of the most potent teams in Europe this season.
The Alsatian quartet has 31 goals out of the team's total of 41 in 21 matches. Only PSG has done better, with a total of 42 goals.
This attacking verve has brought dividends, with Strasbourg sitting in fourth place after winning at Clermont 2-0 in a rescheduled match midweek. It's the club's best league position at this stage since 1997.
Ahead of a trip on Sunday to struggling Bordeaux, Julien Stephan’s team are just two points behind Marseille, with qualification for a European tournament in sight. Marseille plays at Lens this weekend, with second-placed Nice traveling to Metz, and runaway leader PSG hosting Reims.
Stephan became the coach when he replaced Thierry Laurey following a season of struggle.
“Being fourth doesn’t change much, but it does validate the players’ hard work,” Stephan said. “Above all, it’s our third victory in 2022, all of them won in different contexts, and that is extremely promising. We remain very humble.”
Strasbourg has 15 goals in its last six matches while conceding just five, with Stephan widely credited for the team's metamorphosis.
In his previous stint, Stephan secured Rennes' first trophy in 48 years and led the Brittany club to the Champions League. He preaches a fluid passing game.
“From the start we have been working a lot on various passing circuits, with a lot of combinations in the axis, and many crosses often played," Gameiro told L'Equipe newspaper. “This way, we are unpredictable for our opponents."
Stephan fancies a 3-5-2 system, which rarely allows Ajorque, Diallo — who is at the African Cup of Nations with Senegal — and Gameiro to start together for the 1979 French league champion.
Among the three, Gameiro is the most experienced. He has 13 caps with France, but not many observers expected his return to Strasbourg this season after eight years in Spain would prove to be so prolific.
Diallo, who signed from Metz in October 2020, has been blossoming in a pure center-forward role. With eight goals in 993 minutes played, Diallo has been a model of efficiency, while the powerfully built Ajorque is a constant threat from all positions.
“What matters to me, is creating chances," Stephan said. “As long as we will keep on creating plenty, it will be a good sign."
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