William Saliba played another full 90 minutes for Saint-Etienne on Monday, featuring in another draw for his loan club.
Since returning from injury, Saliba has maintained an unbeaten record with Saint-Etienne, but only half of those matches have been wins.
Saint-Etienne 2-2 Amiens SC
After a draw on Thursday against FC Oleksandriya, St-Etienne faced Amiens SC (14th) on Sunday. Claude Puel made the decision to use the same starting eleven as he did against Bordeaux the previous weekend.
The shape was also the same – a 3-4-2-1. As a result, Saliba was playing on the left side of a back three, alongside Loïc Perrin and Wesley Fofana. All three centrebacks coming from the St-Etienne youth system.
The first 20 minutes of the game went fairly well for the home side (including for young Saliba) as they managed to create a few chances and Amiens weren’t dangerous. The only time they tried to threaten, after two minutes, Saliba perfectly dealt with Guirassy – Amiens’ striker – and nutmegged him passing the ball to his teammate.
At one point, around the 21st minute, Saliba lost the ball trying to pass it with his left foot but he recovered it right after, so no issue. Four minutes later, he was battling again with Guirassy but with his pace and capacity to move his body in front of his opponent to block him allowed Saliba to recover the ball. It was a classic move from the youngster.
After half an hour, the first real chance came for the away side. St-Etienne was high up the pitch, and with a quick counterattack, Amiens managed to endanger the defence after going through the midfield very easily. Saliba ran back in position and did his best to at least trouble the player taking the shot which ended ultimately in a corner after being diverted by goalkeeper S. Ruffier.
Right after that, Saliba missed a header, and he lost the ball to an Amiens’ forward who was denied by Loïc Perrin in the box with a brilliant tackle.
Saliba then tried to launch an attack down the left side, but unsurprisingly, his teammates did not offer much in response to his effort and he ended up losing the ball again. However, he brilliantly recovered it then passed it to W. Fofana who tried to switch the play to the right side, without much success either.
Until half-time, Saliba did not have much to do. At the other end, his team took the lead right before the break. It was a fairly poor first half, slowly-paced and scrappy. But above all, the back-three was not working very well as Perrin and Fofana can’t seem to be able to play without getting into each other’s way. The defence was then fairly unbalanced, leaving Saliba often alone. The weakness of the opposition eased the situation, though.
The second half went underway and Puel did not make any changes. Right at the beginning of the half (47′), Saliba was in trouble due to a very scrappy pass from Perrin. His captain put him in a very difficult situation as the youngster was in the middle of three Amiens players. He could not control it nor anything else and lost it.
The incident didn’t have any real consequences, but it was a preview for the rest of the half.
Two minutes later, the defence was under threat again. Saliba was perfectly positioned and managed to intercept the ball before anyone could get it. Then, he tried pressing his opponent but being the only one to do so, he quickly gave up on his effort.
The actual problems started in the 58th minute when Perrin and Saliba miscommunicated in the box trying to clear a ball with a header, Amiens’ winger got in the way though Bouanga managed to clear the ball. It was a warning for the defensive line which still had plenty to do in that game. Indeed, one minute later, Amiens’ players were at it again but Saliba executed a perfect tackle in the box – fairly rare from him.
Once his team was safe for now with its lead, Saliba again tried to show his desire to attack and go forward. He chipped a ball perfectly over Amiens’ midfield and defence, Abi got it but was unfortunately caught offside.
In the 64th minute, the youngster was battling again with the Amines attackers. He managed to block the number nine in the left corner, preventing him from finding any space. He recovered the ball, passed it to Bouanga who then lost it. It resulted in a big opportunity for the away side as Ruffier was forced into making another save.
The 67th minute was the turning point for the game. St-Etienne obtained an excellent freekick outside the box. Boudebouz hit the woodwork and after a quick counterattack, Amiens managed to equalise right after that golden opportunity. The whole back-three was badly coordinated, it did not have time to reposition itself resulting in Mandoza being totally free in the box to shot. The goal was checked by VAR for a handball but it was given.
Just eight minutes after that, Amiens managed to take the lead thanks to Akolo. Amiens’ goalkeeper sent a long ball towards Alessami in midfield who easily progressed towards the box as the midfield was very static. The back-three was poorly positioned and Amiens easily scored again in spite of a first save from Ruffier who couldn’t do anything on the second shot. Two minutes later though, St-Etienne equalised again.
In the last ten minutes, the home side tried to push its luck to get three points and Amiens were less attacking. Nonetheless, in the 87th minute, they still managed to create a chance.
Saliba couldn’t block his opponent with his body, but he then tackled him very cleanly saving his team from another big threat. Right after, he had to do it again. He won his duel and made sure no danger would come.
The game ended in a 2-2 and it was a tricky evening for the defence. Saliba did not have a straightforward game but it’s easy to see why. As mentioned earlier, putting Perrin and Fofana together didn’t work well and they often put Saliba at risk, leaving him in one-on-ones many times.
All the same, both Saliba and Fofana did their best, delivered fairly good performances with an ageing Perrin who simply could not deal with the pace of the match. As a result, it would not be a surprise if the defence evolved in the next few games.
On a statistical point of view, W. Saliba won 10 of his 14 duels (including two aerial duels – probably his weakest spot in spite of his height), attempted five tackles and missed only one, made two interceptions and one clearance. He made 49 passes, completing 86% of them.