William Saliba helped Saint-Etienne to another clean sheet against AS Monaco on Sunday, as they won 1-0.
Rising from 19th to just two points behind second-place, Saint-Etienne have certainly seen an upturn in form since the return of William Saliba.
Saint-Etienne 1-0 AS Monaco
Playing their second home game in a row, Saint-Etienne welcomed AS Monaco (13th). Claude Puel made the decision to use a back-three again with Wesley Fofana, William Saliba and Timothée Kolodziejczak – as Loïc Perrin was suspended.
The shape was changed from a 352 to a 343. The shift didn’t bother Saliba who delivered a brilliant performance, almost an absurd one for an 18-year-old centre-back.
The first half of the game was not particularly pleasant as both teams showed clumsiness and struggled to be really dangerous. It was not a great advertisement for football. Yet, Saliba still had some work to do.
Ten minutes into the game he had to make two clearances which were well executed. He also faced Ben Yedder for the first time of the evening. The defender made a good run and managed to protect the ball before the striker could get it.
In the 14th minute, after an excellent block in front of the box, he allowed his team to launch a wary attack which was unsuccessful. They lost the ball, Monaco counter-attacked but Saliba managed to intercept it, take the ball from Keita Balde’s feet, dribble him and get cleanly out of the box.
Sometime later, he won the ball again but in the midfield as he tried to encourage his teammates to player higher.
In the 25th minute, W. Ben Yedder threatened St-Etienne’s backline again but Saliba was there. The striker never managed to out-pace him, Saliba’s body was well-positioned against his and he pushed him to go into the left corner. He then recovered the ball and his team could start to build-up from there.
Two minutes later, he offered us some greatness by switching the play from left to right thanks to a brilliant long ball directed to Boudebouz, who managed to control the ball after losing it right away.
Just before half-time, in the 44th minute, Ben Yedder tried his luck again but he was perfectly cornered by Saliba in the left side of the pitch, by the line. He then managed to get the ball back to pass it to Kolodziejczak.
The second-half was not amazing but was still an easier watch than the first, and Saliba kept delivering an impressive performance against a tough striker. He was actually one of few players to exceed expectations technically speaking.
Right at the beginning of the half, Ben Yedder managed to get past Saliba but his good coordination and communication with Fofana allowed his teammate to block the ball then clear it. The two players showed a great chemistry as they obviously know each other very well.
From the stands, it was also very easy to observe Saliba’s behaviour. Indeed, the youngster kept giving instructions to his two teammates, as if he were much more experienced than he actually is. His capacity to read the game, his capacity to position himself properly alongside his natural leadership were striking.
Until Bouanga’s goal in the 60th minute gave the lead to the home side, Saliba barely had anything to do. He completed a few clearances, and never gave much space to Ben Yedder who was always under his watch.
After taking the lead, Monaco obviously became more dangerous and tried to equalise but St-Etienne’s defending was good. In the 65th minute, ASM had a possible counterattack, although Saliba made a good run to get the ball back before anything happened. His pace made the intervention look easy.
Four minutes later, he was marking Ben Yedder well, Augustin was then in a good position just at the entrance of the box but with a good intervention from both Fofana and Ruffier, the ball was cleared.
With 15 minutes left to play in normal time, J.K. Augustin led another offensive but Saliba did his job perfectly. He got to him quickly enough to move his body in front of him making sure he could not touch the ball and the goalkeeper could get it. It was some clever and composed defending once again.
Right after that, there was a more awkward situation to deal with. The defence was perfectly aligned, Fofana tackled Augustin right in front of the box as he was sprinting towards the goal. A red card was given but then cancelled due to an offside.
In the 77th minute, Saliba cleared the ball with a header after another ASM attack down the left side. It was well cleared and even offered his team an opportunity to attack that they gladly took. At that point, it was clear that he was one of the two MVPs of the night. With the degree of maturity he showed, it’s very difficult to believe that he actually is 18.
In the 83rd minute, Saliba managed to turn quickly in the box with Fofana to try to block Augustin’s shot which went wide. Five minutes later, he cleverly followed Ben Yedder down the left side, and restricted his passing angle. He lost the ball but one of his teammates got it, passed it to Augustin whose shot went wide again.
In the last two minutes of the added time, he made a good header to clear the ball before repositioning the backline, making sure the block was tight enough to offer as little space as possible to Monaco. He then completed his brilliant performance by brilliantly shielding the ball from Ben Yedder with his body. He even toyed with his opponent for some time before passing the ball to Trauco to avoid a corner.
In the end, St-Etienne won 1-0 and it was partly thanks to William Saliba’s absurd performance.
Statistically speaking, Saliba finished the game with four duels won out of five, 56 touches, 38 passes with a completion rate at 87%, one tackle, two interceptions and one successful dribble.
Though, those figures are nothing compared to the impression he gave. He did not play like a youngster but more like an experienced defender. His composure, his calm, his pace but above all his leadership were essential to secure that precious victory.
The young Frenchman dealt perfectly with W. Ben Yedder who was clueless against him in spite of his current form. Just like M. Depay in the derby, Saliba totally out-powered the striker in an impressive way.
Much more serious than against Amiens, Saliba seems to be enjoying those big games where he has to show who he actually is.
Even if D. Bouanga was given the man of the match award, it wouldn’t have been a shame to give it to Saliba considering the impressive if not perfect performance he gave by constantly displaying his qualities.