William Saliba was helpless to prevent Saint-Etienne slipping to another defeat over the weekend, this time succumbing to Stade Brestois.

Saint-Etienne's French defender William Saliba (L) vies with Brest's French forward Irvin Cardona during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP / Getty Images)
Saint-Etienne’s French defender William Saliba (L) vies with Brest’s French forward Irvin Cardona during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble Stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP / Getty Images)

Read on for our match report on Saint-Etienne’s clash with Stade Brestois 29, courtesy of Chloe Gallot of Ultimo Diez.

Saint-Etienne are in a difficult situation. They are only two points off the relegation zone, and before the game, they had lost eight of their last 10 games with only one win and one draw. They’d lost their last five games away from home. It’s clear they’re now fighting for their survival.

The game against Stade Brestois was scheduled to be another tough game for them, mostly because Brest won most of their home games this season, but also because Storm Dennis invited itself to the party.

The weather impacted the playing conditions, as the wind made aerial play complicated. Though it wasn’t dramatic, Saint-Etienne were even less accurate than they usually are. And it cannot be good when they already are the least accurate team in Ligue 1 when it comes to crosses.

For this important game against a direct opponent in the relegation battle, Claude Puel used a 4-3-3 once again. He put in place a brand new defensive line with Kolodziejczak as a right-back, Saliba and Fofana partnering as centre-backs, and Maçon as a left-back.

The least we can say is that it did not work very well, mostly because both full-backs either barely played in the last three months or joined the club in January. There was an obvious lack of synchronisation, among other things.

First Half

Brest's French defender Gaetan Belaud (L) vies with Saint-Etienne's Gabonese forward Denis Bouanga during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)
Brest’s French defender Gaetan Belaud (L) vies with Saint-Etienne’s Gabonese forward Denis Bouanga during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble Stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

Right from the first second, Dall’Oligio’s team put Les Verts under pressure, undermining their already shaky self-confidence. Four minutes in, Saliba had to make his first intervention as Cardona provoked him but Saliba reacted well and put the ball out of play.

Cardona tried again three minutes later. He tried to out-pace Saliba but the centre-back protected the ball well. Although he was under pressure, he resisted well, putting the ball out for a throw-in again.

As usual, and staying loyal to their playing style, Brest played high up the pitch. They were clearly the better team and gave Saint-Etienne’s defensive line a lot of work to do. Even more so once Maçon got a yellow card for his first foul, making Grandsir’s work even easier down the left side.

In the 18th minute, the first big warning sign came for Saint-Etienne as Brest played quickly down the right side, and neither Saliba nor Fofana could cut the cross out. Luckily for them, Belkebla could not finish, although he was ideally positioned into the box.

As Puel was shouting at his defenders that they were badly positioned, Brest scored their first goal of the evening with beautiful and quick play. Attacking down the right side, Charbonnier found Grandsir who had plenty of space to find Lasne in the box, with a clean shot he put the ball in the net. Saliba didn’t pay attention to him at his back, as he was only focused on Grandsir who had easily gone past Fofana and Maçon. Once again, the whole defensive line was all over the place.

That dynamic continued, and Saint-Etienne lost it, almost making everything easier to allow space to Brest players. Grandsir hurt them a lot, as did Cardona and Charbonnier. Saint-Etienne appears to have the same problems every single game, and it is difficult to see how they can get out of this negative spiral.

In the 34th minute, Brest logically made it 2-0.

Counter-attacking quickly down the left side again, Grandsir perfectly controlled the ball in the midfield. He then found Perraud who had enough space to cross the ball into the box for Charbonnier, who was ahead of Kolodziejczak to score. Saliba was late to the play and couldn’t do anything.

As things went on, it was obvious that there was very little chemistry between Maçon and Fofana, they allowed too much space to Brest players. It’s not surprising that both goals came from their side.

Right before half-time, Brest made it 3-0. After M’Vila lost the ball, Cardona went alone toward the box after a beautiful pass from Charbonnier, resisting well Saliba’s challenge on the left side of the box.

The defender almost got him yet the ball rebounded and Cardona could ultimately finish the play by putting the ball in the net. This situation perfectly illustrated how poor Saint-Etienne is at the moment, but also how unlucky they can get as in that case, Cardona was a tad lucky to finish it.

Saint-Etienne got stormed during that first-half. The two young centre-backs do not seem prepared to deal with a fight for their club’s safety as they were unrecognizable, but also not helped by their teammates who were also very poor despite their experience. Every player on the pitch is not doing enough. And very few players are trying to go forward, Saliba being one of the few players managing to find pass angles that can break lines.

In the end, it is getting more and more difficult to see how everyone can bounce back.

Second Half

Saint-Etienne's French head coach Claude Puel looks on during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)
Saint-Etienne’s French head coach Claude Puel looks on during the French L1 football match between Stade Brestois 29 and AS Saint-Etienne at the Francis Le Ble Stadium in Brest, western France on February 16, 2020. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

Claude Puel decided to change things for the second half. He took off Maçon and Abi for Honorat and Diony, and the team switched to a 3-5-2 with Fofana, M’Vila and Saliba as centre-backs whilst Honorat and Kolodziejczak were on the flanks.

Les Verts came back with a much better attitude, and right from the start, it felt like Puel found the right words in the dressing room. For the first time in a while, the team had a reaction and showed their desire to fight back.

After 24 minutes in the second half, Saint-Etienne came back to 3-2. The tactical change made things much easier for the attack as well as for the defence as Brest could not develop their play anymore.

Saliba found some consistency again and it felt like he was more comfortable than during the first half, just like Fofana. The 18-year-old tried to take some risks going forward, which can be costly, but at least he is trying and that has to be underlined.

If Saint-Etienne showed a much better face during that second half, it was still not enough to grab at least one precious point, and they lost again. The dramatic performance of the first half cost them the game.

Saliba could not do much himself as he does not seem ready to face such a situation. As for his statistics, he won 11 of his 14 duels, touched the ball 85 times and lost it eight times, he attempted 67 passes with a completion rate of 92%, he made three tackles, one interception as well as three successful dribbles.

The numbers are not bad, but the reality of the game was different as he could not do much against a brave Brest side.

Finally, no matter how talented a player is, he remains young and in such situations, he cannot carry everyone on his back. It is not possible to rely on your two defenders when they are 18 and 19 years old. They simply do not know how to react in those situations.

Sadly, they are not really helped by leaders in the team, who are pretty much nowhere to be seen. If they do not appear soon enough, things could get even uglier for Saint-Etienne and Saliba.

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Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.