William Saliba put in another impressive performance for his side against Montpellier but it was not enough to stop them going down 1-0 on Sunday.
After two defeats in a row, St-Etienne wanted to bounce back against a Montpellier side which wanted to do the exact same thing after three defeats in a row.
To try and achieve this, Claude Puel put in place a 352 with, once again, William Saliba alongside with Loïc Perrin and Wesley Fofana. However, rather than being the central defender, he was positioned on the left in order to cover Miguel Trauco, who has been poor defensively.
The game stared fairly well for Les Verts as they were positioned quite high the pitch, showing some desire to go forward. Right at the beginning, we could admire Saliba’s technical abilities as he executed a perfect pass to the newcomer Maçon in order to get out of Montpellier’s pressing.
Later on, he displayed some good defensive skills as he made a good interception on Andy Delort, Montpellier’s striker. A few minutes later, he faced the center forward again and won his duel once more. Delort guided the ball for Ferri who made a good run down the right side then crossed it into the box. Saliba made a good run into the box, perfectly matching Delort’s trajectory, before interposing his body and covering the ball so Ruffier could get it safely.
It was a very good display of his composure, strength, reading of the game and speed.
As St-Etienne were trying to go forward, Saliba followed the trend. At the 22nd minute, Trauco lost the ball in his half, yet the youngster easily recovered it, got out of Montpellier’s pressing easily and passed it to Bouanga who offered a chance to St-Etienne.
Yet, in spite of that good and encouraging start, St-Etienne crumbled again, showing how weak and unconfident they currently are.
At the 25th minute, with their very first chance of the game, the home side scored.
Everything started with a quick one-on-one by the midfield, Saliba was caught it in, so was Trauco. Sambia then crossed the ball beautifully into the box for Delort who headed into the net.
Both Saliba and Trauco were too late.
Thanks to a superb run into the box by Laborde who attracted Fofana to him, Delort got some space in between Fofana and Perrin, and he did not miss his chance.
The home side were clinical. Like it seems every single team against St-Etienne are at the moment.
That goal also showed that, despite being helped by Saliba, Trauco still cannot avoid making mistakes. And his weakness is a real problem as Arsenal’s youngster often had to do the work of two.
The Peruvian international cannot defend and that is problematic for a left-back. It is also questionable whether Saliba is comfortable enough on the left as he seems much more confident playing on the right side or as a central defender. Yet, the decision to put him there, to strengthen that left side, makes sense.
After conceding that goal, St-Etienne appeared to be shaken and Montpellier had a few more good chances. At the 38th minute, Laborde was allowed too much space but Saliba managed to make a good comeback on him and recovered the ball.
Right after that, St-Etienne quickly attacked, Bouanga was then fouled, at first, the referee thought that it was in the box and gave a penalty, however, VAR canceled it out as it appeared to be outside the box. It resulted in a free-kick and a red card for Sambia.
Montpellier were then down to 10 men. In the process, we saw Julien Sablé, the assistant manager, discussing with Saliba and probably rectifying a few elements.
Shortly after, half-time was whistled.
Weirdly enough St-Etienne probably played their best first half since early December during a 4-1 win against Nice.
Although they conceded a goal due to poor defending – they managed to create the best chances, they had many yet they did not score. Once again they lacked efficiency. That was also a big problem against Marseille and Metz.
A feeling of deja-vu appeared as they conceded to the opponent’s first chance and could not score themselves despite having many opportunities, something Arsenal fans will relate to.
Fofana, who is usually fairly strong showed some weaknesses too, which was unusual. We can then question the midfield or the back three with Perrin in the middle instead of Saliba which might not suit him. Those first 45 minutes left an odd feeling.
When play started again, we observed a tactical change from St-Etienne as they switched to a back four with Fofana as a right-back, Saliba and Perrin as centrebacks and Trauco on the left. That change made sense as we could feel that the back three was not working that well. The fact that Montpellier were down to 10 also made that possible as Puel’s side had to adapt itself to the opposition.
Logically, Montpellier played very low on the pitch, with a very good defensive block. And unsurprisingly St-Etienne never really threatened them. It resulted in a very boring second half with Les Verts keeping the ball without ever really creating anything. Loïs Diony had a few good opportunities, so did Denis Bouanga but neither of them managed to finish them. With the latter being particularly bad technically speaking. Which is rare enough to be underlined.
In the end, the second-half was extremely similar to one we observed on Wednesday.
We still managed to see the home side creating a few chances but Saliba did well against Delort as he denied him an opportunity to score a second goal.
At the 78th minute, St-Etienne moved again to a back-three as Trauco came off for the young attacker Edmilson.
Not long after, Saliba cleared the ball into a corner to clear the danger as Delort was in the box and could potentially head it in the net.
A good ten minutes after, and despite a few shy chances – thanks to Wesley Fofana, St-Etienne lost again. The away side was incapable of scoring and displayed an incredible lack of confidence. It is time to get worried as the relegation zone keeps getting closer and closer. And the lack of reaction from the players – barr a few ones such as Saliba and Fofana, is concerning.
Regarding Saliba’s individual performance, he remains one of the bright spots in the mess that is St-Etienne at the moment.
Once again, he proved worth trusting and did not have to force himself in tackling for instance. The 18-year-old won several duels, including aerial ones, showed that his pace was is one of his key strengths, among other elements.
The youngster pretty much always managed to disrupt Delort or Laborde’s plans. It was another interesting game from him.
Yet, logically, he sounded deflated in his post-match interview. An interview which also lacked some sense of urgency considering St-Etienne’s current table’s position.
“It is frustrating. We are going through tough times. We are once again punished tonight. We are chaining defeats at the moment but solidarity must prevail.”
From a statistical point of view, William Saliba won five of his ten duels, touched the ball 71 times and lost it six times, completed 50 passes with 92% completion rate, made one tackle and two interceptions.
He should play again on Thursday in a Coupe de France quarter-final game against SAS Epinal (4th tier).