William Saliba helped Saint-Etienne progress to the final of the Coupe de France on Thursday, despite a first-half mistake.
This Thursday evening was another key game in St-Etienne season, one they certainly could not lose. They had the opportunity to reach the Stade de France for the first time since 2013, but above all to reach the final of the Coupe de France for the first time since 1982.
Also, they had the chance to give a nice gift to their supporters who have been suffering with them since day one. They were welcomed by a little more than 30,000 people at home, against Stade Rennais who had won the competition last season against PSG.
To start the game, Claude Puel went for a fairly standard starting eleven, with Kolodziejczak and Debuchy whilst Saliba and Fofana were partnered as centrebacks. And for the first time in weeks, St-Etienne showed a good face from the first second.
Slowly but surely, they started taking control of the game. The first dangerous situation for Rennes came only after 13 minutes and the defensive line handled it well. In the meantime, Les Vertes had many good opportunities, through free kicks for instance.
For the first 30 minutes of the game, the backline had very little work to do. St-Etienne finally showed to its supporters that they could play football as they were pushing and pressuring Rennes, backed by a very vocal crowd as always.
Unfortunately, in the 31st minute, as Raphinha entered the box, Saliba committed a stupid mistake bringing Rennes player down. An indisputable penalty was given by the referee.
As Niang scored it, we could see on Saliba’s face how upset he was for committing that foul, especially since his team was in total control of the game so far.
After the opener, the question was whether St-Etienne and Saliba would collapse? But they didn’t. They finally showed some resilience.
Both Les Verts and Saliba kept pushing. As usual, the young defender took some risks trying to go forward. He is constantly walking on the thin line just like Fofana. But even if sometimes it was scary, it was also important as St-Etienne needed that to keep attacking.
In the 43rd minute, after another attack, Honorat passed the ball to Saliba who passed it to Diony who crossed it superbly in the box for Kolodziejczk. The defender equalised and the fans erupted.
Three minutes later, the referee sent everyone back to the dressing room. In spite of that absurd penalty, St-Etienne completed their best first half in months. It was almost difficult to think that it is the same team that did not show up at Lyon and Brest. The game was not over yet though.
After coming back on the pitch, Puel’s team started again with the same state of mind.
In the 48th minute, Saliba made a good intervention on Raphinha as Rennes were going for a two-v-two. A few minutes later, Debuchy made a superb clearance on the line.
The more the game went on, the less Rennes threatened St-Etienne. Every time they tried, both Saliba and Fofana were there to annihilate the attack. Both of them were vital as they brought stability.
In the 74th minute, Saliba made a superb challenge on Del Castillo, he stayed on his feet and managed to get the ball back in a very elegant manner. His composure and physical abilities showed up yet again.
Ultimately, besides his foul on the penalty, his game was superb. He didn’t collapse, he showed an amazing mental capacity to bounce back from that mistake. Although sometimes he seems to be playing with too much ease, which can be dangerous, he remains outstanding.
In the 91st minute, St-Etienne had an amazing double chance, saved by Rennes. Right after that, Saliba made a decisive intervention once again.
In the 93rd minute, after Nzonzi lost the ball in midfield, Saliba recovered it and progressed quickly toward Rennes’ box. He passed it to Bouanga who was positioned right at the edge of the box, alongside Boudebouz who then received the ball and perfectly placed it into the net.
— AS Saint-Étienne (@ASSEofficiel) March 6, 2020
The whole stadium exploded, so did the team who then knew they had done it. They had reached the final of the Coupe de France for the first time in 38 years, and like last time, they will meet PSG. The two teams will meet on the 25th of April, at the Stade de France, which will most likely welcome a huge green wave.
Right after the final whistle, fans invaded the pitch, hugging players – Saliba included. Players were navigating between tears and joy.
🥳 Time to celebrate ! 🔊 pic.twitter.com/TW5r5e0PNT
— AS Saint-Étienne (@ASSEofficiel) March 5, 2020
After going to the dressing room to celebrate with each other, they came back on the pitch, with the fans still on it. Saliba took the mic, leading the party. For the first time in a while, the light came back in Le Chaudron as they finally had the opportunity to party.
The victory is huge, and Saliba was a key part of it as he pre-assisted both goals. His superb performance must be underlined as he could’ve lost it after his mistake, but he did not. It’s almost as if he fed on it to be even better.
Outside his great performance on the pitch, his mentality was even greater last night. Showing such capacities at such a young age is incredible. His composure was key in the build-up to the second goal, and it almost makes us wonder whether he could even play as a midfielder. He certainly has the technical abilities as well as the intelligence to do so.
Post-match interview with Saliba
Saliba spoke about the penalty and the aftermath in his post-match comments, as well as the celebration with the fans.
“It frankly feels very great,” Saliba said. “We made a very good start to the game, then it is because of my penalty that Rennes scored, I felt bad.
“So thankfully Kolodziejczak equalised, it remobilised us. During the second half, we were good, we were strong and we managed to score at the last minute. It is formidable.”
Interviewer: What does it feel like to take the speaker’s microphone (to address the fans after the game)?
“Oh, I am used to it now,” the centre-back responded with a huge smile.
Interviewer: And to have the whole stadium behind you like that? What does it feel like?
“Ah, it is pleasurable,” Saliba responded, still smiling. “It is crazy, especially at the last minute like that… Plenty of emotions.”
— France Bleu Saint-Étienne Loire (@bleustetienne) March 5, 2020
As he wrote on Instagram the following day, it was an ‘incredible’ and ‘unforgettable’ night for the young loanee.