NANTES are proving to be the surprise team in Ligue 1 this season.
After eight games they sit fourth, just three points behind Monaco in second.
It was a turbulent summer for Les Canaris. Portuguese boss Sergio Conceicao turned things around last term but he was poached by Porto and Nantes were left scrambling once again to find a manager.
President Waldemar Kita pulled an ace out of his sleeve though, unexpectedly appointing former Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri.
The Italian shocked the world in 2016 when he guided the Foxes to one of the most surprising title wins in football history.
And Football Whispers ask if Ranieri can repeat his Premier League success with his new French club.
The eccentric former Chelsea boss, after a shaky start, has gone about putting his own stamp on one of France’s most famous clubs and although it’s still early in the campaign, it looks like it’s working.
After selling talented Under-20 France midfielder Amine Harit to Schalke, the money was used to bring in four reinforcements. No name caught the headlines, but they were smart economical signings.
On the opening day of the season Nantes were ripped apart 3-0 by Marcelo Bielsa’s Lille. Then a 1-0 loss to Marseille at home brought about questions regarding Ranieri’s ability to take this team forward.
However, going into the international break they have won five of their last six games and sit comfortably in the European positions.
While they are not playing the counter-attacking football we saw take Leicester to the Premier League title, it definitely has Ranieri’s stamp all over it.
With just six goals scored in eight games, defence has been the feature of their play. Going forward they have been limited to shots from distance which has resulted in a few stunning solo goals.
Asked by L’Equipe if their last two wins were lucky, Ranieri was quick to defend his team.
“No, it’s work. And we will work more, because the team still doesn’t play as I would like. But it’s good to take points now, because when we are in a weaker period, we will have a little margin.”
One of their summer signings, goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, has been outstanding at times. Despite the defeat to Marseille, he kept the score down and kept Nantes in the game.
He has been facing an average of 12.5 shots per game this term, which is more than Nantes have been creating (10.9 shots per game).
While they rank 15th in the league in terms of shots taken inside the penalty area, they are second when measuring tackles won. And the five goals they have conceded is the same as Ligue 1 leaders PSG.
Ranieri’s plan for this team was to sort the defence first and then look at the attack, telling L’Equipe: “First close the door of the house. If you don’t protect the door, the thieves come and steal everything. Once you have it closed, then you can decorate and organise it how you want.”
Nantes have bigger tests to come. All the teams they have beaten so far are expected to finish in the bottom half of the table – except for overperforming Caen, who are currently fifth and have conceded just four goals.
In Nantes’ next seven league fixtures they will take on Bordeaux, Guingamp, Rennes, PSG and Monaco. They will provide the real test and Ranieri himself admitted that there has been no talk of European qualification between him and his president.
So far it’s a beautiful story, but one that’s more functional than exciting. Some stunning goals and strong defensive performances have been enough to win points against Ligue 1’s poorer sides, but a top four finish is still more fairytale than reality, although that is what Ranieri does best.
If Nantes somehow get to January and their great run is still worthy of a mention, maybe then the Italian will have transformed this small house into a mansion.