When appointed Leicester City manager in 2015, the general consensus was that Italian boss Claudio Ranieri was not the right man to keep Leicester City in the Premier League. After all, he’s been dismissed from a lot of jobs and suffered the embarrassment of seeing his Greece side lose to the Faroe Islands.
Football is a magical game though and throws up plenty of surprises. However, even the most optimistic of fans wouldn’t have predicted Leicester City’s dramatic Premier League title success in 2015/16, where the world unprecedented doesn’t even begin the describe the achievement.
Every good story comes to an end though and Ranieri was dismissed in February this year, mere months after leading the Foxes to the title, which highlights the fickleness in football. Ranieri’s story with Leicester was over but his personal journey continues.
Ranieri, who has managed in every single one of Europe’s top-five leagues excluding the Bundesliga, was named manager of Nantes over the course of the summer. Finishing seventh in Ligue 1 last term, there wasn’t too much expected of the side this season.
🇫🇷 Claudio Ranieri's FC Nantes:
👏 Won five of their last six.
📈 Fourth in Ligue 1.
😮 It couldn't happen again, could it? pic.twitter.com/hIRaFSX9Pz
— bet365 (@bet365) October 2, 2017
As it stands though, Nantes currently sit fourth in Ligue 1- behind only Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Marseille, putting them ahead of the likes of Lyon, St. Etienne, OGC Nice and Bordeaux. Ranieri’s arrival has led to a revival, with Nantes now chasing glory – 16 years after they last won a major trophy.
Silverware would be a massive success for Nantes though and probably isn’t the aim this year, as an ideal season would see the club return to European football – something they’re aided with this year by UEFA’s restructure, which helps those in Europe’s top leagues qualify.
That will take a lot of work but the fact that Nantes are six games undefeated in the league, which followed back-to-back losses against Lille and Marseille to begin the campaign, provides confidence. In that run, Nantes have beaten Troyes, Montpellier, Caen, Strasbourg and Metz- with the only draw this term coming against Lyon.
Bigger challenges await, starting with this weekend’s clash against Bordeaux, and the biggest criticism thus far is that Nantes have only managed to score more than one goal on one occasion this season – their 2-1 victory over Strasbourg.
In eight games, Nantes have scored just six goals. Only Montpellier (5), Amiens (4), Lille (4) and Metz (3) have scored less. In comparison though, they’ve conceded just five goals – the same amount as Paris Saint-Germain and a number only Caen (4) can better.
Clearly, Nantes don’t score often but they don’t concede often either. Five clean sheets from eight games is a tremendous return, especially as you consider that four of the six goals conceded came in the two defeats to open the campaign.
The difficulty for Ranieri here though is he doesn’t have the attacking powerhouses he had at Leicester City, where Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez shone, which increases the need for a stronger defensively line and reliable midfielders.
— FC Nantes (@FCNantes) October 6, 2017
What Ranieri doesn’t have in players though he has made up for in tactics. A decision to bring Ciprian Tatarusanu in between the sticks, replacing Maxime Dupe, has proved to be extremely beneficial and Nantes’ clean-sheet tally is remarkable when you consider Leicester City kept 15 en-route to Premier League victory.
Ranieri’s Leicester were consistently praised for their attacking performances, as they put sides to the sword using counter-attacks, but it’s clear that the defensive organisation under his control is crucial for his side’s to succeed.
Again though, Nantes haven’t faced the best of opposition so far. A Lyon side without Alexandre Lacazette have struggled to find their feet this season and aren’t the attacking threat they used to be, whilst they’re still yet to come up against Ligue 1’s highest-scoring sides; PSG and Monaco.
Obviously, many media outlets have started to pick up on Nantes’ tremendous run but people need to ensure they aren’t getting ahead of themselves. With PSG and Monaco dominant, there’s no chance of Ranieri leading a remarkable title charge yet again and even pushing for continental football will be a stretch.
Building on last year’s seventh-placed finished, where Nantes were sixteen points behind fourth-placed Lyon, is crucial but Nantes will know it’s still the early stages. One defeat could see them hurtle down the table, with Bordeaux looking to leapfrog them this weekend, and the attacking statistics are as concerning as the defensive statistics are impressing.
Will Ranieri do it again? Probably not, but that’s not to say he cannot achieve something fantastic with Nantes this season.