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Historic French duo in fight for Ligue 1 survival

Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux have won a combined 16 French league titles, but two of French football’s most successful clubs find themselves rooted in a deep malaise and facing the grim prospect of relegation this season.

Beset by financial difficulties aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and accusations of mismanagement, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux occupy the bottom two spots in Ligue 1 with just five wins between them.

French champions a record 10 times, Saint-Etienne’s dominance of the 1960s and 1970s is a distant memory. Les Verts also reached the 1976 European Cup final but a financial scandal sent the club into free-fall in the 1980s.

That decline coincided with Bordeaux’s return to prominence during a decade in which they lifted three league trophies. The golden period was to end though with administrative relegation in 1991 over huge debts.

Bordeaux earned immediate promotion back to the top tier the following season, and have since claimed two more Ligue 1 titles — in 1999 and 2009.

But the club has been drifting on the field for some time and was placed into administration last year after its US-based owners King Street pulled the plug on their investment.

Les Girondins flirted with relegation before winning their last two games to stay up, but their safety was not assured until former Lille owner Gerard Lopez completed a takeover of the club in July.

Renewed optimism has quickly faded and coach Vladimir Petkovic is fighting for his job going into this weekend’s game with Strasbourg.

Petkovic, who led Switzerland to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, last week received public backing from Lopez but then watched his team capitulate 6-0 at Rennes — their heaviest Ligue 1 loss since 1986.

Thierry Henry is reportedly being considered as a potential replacement for a critical few months that could have long-lasting effects for a club in turmoil.

“I wouldn’t have imagined it these past seasons, but today you have to face up to the reality. We’re in a dangerous situation,” former Bordeaux and France star Alain Giresse told L’Equipe.

“It wouldn’t just be a descent into Ligue 2 but perhaps the end of the club. We’re on hot coals.”

Six straight league defeats have left Saint-Etienne six points from safety, but Pascal Dupraz hopes Friday’s derby with Lyon can mark the start of a recovery mission for a club up for sale since April.

“I think we have a one in two chance of staying up,” said Dupraz, who was appointed last month after the sacking of Claude Puel.

“Despite these first two defeats, at home furthermore, it’s not all over.”

Paris Saint-Germain, 11 points clear at the top, host Reims on Sunday, while second-placed Nice go to Metz. Marseille play away to Lens on Saturday.

Player to watch: Wissam Ben Yedder

The Monaco captain is the league’s joint-leading scorer alongside Jonathan David of Lille despite seven of his 20 appearances coming off the bench.

Returning from a Covid-19 lay-off, the France international struck twice in the second half of a 4-0 win over Clermont last weekend –- the second time he has scored a brace as a substitute this term. 

Niko Kovac often left Ben Yedder out over concerns about his defensive contribution, but new coach Philippe Clement believes he will “thrive a lot in the football we want to play”.

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