Stade Rennais 2016/17 Season Preview: Gourcuff's guile the key to Europe?

With a new manager installed in Christian Gourcuff, will Rennes now find that consistency that will take them into European football next season?

Stade Rennais 2016/17 Season Preview: Gourcuff's guile the key to Europe?
Stade Rennais 2016/17 Season Preview: Gourcuff's guile the key to Europe?

With a Ligue 1 campaign which almost took them to European football last season, Stade Rennais will be looking at new manager Christian Gourcuff to try and do better than his two predecessors and get the club playing competitively on the continent. 

Armed with a capable group of players, Gourcuff will need to reach into the depth of his managerial experience to try and turn a team which finished eighth place last season to one which will be in the upper reaches of the league - and consistency will be the key.

Gourcuff has to take knowledge from last season

The Brittany born gaffer will have to right the mistakes of last season's campaign which saw Rennes have a dismal home record but achieve a sustainable away record. In the cups Rennes performed poorly, most notably being eliminated by Ligue 2 side FC Bourg-Péronnas in the Coupe de France at Roazhon Park.

The light that shone brightest in the team was arguably the introduction of young Ousmane Dembélé. The French forward was introduced to the first team last November and since then his performances and stock has risen substantially to the point that he has joined Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund. The now 19-year old scored 12 goals in 27 matches in all competitions - most notably a hat-trick in the derby match at home to Nantes.

Ousmane Dembélé has left for pastures new | Photo: 101greatgoals
Ousmane Dembélé has left for pastures new | Photo: 101greatgoals

Unfortunately for Gourcuff, he will be without Dembélé for next season's campaign, however Rennes will be able to welcome another promising forward in Paul-Georges Ntep back into the fold after his lengthy absence due to injury. The French international winger's lack of game time last season perhaps bore fruit in Rennes not reaching the coveted European spot as his inclusion would have helped make up the eight point gap. 

Last season, Rennes were riding high in the league table for large parts of the campaign and managed to get big results away at Lyon and Marseille. However, probably most important for the fans were the two convincing derby victories against Nantes.

When Philippe Montanier was sacked by the club in late January, the club were sitting high in the table but with the defeat to Péronnas, the hopeless away record and a poor style of play, there was no choice but to get rid of the Frenchman and install Rolland Courbis. Courbis had been appointed Presidential Advisor only recently before taking over. 

How will the new manager put his stamp on the field

Now with Gourcuff at the helm in his second stint at the club, it will be interesting which way he will take the club. This pre-season, Gourcuff has implemented a simple 4-4-2 formation - a fundamental change from last season's various and often bizarre systems played mostly by Montanier. One thing Rennes lacked last season was firepower in the striking position with only Giovanni Sio being the main recognized striker to feature in the squad for most of the season. The purchase of South African frontman Kermit Erasmus in the winter window was welcomed, however he has been short of game time due to the fact Rennes only played with one striker. 

Will this be Kermit Easmus' breakthrough season? | Photo: Kickoff.com
Will this be Kermit Easmus' breakthrough season? | Photo: Kickoff.com

Armed with as many midfielders any team is ever likely to need, Gourcuff will have to manage their playing time accordingly and find the best flat four to suit his formation. Central midfielder Benjamin Andre impressed everyone last season and was mostly partnered with Gelson Fernandes last season. However, one big transfer this summer has been former PSG and Bordeaux anchor Clément Chantôme. His addition will make the centre of midfield an area with no wiggle room for mistakes next season with Andre, Fernandes, Chantôme,  Yacouba Sylla, and youths Nicholas Janvier, Denis Will Poha, and Sebastien Salles-Lamonge all vying for the two spots. 

Notable departures from Rennes thus far include Dembélé, centre-back Fallou Diagne, and left-back Cheikh M'Bengue. Obviously, the loss of Dembélé is the stand-out, however the club is well equipped to deal with the departures of the two full-backs with a couple of players available for both positions. It is uncertain whether Poland's Euro 2016 star Kamil Grosicki will remain for another season with Rennes purchasing Anthony Ribelin, a highly rated winger, from Montpellier. Another whose future with the club is unclear is number one goalkeeper Benoit Costil. The French international is set to return to training soon, but Rennes have brought in Monaco keeper Paul Nardi on a season-long loan and it is unexpected that Nardi will play second fiddle to Costil at this stage in his development. 

Last season brought a few top players to the surface who were a joy to watch when Rennes were riding high and European football was in their sights. As discussed, Dembélé had a fantastic breakthrough season as did Andre in midfield. Super-sub Grosicki also had a good season on the wing, taking the mantle from Ntep due to his injury. On the flip-side players such as Pedro Henrique and Steven Moreira didn't perform to the best of their abilities and were often slated by the rouge et noir faithful. 

The one to watch

Without a doubt, the player to watch next season is midfield maestro Andre. Brought in as a left-midfield player two seasons ago, it was only last season as a holding midfielder did Rennes fans see why the club brought him in from Ajaccio. Crystal Palace midfielder Joe Ledley is probably the best player to compare him to in playing style - another who made the change from wide man to central midfielder. Andre is a strong player, a battler and someone who would run through brick walls for his team. It goes without saying that Andre is by no means a dirty player. Even in the air, his 5ft 10 frame was put to good use as  he won the most aerial duals out of any midfielder in Ligue 1 last season. He is one to watch as he now has to compete with more players for his position, and if he can add goal scoring to his repertoire of skills, he and Rennes will reap the rewards. 

So there is what Gourcuff faces next season at the helm of Rennes. His buys have been smart on the whole thus far but a bit of a clear out is also required with 39 recognized first team players. A bit of father and son combination between Christian and Yoann could cement a fantastic relationship on and off the field and lead Rennes higher up the table and perhaps, at last, win a trophy for the first time in 46 years.