On a crazy last day of the 2016/17 Ligue 2 season, Strasbourg dramatically emerged as champions and subsequently returned to the top tier of French football after a nine-year absence.
The title of 'Ligue 2 Champions' has become a poisoned chalice in recent times as each of the last three have been relegated straight back from whence they came.
Strasbourg are hoping to be the ones to buck this trend to avoid the relegation zone and stay up.
The foundations have already been laid to ensure this is the case after an impressive 3-0 win over Lille on Sunday and a productive summer transfer window - when they signed Benjamin Corgnet.
Corgnet adds vital experience
With their last Ligue 1 outing coming back in 2008, many of Thierry Laurey’s squad lacked the top flight experience that has become so synonymous with a successful fight against relegation.
The additions of Jonas Martin, Pablo Martinez and Benjamin Corgnet added some Ligue 1 know-how without drastically increasing the average age of the team.
The latter - at the age of 30 - boasts a wealth of experience at the top level after years with Dijon, Lorient and Saint-Etienne.
Never the main attraction for his previous side, Corgnet helped push Saint-Etienne from mid-table to the European places with his creativity from midfield and his potential for goals. Corgnet has more Ligue 1 goals (22) than any of his Strasbourg team-mates.
The Frenchman amassed over 130 Ligue 1 appearances across six seasons for his respective clubs. Tying Corgnet down to a three-year deal on a free transfer has been seen as a great piece of business from Strasbourg, who have performed well this summer.
Replacing Boutaïb a big task for Corgnet:
Strasbourg too required some added creativity due to the departure of Khalid Boutaïb, who scored a monstrous 20 league goals from attacking midfield last season.
Boutaïb’s tally eventually made up for his side’s lack of defensive stability. Of the top six teams vying for promotion on the final day of last season, Strasbourg had conceded the most goals.
While they have added up front with Idriss Saadi and Nuno Da Costa, goals from midfield will once again be vital to any hopes of survival Strasbourg may have.
Some are tipping Le Racing to finish bottom this term and, after a shocking 4-0 defeat to Lyon on the opening day, many were justified in their damning prediction.
Lyon dismantled the visiting Strasbourg with ease due to braces from captain Nabil Fekir and new signing Mariano Diaz. While we saw the best of Les Gones, we were unable to see the best of Corgnet.
Many were expecting a similar situation when Lille made the trip to eastern France with Marcelo Bielsa’s side defeating Nantes 3-0 the week before. On this occasion, however, we saw Strasbourg shake off their tag of underdogs to inflict a 3-0 defeat of their own.
Impressive game for Corgnet and Strasbourg:
Corgnet started in his preferred number 10 position on Sunday afternoon and excelled on his home debut.
Although not directly involved with any of the three goals his side scored, the former Monts d'Or Azergues man had a highly positive effect in the final third of the pitch.
Despite having just 60% pass accuracy, Corgnet had a productive time on the ball. The 30-year-old created four chances during his 85 minutes on the pitch and crossed the ball nine times for his team-mates.
The majority of Corgnet’s work seemingly goes unnoticed as he attempts to link midfield to attack with his flick-ons and dribbling ability. His early ball to Da Silva, who ended up winning a free-kick in a promising position, or his careful pass to Saadi, which resulted in Mike Maignan being tested twice in quick succession, are prime examples.
His superb delivery from right-sided set pieces are also likely to have a huge impact over the course of the season for a side who scored 34% of their league goals with headers during their promotion winning campaign.
More still required:
Maignan’s sending off, sparked by the ‘keeper throwing the ball at Corgnet’s head, left outfield players in goal for the final 25 minutes and this massively helped Strasbourg claim the three points on the day.
The hosts looked to be Lille’s equals before the crucial sending off but failed to make the most of the numerous chances that they created. Such poor finishing cannot continue if they wish to make their survival dream a reality.
Regardless, the three points would have been a huge surprise to Thierry Laurey but a welcome one. The performance of Corgnet will have been less shocking for Laurey but the manager will still be expecting his summer signing to have even more of an impact as he settles at the Stade de la Meinau...
... and so will Corgnet himself.