Adam White

Dijon Cut The Mustard

Adam White
Dijon Cut The Mustard

This article can also be found over on Guardian Sport.

"We wanted to play high and hinder Lyon's recovery, it worked rather well. We try to play... When it does not work so well, I'll be fired, but I want to continue anyway." Dijon aren't the most fashionable or famous of Ligue 1 clubs but, as manager Olivier Dallaglio confirmed, they have the right attitude as their unusual blend of fluidity and physicality fast becomes one of Ligue 1s most eye catching.

The October meeting with an, at the time, equally freewheeling Lyon that Dallaglio spoke of ended in the sharing of 6 goals. Entering this weekend the two sides were again level. Not in points but as third behind PSG and Monaco, games involving Dijon and Lyon boasted the most goals; a healthy 3.33 average. For a side only promoted for the start of last season, despite a substantial top flight history, Dallaglio’s Dijon have usurped expectations and stereotypes of new Ligue 1 arrivals. In a league often seen as defensive and cautious where goals can be, especially for bottom half outfits, difficult to ensnare, while promoted teams tend to buy into this paradigm and focus on solidity and organisation.

Angers, promoted a year earlier than Dijon, unlined the potential of playing to the league's well worn identity in bulldozing and battling their way to a superb 9th place finish. Ligue 2 winners in Angers promotion season, Troyes, however, were unceremoniously slapped back down following a nightmare campaign in which they suicidally made little attempt to evolve or adapt, financial issues aside, and were swiftly exposed.

Dijon however have managed to strike the balance between adapting to the league and playing the attacking football on which they ascended. Dallaglio’s side paradoxically suit Ligue 1s physical, stoic nature while simultaneously becoming comfortably the most enthralling side to watch outside what is now a well established and rather distant top four.

In classic Ligue 1 style their full backs aren't the marauding faux-wingers that are seemingly otherwise ubiquitous in attacking sides of late but Ousmane Haddadi and particularly Valentin Rosier provide technical ability and defensive nauce that compliments a more quintessential Ligue 1 spine. The rangey Cedric Yambere, plucked from Bordeaux's reserves fairly late into his career by Willy Sagnol, and a reborn Papy Djilobodji, who's imposing presence and no fills defending is having the same effect that convinced Chelsea to sign him from Nantes, hold fort in front of keeper Baptiste Reynet - nominated for Ligue 1s best last term.

When fit, Portuguese central midfielder Xeka, bizarrely loaned out by Bielsa during his Lille reign, provides the bullishness needed to be martial a Ligue 1 midfield while, in partnership with Media Abied, manages to affect possession and add coverage to Dallaglio’s midfield. Julio Tavares meanwhile acts as a focal point to the attack. Despite, in classic Ligue 1 style, being a little bulky and not usually prolific, his hold up and interlinking play have been crucial to the Dallaglio’s brand of smash mouth yet fluid football. Meanwhile his 11 goal haul so far this season is not to be scoffed at in this league and equals his best tally already across 6 seasons with Dijon, 4 of which were in Ligue 2.

But where Dallaglio’s side stand apart from established Ligue 1 norms is via their attacking midfield options. It would be simple for a team like Dijon to play a flat and predictable 4231 with wingers and a number 10 but Dallaglio’s cohesive, interchanging midfield has proved supremely frustrating for their peers to pin down and has combined to provide Tavares, and each other, with the chances that have made Dijon the league's top scorers outside the big four despite their seemingly perpetual midtable position.

Rotation and unpredictably have been watch words for Dijon as a host of waspish, jinking forwards have repeatedly stung unsuspecting opponents. Enjoying possibly his best Ligue 1 season to date, the pacey, nimble forward Wesley Said has finally found a home for his talents having been on the fringes at Rennes. The stocky gaulic frame of Frédéric Sammaritano drifts in and out of form but the intensity and skill he can provide has often been a pivotal weapon for Dallaglio over the past few years. Equally surprisingly loaned by Lille as Xeka, Tunisian winger Naim Sliti continues to jink his way past defenders from wide left while Kwon Chang-Hoon can arguably be put down as ‘find of the season’. Although a slight dip in form has seen him flitter in and out of late, the South Korean’s guile, vision and skill has provided Dijon fans with some of their most memorable moments this campaign. A swift one-two and beautifully shaped first time 25 yard effort away a Amiens being a highlight for Kwon.

Dallaglio’s downside is provided, perhaps unsurprisingly, by sheer inconsistency. Dijon are a compelling, cohesive, all-action outfit at home but often drab and porous away from Stade Gaston Gerrard. Their meetings with PSG underline some alarmingly undulating form as Benjamin Jeannot, another useful mobile forward, was close winning the home game with a stunning volley only for PSG to be rescued late on by Thomas Meunier before the 8-0 demolition at the Parc des Princes last month. Dijon have won 9 of 14 home matches this campaign, including 8 of the last 9, but are still suffering the worst away record in the division.

That lopsided record may be finally evolving however. Tavares and Said both gave Dallaglio’s charges the lead away to a resurgent St Etienne on Saturday night before a thrilling encounter finished 2-2. The point was enough for Dijon stay in the top 10. As his methods continue to work rather well and Dijon continue to play, Olivier Dallaglio needn't worry about being fired anytime soon.

by Adam White

Image: Roman