Revived Toulouse Down But Not Out


It was a beginning in keeping with Toulouse’s sorry season. When Pascal Dupraz was appointed as coach to replace Dominique Arribagé, it seemed like president Olivier Sadran was already planning for life in Ligue 2. Arribagé’s side had just been beaten at home in the worst possible circumstances by Rennes, a game in which they actually entered the final minute of regulation time winning - as analysed in this column. 


It put the cap on an absolutely desperate run of 10 winless games in all competitions, incorporating just two measly points and elimination from both cups. The lack of silverware at the end of the season was anecdotal in comparison to the slide down the league. Dupraz took over a team lying 10 points from safety with just 10 games to go. They were doomed. 


So it seemed typical of the team’s luck that on the eve of his debut on the bench, Dupraz was taken ill, swiftly ferried off the training pitch to hospital with chest pains the day before the trip to Marseille. Happily, it proved to be nothing serious, and his new side did him proud at the Vélodrome, bringing home a point that might have been three had it not been for Somália’s late own goal, or Steve Mandanda’s even later wonder save from Wissam Ben Yedder.


Toulouse have built on that, and then some. In the time since Dupraz was appointed, Téfécé have lost just two of seven Ligue 1 matches. The second of those, on Saturday in a thrilling match with Lyon, is a potentially damaging one, especially in the light of Gazélec’s equally exciting 3-2 win in the Corsican derby with Bastia on Sunday, which lifted Thierry Laurey’s team out of the bottom three and left Téfécé four points from safety with three matches to play.


Revived Toulouse Down But Not Out


It is, however, not necessarily a fatal blow. Toulouse’s upwards dynamic is reflected in the fact that they’re easily the most in-form team in the bottom six, and they at least ostensibly have the most forgiving fixture run-in, even if they visit Saint Etienne next. That both rivals Gazélec and Reims face Lyon - and also play Paris Saint-Germain and under pressure Marseille respectively - means that even two wins from their remaining three fixtures might be enough to save them.


They have little room for manoeuvre though. Until Saturday’s game, Toulouse had won three home games out of three under the new coach, starting in the best way possible with an emphatic 4-0 win over Bordeaux in the Garonne derby. They had an excellent recent record against Lyon on home turf too, with OL’s last win at Le Stadium in 2005 when Sidney Govou hit the winner.


Dupraz is a forthright character, and Toulouse have played in his image since he arrived, mainly employing a 4-3-3 formation as opposed to Arribagé’s variations on 4-4-2, all of which were proving equally ineffective by the end of his tenure. It’s been the team’s second major tactical rethink in just over a year, with Arribagé’s predecessor Alain Casanova preferring a three-man back line.


This one has had fairly instant results, though, perhaps through a combination of the players feeling they had nothing to lose, in tandem with a greater attacking blueprint. If any system is about setting a platform for a team’s best players to do their thing, then it’s worked, too. 


Revived Toulouse Down But Not Out


Ben Yedder began the season inconsistently, seemingly upset by a potential move to Sevilla failing to come to fruition. Dupraz’s set-up, and the extra support afforded to him, has set the Franco-Tunisian free. Saturday’s goal against Lyon, which briefly looked like salvaging a point, was Ben Yedder’s 16th in Ligue 1 this season, matching his career-best. Seven of those - and two assists - have been registered since Dupraz took the helm.


A look at the player average position chart sheds some light on it. A touch player, Ben Yedder needs physical protection - and he needs feeding. The aggression of Toulouse’s approach against Lyon was notable, with Tonga Doumbia adopting an advanced role in an attameot to buy Ben Yedder space, with Adrian Regattin and Martin Braithwaite providing the width.


The effort was evident all over the pitch, though, with Toulouse making 30 tackles to Lyon’s 11. It helped the home side have nine shots to Lyon’s 11, despite mustering just 40.5% of possession. On the whole, Dupraz’s approach has also proved the old cliché that attack is usually the best form of defence. Until Lyon’s visit, Toulouse had conceded just three times in six matches. The biggest compliment that one can play Dupraz is that his counterpart Bruno Genesio was forced into his own tactical tinkering, moving from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 with the introductions of Clément Grenier and Nabil Fekir, to take control of the game.


Perhaps inevitably against superior quality opposition, Toulouse were simply worn out in the end, flagging as Lyon came on strong in the final 20 minutes. It also revived a theme almost omnipresent in Les Violets’ season. They have now lost 33 points from winning positions. Although Dupraz is clearly not responsible for many of those, his Evian team let 24 points slip after taking the lead in the 2013/14 campaign, and Toulouse have now let five points go from similar situations in the last week after the concession of a late leveller at Lorient.


With that said, they are still fighting - and all credit to the new coach for that. Given what Dupraz inherited, everything is almost a bonus though with such an improvement of late, anything less than safety will feel like a failure.


Do Toulouse have what it takes to stave off relegation this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

Revived Toulouse Down But Not Out