Summary of the summer: why Racing Club de Strasbourg no longer knows how to win?

A few months ago, Racing was fighting for Europe on a final day in Marseille. Barely four months later, the Blues and Whites could be penultimate in Ligue 1 after another 2-1 defeat against Montpellier. What has happened ? Between lack of ambition on recruitment, bad luck and big problems in the game, we come back to a complicated start to the season for our beloved Blues and Whites.

Racing, after eight league games, is clearly not in the same situation as last year, when it finished in a superb 6th place. The figures, if not good, are eloquent. Realize: 17th in the championship, 18th attack, 6th defense, 0 wins, 5 draws and 3 defeats. We can hardly do worse for our Blues and Whites. And it’s not the defeat against Montpellier, so symptomatic of Racing’s problems, that will fix things. A little tour of the field of what is wrong or no longer going to Racing.

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© Nicolas Kaspar/Pokaa

A blocked transfer window, which lacked ambition

Last year, Racing surprised everyone by finishing 6th in Ligue 1. An unexpected place, but which reflected the new ambition of a club that hired Julien Stéphan and brought Kévin Gameiro home. One would have thought that the ambition to settle more permanently at the top of the table would continue for this transfer window 2022, but it was hard for us. Concretely, no rookie either in attack or in the middle. Only the defense has been renewed, but more numerically than by real addition. The departures of Frédéric Guilbert and Anthony Caci, two full-backs, were indeed compensated by Colin Dagba (PSG) and Thomas Delaine (FC Metz). Only Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel (Mainz), another side, came to fill the defense of Racing. The rest of the transfer window was as flat as Strasbourg, with rumors never materializing.

Why such inertia? The simplest answer lies in the non-departures of Ludovic Ajorque and Alexander Djiku. Major architects of last year’s superb season, Racing gave them an exit voucher, signifying that the club was ready to let them go. Djiku was close to signing for Hoffenheim, when he was aiming for Spain instead, but a signing problem sent him back to Strasbourg. For Ajorque, his second part of the season in halftone – only one goal in the game in 2022, ongoing streak – may have cooled the clubs, which never put in the sum that Racing wanted. Results ? No departures, no money, and blocked recruitment since, as a prudent manager, Racing only spends what it receives. And the stadium project must have made the club think twice before spending.

These objective reasons do not, however, hide the fact that Racing has greatly lacked ambition in terms of recruitment.. No group renewal, no addition to the midfield that could develop competition, and few alternatives in the event of injury, since the club has still loaned several players – Chahiri, Sahi or Senaya to name a few – so that they harden up in Ligue 2 for at least one more season. Race results? A mercato today simply missed.

An unlucky (and marabouted?) Racing

Beyond the transfer window, this same group had reached 6th place. This season, however, the dynamism seems to have stalled somewhat. If all is not attributable to this, it must be admitted that Racing has often had bad luck since the start of the season.. Against Monaco, for the opening match, Diallo’s equalizer was denied for a very very limited offside. In Nice, during the 1-1 draw, the Nice goalkeeper Schmeichel disgusted all the attackers, when it was not Ajorque who did not fit six meters. For Reims and Nice, opposing equalizers at the very end of the game. In Brest, a match played at 60 minutes at 10 against 11 and a rescue from the Brest goalkeeper at the very last minute. Finally, against Clermont, two crossbars and an abysmal zero referee, who killed any rhythm established by the Strasbourg residents.

Nevertheless, beyond all these facts of the game, where Racing has suffered the most this season remains at the level of injuries. Last year, Racing suffered very few injuries, even in the final sprint. It seems that the club is paying for it now. VSconcretely, have gone through the infirmary this season – and the list is not exhaustive: Nyamsi, Perrin, Le Marchand, Ajorque, Liénard, Delaine, Dagba, Pierre-Gabriel, Thomasson and Sissoko. We add Kawashima, the substitute goalkeeper, and we have a pretty good football team. These injuries prevented Julien Stéphan from finding a balance, and forced the Breton tactician to constantly tinker, especially in defense. Against Montpellier, Racing even played without five of its holders. Players not playing at their real position, others who inevitably take time to pick up the pace; inevitably, the collective feels it.

Racing Strasbourg Auxerre warming up
© Nicolas Kaspar/Pokaa

A defense held by the Belgian wall

As expected, with so many absences, the defense really suffered at the start of the season. However, after the match against Montpellier, Racing conceded 9 goals, which makes the club the 6th defense in Ligue 1. This figure, not bad by the way, nevertheless hides spaces left vacant behind the system with 3 defenders chosen by Stéphan. So why do we concede few goals? The answer can be summed up in two words: Matz. Salts. The Belgian goalkeeper, who extended this summer, is simply monstrous. He has made 27 saves since the start of the season, including 9 in the only first game lost against Monaco. Without him, not sure that Racing will have as many points on the 8th day. Already that the total is meager…

Little by little, however, and despite the sessions at Julien Stéphan’s Bricorama, the defense puts itself at the level of its goalkeeper, even in the absence of its rock Nyamsi. In this, Racing remains consistent with its year 2022; to end their last season, the Blues and Whites only conceded 19 goals out of the 19 matches in the second leg. Only Monaco has done better. Propelled holder after numerous injuries, Ismaël Doukouré takes the lead, well helped by an Alexander Djiku still as solid. They are well helped by the defensive activity of midfielder Habib Diarra, THE success of this start to the season, as well as that of Bellegarde, the other satisfaction, despite their mistakes against Montpellier.

It is now enough to solve the problems of concentration in the last minutes, which still cost us so many points. Because, despite this almost hermetic defense, Strasbourg does not win. A paradox so Racingbut which has an explanation.

Racing Strasbourg Auxerre match
© Nicolas Kaspar/Pokaa

An attack from the West

The sun rises in the east, but apparently the Strasbourg attack didn’t get the memo. HASith only 6 goals scored, Racing is in 18th place in the Ligue 1 standings. Here again, as with defence, the club is following in the footsteps of its 2022 year, which saw it score just 24 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games. The games that we won 1-0 at the end of last season now turn into 1-1 or 0-0. Diallo is the club’s top scorer with 3 goals – you tell me, not difficult – followed by Ajorque, Gameiro and Djiku at one goal each. It is far from the flamboyant Racing of the end of 2021.

Even if the bad luck and the exploits of the opposing goalkeepers can explain a little this drought of the summer season of the Strasbourg attack, the problem is mainly in the animation of play in the midfield. Thomasson, beaming last season, has still not returned to his best level. Full member of the backbone of Racing last year, the environment is much less influential on the game. Same observation for Prcic, much better targeted by opposing teams and often unable to be the hub of the team. Moreover, the side Dagba and Delaine have been so injured that they have not yet really been able to bring their speed and their quality of center to water the attackers and help the medium. Finally, if the Strasbourg attackers shot on goal rather than chaining the dribbles and looking for yet another pass, perhaps Racing would score more…

la meinau internship
Back when we were scoring goals. © Nicolas Kaspar/Pokaa

The few reasons to hope

However, despite these complicated findings and a new defeat against Montpellier, there are still several reasons for hope. Already, because Racing never lets go, whatever the difficult situation that presents itself in front of it. The state of mind of constant struggle and solidarity should one day turn the wheel of fortune, which has not been very friendly with the Alsatian club so far. Especially since, given the first thirty minutes of the match against Clermont, we feel that Racing last year is not far away; he just needs a twist of fate in his favor to start again.

Finally, the international break that comes after the match against Montpellier will allow organizations to return to top form for what promises to be an intense month of October. The majority of the injured will reintegrate the group and will be able to resume the rhythm. Perhaps against Rennes, on October 1, Julien Stéphan will finally be able to count on his whole group, where each player plays at his true position.. Can’t wait to finally see a Nyamsi-Perrin-Djiku defense with Dagba and Delaine in pistons. It may move and bring creative solutions to the environment.

A Kop tifo against Reims on November 21, 2021
© Nicolas Kaspar/Pokaa

What’s next?

Especially since, if time is not pressing yet, Racing should not be stuck in the low ranking swamp for too long. This 2022/2023 season is indeed proving to be special: four teams will descend to Ligue 2 next season. If Strasbourg still has plenty of room in terms of quality of the workforce, the calendar will increase in intensity before the World Cup, then after, with an insane month of January – and, we recall the pleasure of New Year’s Day at La Meinau opposite Troyes. It will be a question of negotiating these necessarily complicated turns, so as not to have to sweat profusely once spring has laid its buds along the Meinau stadium. And start the work of the new stadium in Ligue 2, the timing would be of the worst effect.

As for next season, however, uncertainty reigns.. What about Julien Stéphan, a very ambitious coach who will not be satisfied with a season spent tinkering? What about Marc Keller, who could leave the head of Racing? The president is indeed tipped to be the successor of Noël Le Graet, the now highly contested president of the FFF, rotten by affairs that are just as much. What about the Racing group, which will necessarily have arrived at the end of a cycle? All these questions are not yet on the agenda, but are still starting to trot around in people’s minds. Like clouds hovering above the Meinau.

The defeat against Montpellier embodied the start of the season for Racing. That is to say a team decimated by injuries, points lost in the last minutes and a collective game that absolutely no longer knows how to bring danger to the opposing goal. The frustration is slowly starting to rise among the supporters, as we also imagine in the club. The international cut will have to put the heads back, for the players, the staff and the management. Hoping that from October 1, we will find a Racing closer to what we have always loved.

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Summary of the summer: why Racing Club de Strasbourg no longer knows how to win?