In August, Nantes were leading relegation candidates. They barely survived the drop last season, winning a tight play-off against Ligue 2 Toulouse and little changed within Antoine Kombouaré’s squad over the summer. Teams around them largely improved while the City Group’s investment in Ligue 2 champions Troyes provided another obstacle between Les Canaries and survival.
However, a year after Kombouaré took over after the disastrous but brief return to Ligue 1 of eccentric former France coach Raymond Domenech with relegation looming Nantes sit seventh in Ligue 1. With ostensibly the same squad, they’re clear of champions Lille, Monaco and Lyon, and are two very winnable games away from a lifting the Coupe de France with Europe a very real possibility.
Kombouaré’s helped attacking midfielder Ludovic Blas to a consistently high level with the 24-year-old now looking at a major summer move. He’s helped forward Randal Kolo-Muani (23) flourish into one of Ligue 1’s most sought-after talents. The workmanlike Andrei Girotto has morphed into one of France’s best defensive players – no one has more blocks that Girotto this season. Moses Simon, meanwhile, has become one of Ligue 1’s most exciting and havoc-causing forwards. Nantes play fiercely effective, dynamic and imposing football, as their high-intensity smash and grab win over PSG last week showed.
With Franck Haise’s Lens plateauing, relatively extensive resources for Christophe Galtier to remould Nice, Rennes indebted to sporting director Florian Maurice, Oscar Garcia’s Reims still far from safe and Jorge Sampaoli’s Marseille too inconsistent, as it stands, there’s one obvious candidate for Ligue 1’s greatest managerial feat of 2021/22.