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PSG vs. Brest: Why Kylian Mbappe’s defending champions shouldn’t overlook the surprising third-place side

Paris Saint-Germain face Stade Brestois 29 on Sunday with a nine-point lead over their Brittany-based visitors ahead of the Parc des Princes encounter. What is surprising, though, is that Brest are not down in midtable, or in the lower half of the Championnat standings — Eric Roy’s side are third and separated from PSG only by OGC Nice. Les Pirates are unbeaten in nine games across all competitions and they have won the last six of those consecutively. This will be the first part of a doubleheader for Les Parisiens against Brest too, with the pair drawn together in the Coupe de France last 16 with both capital games sandwiching a Ligue 1 clash with none other than Nice.

So how has this team seemingly come out of nowhere to pose a threat to Luis Enrique’s PSG side?

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How to watch and odds

  • Date: Sunday, Jan. 28 | Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
  • Location: Parc des Princes — Paris, France
  • Watch: beIN Sports USA
  • Odds: PSG -300; Draw +400; Brest +650

Third for goals scored

If the Ligue 1 table was simply a reflection of the goals scored by each side right now, Brest would not budge — they are the third most prolific side in the French topflight. However, intriguingly, this prolific form is not down to one key individual as it is for Paris with Kylian Mbappe closing on the 20-goal mark already this season. Romain Del Castillo has five goals and five assists so far this campaign but those are nowhere near Championnat-leading numbers. Kamory Doumbia has five goals too but four of those came in one single game not so long ago — a 4-0 thrashing of FC Lorient in late December. Doumbia is currently excelling with Mali at the Africa Cup of Nations and will be staying on for a little while longer with a round of 16 clash with Burkina Faso possibly followed by a quarterfinal against either defending champions Senegal or host nation Ivory Coast. Other attackers such as Steve Mounie and Jeremy Le Douaron have seven goals together but neither have more than four individually so Brest’s secret is not necessarily in attack.

Fourth for goals conceded

Flip the table to be dictated by goals conceded, though, and Brest would barely move either — they rank fourth in terms of tightest defenses with only 15 goals conceded so far. Left back Bradley Locko, captain Brendan Chardonnet and goalkeeper Marco Bizot have been strong in defense while Lilian Brassier and Kenny Lala also deserve credit. However, midfielder Hugo Magnetti recently revealed that there is not even additional emphasis put upon being strong at the back by head coach Roy: “He tells us often that he wants us to be a difficult team to play — tough to beat,” said Magnetti. “For that, we must have great intensity. It also gives us a form of identity, values by which to play with and that, for us, means never giving up. We feel like we are part of a family here and we all want to fight for each other.”

Eric Roy’s turnaround

So is the star of Brest’s current success story Roy, then? A head coach who ended a 12-year absence from the managerial scene to lead the Breton side to safety after a short stint with Watford as their sporting director which ended in relegation and more time spent as a pundit on French television than anything else. Again, Roy is not necessarily the secret ingredient either with aspects of his career and experience useful for the team but not necessarily decisive: “The coach has been in several different roles with his previous clubs, notably the sporting management side, so this has given him a different perspective to other coaches,” added Magnetti.

An aspect of Roy’s methodology with his players does perhaps help to partly explain their jump in form, though. The man from Nice took over and led Brest to safety in early 2023 before keeping that momentum going into the new season and now also into 2024: “Last season, we simply wanted to save ourselves,” Magnetti said. “However, this season we have set ourselves objectives over 4 to 5-game periods. For example, we set ourselves an aim to pick up 6 or 7 points over a run of games. Once we achieve that, the coach takes us out to a restaurant and we get a few extra days off. It is pretty cool! This has helped to establish that family spirit. Right now, we are doing pretty well. From our four objectives set so far this season, we have achieved 3 of them. Ahead of the winter break, we were targeting 25 or 27 points yet we actually picked up 31.”

No star names

What is striking about Brest and their current success is that it is very Girona-like in that the players and the coach are not really household names and would not necessarily get into any of the bigger teams that they are currently faring better than. Del Castillo, Brassier and Pierre Lees-Melou have earned rave reviews yet most of the squad has flown under the radar. However, the group’s familiarity and a core of players which has been together for a fairly long time and showed promise under previous boss Michel Der Zakarian appears to have finally come to fruition at Stade Francis Le Ble now: “The squad has changed little and we all know each other very well,” said midfielder Mahdi Camara. “We have looked every team that we have come up against in the eye. Even when we have lost, as was the case against Olympique de Marseille and PSG, we managed to play the way that we want to play — in our style. We must stay positive and regardless of our opponents, the coach want us to play a major part in the game. It is important to play with our values instead of suffering for them.”

Lens-esque?

Brest’s remarkable rise has mirrored that of RC Lens under Franck Haise these past few years which resulted in the Northerners securing an unthinkable return to UEFA Champions League soccer. It has proved difficult to follow on from this term, but Haise and his Lens side are part of the chasing pack looking to reel in the likes of Brest and Nice. Roy and his squad, though, are arguably even more unheralded than Les Sang et Or were a lack of European action means that they can be more focused on finishing in the continental places this season. Ligue 1 often throws up unexpected names on strong runs of form each year and Brest appear to be the current example of that. The big question now is how far this momentum can carry them as they enter two potentially campaign-defining games against PSG and then Nice.

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