Player Focus: Djordjevic and Oliveira - Ligue 1's unlikely netbusters
In a field where Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao arrived to join Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer, it is fair to assume that not much money was staked on other runners for the Ligue 1 top scorer crown by the season’s eve. Given that France is often assumed as one of the less forgiving terrains for goalscorers, the current exploits of Filip Djordjevic of Nantes and Rennes’ Nélson Oliveira are as pleasantly surprising as they are impressive.
The pair are currently joint third in the Ligue 1 individual goalscoring charts, behind the inevitable Cavani (9) and Falcao (8), and level with Dario Cvitanich of Nice, who has picked up where he left off last season.
Oliveira could conceivably have been joint top of the pile with the illustrious Cavani this morning, but he missed some big chances against Marseille on Saturday evening. Either side of his superb strike from outside the area which gave Rennes the lead, he attempted to finish with an over-elaborate backheel in the game’s first minute, allowing Nicolas N’Koulou to execute an excellent clearance off the line, before having a second-half penalty well saved by Steve Mandanda.
Perhaps surprisingly, Oliveira is not even in Rennes’ top 12 individual performers of the season as per WhoScored’s ratings chart, lying in 13th with an average of 6.83. The 22-year old is a real paradox, long feted for his clear natural gifts and a useful impact substitute for Portugal in Euro 2012, but clearly with a capacity to frustrate.
“When he gives the ball away, it handicaps our attacking movement,” said Rennes coach Philippe Montainier after the game against Marseille. “But he’s still young, even if he’s not as fragile as others (of a similar age). It’s not a question of desire but of apprehension in a given situation, and of taking on board the right information.”
Rennes are clearly showing a will to work on Oliveira, and have had good reward so far with seven goals from nine starts in Ligue 1. He is already close to beating last season’s individual goal tally for Rennes (Julien Feret hit 11 from midfield), and could even become the first player from the Brittany club to hit 20 since Alexander Frei in 2004/05.
Yet Oliveira’s potential is such that those around him are demanding more. Built to a formidable 186cm and 82kg, one feels he should be able to act as more of an attacking reference point than he does, to return to Montanier’s theme. His WhoScored profile lists holding onto the ball as a major weakness, and he is yet to score a headed goal this season.
Perhaps some of the caprices are to be expected. Oliveira has started just four league games in the previous two seasons combined, first at parent club Benfica (who have loaned him to Rennes) and then in a temporary spell at Deportivo La Coruña. With both he showed a capacity to excite fans, but little reliability.
Djordjevic can probably sympathise. His rise to prominence in French football has been something of a slow burner. Four years Oliveira’s senior, the Serbian centre-forward was even younger than the Portuguese when he arrived at the Stade de la Beaujoire from Red Star Belgrade in January 2008.
After a good start to his career in France – also initially on loan – Djordjevic scored just 22 times in his first four full seasons with Nantes. A classic fox-in-the-box (who has accordingly scored all his goals this season from inside the penalty area), he needs service. It was his misfortune to arrive at a particularly low ebb in the club’s recent history, but while that may have stymied his efforts to score heavily, it probably also prevented the club from being able to replace him.
Having scored seven in 12 starts this season, Djordjevic’s rapid start to the campaign is impressive not only because he is adjusting to Ligue 1, but because he is having to bear the brunt of expectation on his own. Michel der Zakarian has tended to use Djordjevic on his own up top this season, while his strike partner for much of the second half of last season, the unorthodox Fernando Aristeguieta, has started just once. The pair started in a 4-4-2 in a 0-0 draw at Reims at the end of August, and that has been their only outing together.
In a team set up to secure safety, Djordjevic has made the most of limited opportunities. Boosted by the confidence of scoring 20 goals in last season’s promotion campaign, which led to clubs including Lyon attempting to sign him in the summer, he has been highly efficient, scoring prolifically despite only having 1.8 attempts per game (compared to Oliveira’s 3.1 attempts).
The good news for Nantes, and Djordjevic himself, is that there is scope for more chances to be created as the team begin to settle well in the top flight. Right-back Issa Cissokho, who inadvertently created Djordjevic’s goal at Montpellier on Sunday with a misdirected shot, is one avenue of supply while new signing Banel Nicolita is another – the Romanian has only started twice thus far since his arrival from St Etienne but created Djordjevic’s winner against Sochaux at the Beaujoire with an inviting free-kick. That was Djordjevic’s only headed goal this season; again, a surprise as he stands at the same height as Oliveira.
Both Oliveira and Djordjevic have it in their interests to continue to improve; Oliveira is by no means nailed on to return to Benfica, and Djordjevic is out of contract at the season’s end. Nantes president Waldemar Kita is keen to extend the deal, and Djordjevic left the door open after the recent win at Rennes, saying “he has to give me something on paper and it has to pay.” If Kita won’t, somebody else will. Meanwhile, if Oliveira can take Montanier’s advice on board, he will soon be beyond Rennes’ means.