PARIS (AP) — Didier Digard’s digging in nicely at Nice and Will Still’s still unbeaten at Reims.
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The two young, unheralded coaches are making a name for themselves in the French league this season, and they head into this weekend’s matches defending unbeaten records.
Seventh-place Nice is on a 10-game unbeaten streak before hosting ninth-place Lorient, while eighth-place Reims is a club-record 19 league games without defeat as it faces second-place Marseille. Both games are Sunday.
, Separated by goal difference, and still in the hunt for the European places with 11 rounds of games remaining. Perhaps fittingly, they canceled each other out this season with two 0-0 draws.
But the fact they have been performing so consistently is much down to their respective coaches.
After a very difficult start, Nice’s climb up the table coincided with the appointment of the 36-year-old Digard. Nice had re-hired coach last year, but it didn’t work and so Digard took charge in early January.
Digard was a gritty midfielder with a decent passing range during his playing days. They were spent mainly with Nice, where he played 165 matches from 2009-15. He also turned out for Paris Saint-Germain, English club Middlesbrough and Real Betis in Spain.
The combative attitude from his playing days shows now, notably when Digard prowls along the touchline shouting out orders in his tight-fitting overcoat.
There’s more to the barking, too, for without any reputation to fall back on, Digard made an immediate impression by winning his .
Unlike Digard, however, the 30-year-old Still never played soccer at the highest level but has done remarkably well on limited resources and even less coaching experience.
Under his guidance Reims hasn’t lost in the league since a 3-0 home defeat to Monaco on Sept. 18 — which was before he took charge and two months before in Qatar.
It’s the longest unbeaten spell in the club’s history, which is saying something considering that, in the era of former France greats Raymond Kopa and , the Champagne-based club reached two European Cup finals in 1956 and ’59. That last Euro final was 11 years before current league leader PSG was even founded.
Still hasn’t lost a game since since replacing Oscar Garcia in October, and Reims also has unique bragging rights in the league after holding PSG to two draws.
Both teams also have two of the league’s best finishers in Nice striker Terem Moffi and Reims.
They are both ahead of record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, , who has 13 league goals so far.
— Who is on loan from Premier League leader Arsenal — has 16 goals and one assist.
, Who in the January transfer window, counts 15 goals and two assists for cash-rich .
That means they’ve been involved in 17 goals each and, the coincidence is pushed further because they share a similar playing style. Both are strong, quick forwards who break from deep and are superb one-on-one finishers.
Just like their current sides they seem inseparable and, perhaps like their coaches Digard and Still, they could be destined for bigger things.
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