Fans in Alsace are beginning to question whether a paranormal influence is being exerted in the area, with the leading side, RC Strasbourg, enduring wildly contrasting fortunes in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Cup.
Only FC Metz are keeping Strasbourg off the foot of the table, with both clubs still without a win from their 13 league matches. The heady days of last season's French League Cup success appear distant, with a four-game losing run in serious danger of being extended when Strasbourg travel to face LOSC Lille Métropole - UEFA Champions League conquerors of Manchester United FC - on Sunday.
In contrast, Les Bleus have plundered eleven goals in four UEFA Cup matches - seven coming in two legs in the first-round defeat of Grazer AK. Even more impressive was the 2-0 away defeat of Swiss champions FC Basel 1893 on Matchday 1 of the group stage, a result followed by last night's 2-0 success against Tromsø IL. With the French side three points clear in Group E, the likes of Basel, AS Roma and FK Crevena Zvezda have been left in their wake.
"If I had the smallest idea about what was going on I could tell you and try to change things," said the club's bewildered coach, Jacky Duguépéroux. "Maybe it is just a question of confidence." The €7m departure of last season's 12-goal scorer Mamadou Niang - the perfect foil for captain Mickaël Pagis - to Olympique de Marseille has been an obvious factor in the league slump, with the club failing to find a suitable replacement for the prolific Senegalese.
Injuries to midfielder Sidi Keïta, thriving before a cruciate injury, and defender Karim Haggui have also proved telling, although the fans are not so forgiving. Supporters staged a demonstration before the defeat of Tromsø, standing silent for the opening minutes while displaying a huge banner to the players and coaching staff which read: "You have been absent in the league, we are absent in Europe."
Duguépéroux, a midfield player when Strasbourg were crowned champions of France for the one and only time in 1979, remains in a strong position nonetheless. President Egon Gindorf said: "Changing the coach would not be a useful option. I'm sure league results will improve."
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