Crystal Palace misfit shines against alter ego and Forest hero
By Alessandro Schiavone at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
Lens 1-1 Rennes (Machado, Bourigeaud)
Former Crystal Palace flop Steve Mandanda held his own against his successor and France back-up goalkeeper Brice Samba as his Stade Rennes side failed to build on their opening-day 5-1 rout of Metz in a scoring draw at Lens.
Mandanda, 38, who moved to Crystal Palace from Olympique Marseille with a big reputation back in 2016, flattered to deceive in English football.
Despite starting the season as the club's number one from matchday three onwards following his transfer from Marseille, he shockingly failed to build on his nine Premier League appearances.
A series or blunders, most notably those two against Burnley, proved to be the nail in his English coffin.
Then after a long-term absentee through a knee injury, Mandanda failed to regain his place as Wayne Hennessey was in the form of his life as his heroics at Euro 2016 a couple of months earlier had showcased.
To add to his ordeal the man who signed him, Alan Pardew, was sacked two days before Christmas Eve, leaving Mandanda in limbo.
Out of form, with new manager Sam Allardyce not fancying him and rumours that his wife wanted out of the capital, he left the club through the back door.
And after leaving South London to return to Marseille in perfect Payet style in the summer of 2017, he has impressively rebuilt his career before losing his place to Pau Lopez at the Stade Velodrome.
He had no choice but to move on to Rennes and in Brittany they've never regretted the decision to sign the veteran stopper who was an imperious presence as les Rennais finished fourth behind PSG, Lens and Marseille to qualify for the Europea League.
On Sunday evening though he stepped up and fought out a stalemate in his personal duel with Nottingham Forest's promotion hero Samba. The latter has replaced him as France's understudy behind Mike Maignan just as Mandanda himself played second fiddle behind Hugo Lloris for pretty much all his national team career before retiring after the Qatar World Cup where he featured in Les Bleus' third-group dead rubber match against Tunisia.
Unsighted by a crowded box there was nothing he could do to keep Deiver Machado's left-footed missile into the far bottom corner out. He dived at full stretch but the effort had both power and placement, which leaves most keepers with no chance.
Minutes later, he stormed off his line to force Fulgini, played in by Sotoca, to chip him as the whole goal was covered. The shot was blasted over and even though the oldie made no contact with the ball it was as if he had pulled off a big save.
Impressively in the second period, he back-pedaled to fingertip Andy Diouf's deflected looping effort.
That was a watershed moment in the game as Bourigeaud restored Rennes' lead with a well-taken penalty minutes later.
Late on, Samba showed that he will be more than a decent successor to Mandanda on the French bench as he first wrong-footedly kept out Matic's deflected strike before repeating the feat on Kalimuendo's follow-up.
The game ended 1-1 between European hopefuls Lens and Rennes as the goalkeepers similarly played out a thrilling contest with no winners.
Yet a few questions will always pop up in Eagles fans' minds as his Palace stint has to this day left a bitter taste in everybody's mouth. Did he fail to settle in? Did he play under the wrong manager? Did his reputation and status in the game dwarf Palace as a club resulting in him finding it hard to lower his expectations which consequentially affect his performance? We will never know but in a different contest and under a different manager he’d probably have made his mark in those parts of London and the Prem. He was, is and always will be a better goalkeeper than Welshman Hennessey.
Failing to make the grade on our shores will sting forever but it will never threaten his legacy in his homeland where he is an icon.