Big Sam had successfully led three out of four teams rooted to the bottom of their leagues at Christmas to safety. In this Boxing Day special, we discover whether he could repeat the feat for a fifth campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Norwich found themslves bottom of the Premier League with 14 points and 2 from safety. Las Palmas were bottom of La Liga with 6 points, 0 wins and 7 points from safety. Metz were bottom of Ligue 1 with 12 points and just 3 points from safety. Monza propped up Serie A with 6 points and 5 from safety, while Big Sam’s revival had inspired Torino to 7th place. And Augsburg were bottom of Bundesliga with 6 points and 9 from safety. Having assessed those options, it was time to tick a new country off the list as Big Sam was off to France!
Heading To France
Season 5 of Bottom At Christmas might be the toughest task yet with FC De Metz bottom of Ligue 1 with just 2 wins and having only scored 10 goals. However, they were only 3 points from safety.
That said, Metz were bottom for good reason, as Big Sam discovered a really poor squad. The best player at the club is midfielder Torben Rhein, who looks decent, followed by a 34-year-old Sergi Roberto and right-back Koffi Kouao and left-back Kik Pierie. But one sign of promise was 19-year-old homegrown centre-back Jean Marc Kassoka, who Big Sam intended on building his defence around.
As has become tradition, Big Sam didn’t hang around in flogging the deadwood. He had no intention in playing Sergi Roberto, so when AZ agreed a pre-contract deal, he jumped at the chance to sell for £400k. He also sold 31-year-old Glen Kamara to Espanyol for £3.5m and winger Ramadan Sobhi to Braga for £2.9m as he recouped a total of £12.8m for 10 players – but he hardly saw any of that as it went to managing the club’s poor finances.
Big Sam was busy in the market, starting with a classic Big Sam move in 35-year-old Roberto Firmino. His next signing was a genuine superstar as António Silva had requested a transfer and joined on loan from Milan to become by far the best player at the club – a 5-star player compared to the next best of 3.5 stars! His next move was an odd one as his scouts recommended 19-year-old midfielder Rodrigo, who’d been released by Fluminense but looked brilliant. Another attacking option arrived on loan in Ricardo Pepi from Spurs alongside a promising midfielder and brilliantly named Thankgod Mohammed and a bit more steel and experience in 33-year-old Thomas Partey, who joined for £300k from Betis.
With that transfer business done, Big Sam reverted to a more defensive approach with a 4-1-3-2. Partey will be crucial in the holding role and goals will likely be reliant on Andrea Favilli, who looks like a decent player but has only managed 3 goals in 12 appearances, or new boy Pepi.
First Taste of French Football
Big Sam’s first game in France was at home to mid-table Angers and his relatively defensive approach worked as striker Andrea Favilli scored the only goal. His first away game was a big one at 15th-place Lorient, in which Rodrigo made his debut and scored 14 minutes into it from the penalty spot. Lorient equalised just before half-time but Favilli was the hero again, scoring the winner on 56 minutes. That lifted Metz up to 14th and out of the relegation zone for the first time in 12 weeks, albeit only by 1 point.
That was immediately followed by another huge away game at 17th-place St. Étienne but slipped to a 2-1 defeat, with Favilli scoring again. And Metz slumped back to the bottom of the table as they lost 1-0 loss at home to Lille and 3-0 at Lyon.
That teed up two near-must-win games against fellow strugglers. First up was 15th-place Montpellier at home. Metz looked set for a defeat that would plunge them deep into trouble as they trailed to Mavididi’s strike, but Firmino finally found his first goal as he came off the bench to net an 86th-minute winner. Next was a trip to 14th-place Reims, where they got well and truly dominated 3-0 and they were so bad that Big Sam fined 9 players a week of wages.
Despite that, Metz were still only 3 points from safety, but were very much up against it. A 0-0 draw at home to mid-table Lens reduced that gap by a point, but now things got really tough., considering they’d taken 1 point from 3 teams in the bottom half.
Relegation Seems Inevitable
Metz’s final 10 games of the season began with a really tough test away to title challengers Monaco, where they got easily beaten 3-0. That equalled the Metz club record of 7 games without a win, which they broke and extended by getting hammered 4-0 at home to Rennes and Nice and losing 2-1 at Marseille and 2-0 at Strasbourg in the Est Derby.
That left Metz 7 points from safety with 5 games remaining, without a win in 11 and having suffered 5 consecutive defeats, scoring just 2 goals in 12 games and 1 goal in 8! In other words, Big Sam’s boys were doomed.
A home game against Troyes was an absolute must-win, with the media speculating that Big Sam could be sacked and the board demanding a meeting to discuss the poor club atmosphere – and accepting Big Sam’s explanation that he had a dressing room full of troublemakers. Metz at least stopped the run of defeats, as Rodrigo’s late strike earned a 1-1 to leave them 6 points from safety with 4 games remaining.
But the toughest task possible took them to PSG and they suffered a 4-0 thumping and didn’t even have a shot. Elsewhere, Lorient won at Toulouse, leaving Metz 7 points from safety going into the final 3 games. That made Metz’s game at home to Toulouse massive, but they predictably crumbled to a 1-0 defeat. And Metz were relegated to Ligue 2 in pathetic fashion.
The relegation tour saw Metz extend their winless streak to 16 matches and 4 months by losing 3-1 at Angers and 2-0 at home to Nantes, which seemed an apt way to end a pretty dreadful conclusion. And they eventually finished 10 points off survival with just 21 points and 4 wins.
The only slight bright point in this season was Favilli, who scored 12 in 30. He’d inherited a dreadful squad but Big Sam’s signings were an unmitigated disaster, with Firmino scoring 1 in 19, Pepi failing to score in 17 games and Silva having the best average rating of just 6.78. Yet somehow the manager didn’t get fired, with the board still giving him a C rating at the end of the season!
But regardless, Big Sam was out of there and was done with managing in France. He immediately resigned and holidayed ahead to Christmas Day 2027 for a 6th season of Bottom At Christmas.
Where will we end up in season 6? Join us next Wednesday to find out!