European Football Weekend Round-Up & Power Rankings By Zach Lowy

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22 November 2021

“Backed by sporting director Florian Maurice and billionaire owner François Pinault, Rennes have assembled a glamorous crop of players that should see them challenge on the domestic and European front. And while they were forced to cash in on Eduardo Camavinga with the French international refusing to extend his deal past 2022, they have reinforced their midfield with the capture of 23-year-old Lovro Majer from Dinamo Zagreb.”

Rennes

I put Rennes in my top 10 club transfer windows of this past summer, and after a shaky start that saw them draw their first two matches and lose to Angers, Reims and Marseille, it seems things are finally coming into place for Les Rouge et Noir. The Brittany side handed Paris Saint-Germain their first defeat of the season on October 3, and since then, they took three straight wins against Metz, Mura and Strasbourg, drew to Troyes, and humiliated Lyon 4-1 in the final match before the November international break. The aforementioned victory had a tinge of revenge — Martin Terrier, who had spent two years at Lyon, started on the left flank for Rennes. Florian Maurice, who left his role as Lyon’s Head of Scouting in April 2020 to become Rennes’ Technical Director, and Bruno Genesio, who was dismissed as Lyon manager at the end of the 2018/19 season before being appointed as Rennes manager on March 4, 2021, both watched proudly as Rennes moved three points clear of Les Gones in the table. However, perhaps no player shone brighter than Lovro Majer.

Lovro Majer

Born in Zagreb, Majer bounced around various Croatian clubs — including Dinamo Zagreb — before making his professional debut for Lokomotiva Zagreb in a UEFA Europa League fixture against Andorran side Santa Coloma. On March 10, 2018, Majer grabbed a brace in a 4-1 victory against Dinamo Zagreb, their first ever win against their crosstown rivals in 28 attempts. His performances saw him crowned as the Best Young Footballer in Croatia and earn interest from Newcastle United, Zenit and Sampdoria, but Majer elected to remain in his homeland and join Dinamo Zagreb. However, injuries limited him to just 10 league appearances in his first season, and whilst Dani Olmo took Europe and Croatia, by storm, Majer watched on, either from the sidelines or the bench.

Olmo’s departure to RB Leipzig in January 2020 provided Majer with more opportunities, but a fairly underwhelming return in the COVID-delayed season meant that Dinamo were willing to cash in on him for a figure around £4 million, with Rangers and Birmingham City both looking to sign him in the summer of 2020. The move abroad never materialized, and Majer ended up remaining in the Croatian capital and playing a vital role in their domestic double with 11 goals and 14 assists in 49 appearances. This caught the attention of Rennes, who signed the 23-year-old attacking midfielder on a five-year deal for €12 million with add-ons. 

“ is a midfielder who can play as an 8 or a 10, who can bring creativity with the quality of his passing and his understanding of play, things that we don’t necessarily have today,” said Rennes sporting director Florian Maurice. “He is capable of being consistent with his efforts. He runs an enormous amount. He is beginning to push for the national team and he has regularly played in the Champions League and Europa League with Dinamo Zagreb. He has a very intriguing level of technical quality. A left-footer, he is going to do us some good from set-pieces.”

He made his Ligue 1 debut on August 29 in a 0-2 defeat to Angers, but after picking up a calf strain during the international break, he would have to wait until October 17 to make his next appearance. A string of late substitute appearances culminated in a pivotal match against Strasbourg; four minutes after coming on for Benjamin Bourigeaud, Majer fired a pinpoint corner that met the head of Nayef Aguerd and resulted in a late winner. Julien Stephan, who spent three years managing Rennes before resigning in March, went home empty-handed, whilst Bruno Genesio was left with a selection headache.

After coming off the bench in a 2-2 draw against Troyes, Majer made his first start for the club on November 4 in a UEFA Europa League match against NS Mura. Once again, Majer stepped up to the plate and delivered a pinpoint free-kick that was converted by Loic Bade for a late winner against the Slovenian side, capping off a fine individual display that saw him last the full 90 and operates in the double pivot of a 4-4-2. The following match against Lyon saw Majer unleashed in his natural attacking midfielder role, playing behind fellow new signing Gaetan Laborde in a 4-2-3-1 and delivering a superb performance as Rennes humiliated Les Gones and leapfrogged them in the standings.

After jetting off for the final international break of the year and grabbing a brace against Malta, Majer returned to the starting line-up against Montpellier, this time playing as the right-sided central midfielder in a 4-3-3. Once again, Majer stood out among the rest, gracefully weaving his way out of pressure, keeping things ticking in possession, guarding the ball, covering nearly every blade of grass, and helping set up the opening goal by sliding in a through ball for Hamari Traore, whose cross was headed in by Martin Terrier. His ability to pick out teammates in dangerous positions, to create time and space for himself with a body feint or misdirection and his sheer unpredictability is perhaps what stood out the most. After receiving a throw-in and being ushered backwards by Montpellier winger Nicholas Gioacchini, it seemed Majer would do what most players do in his situation and play the safe pass back to a centre back by the halfway line. Instead, Majer launched an audacious shot from 35 yards out that would have been a surefire Puskas contender had it not been for a fingertip save from Jonas Omlin. No matter; just three minutes later, Majer found himself in the penalty spot and volleyed home a header from ex Montpellier striker Laborde to double the scoreline.

A red card for midfield maestro Teji Savanier on the cusp of halftime only added to Montpellier’s misery and Majer continued to run the show with his seamless controls, changes of direction and passing. He nearly tripled Rennes’ margin after testing Omlin from long range, which rebounded into the path of Laborde who fired over and dazzled in a comfortable 2-0 victory before being subbed off in the 83rd minute to a standing ovation from the Roazhon Park. Rennes are currently flying in Ligue 1 with six wins and two draws in their last eight games, and they need just a draw at home against Vitesse on Thursday to seal their passage into the knockout round of the Europa Conference League. They sit third in Ligue 1 with 25 points from 14 matches, just one point behind Nice, and Majer will undoubtedly continue to play a leading role in their quest for Champions League football.

It is perhaps ironic that whilst Eduardo Camavinga joined Real Madrid on the final day of the summer transfer window, Majer joined Rennes on August 26 when Camavinga’s transfer to Los Blancos was a mere formality. Camavinga has been tipped as the long-term successor to Luka Modric in Real Madrid’s midfield, whilst Majer, who was brought in as an eventual replacement for Camavinga, is now being tipped as Modric’s replacement in the Croatia national team. At 36 years of age, Modric continues to showcase his brilliance on a regular basis for club and country, but once he does decide to call it quits and resign to the undefeated forces of Father Time, Majer will be waiting to answer the call and lead the next generation of the Vatreni.

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