Since the 2003/04 season, Rennes have consistently finished in the top half of France's Ligue 1 table. Fourth-place finishes in both 2005 and 2007 provide even more compelling evidence of their consistency in recent years, and Rennes would appear to be on course for another impressive placing this term. With 12 matches gone, Guy Lacombe' men are currently lying in sixth spot on 19 points, eight adrift of leaders Lyon but just four behind second-placed Marseille.
The Breton club have just one defeat to their name so far, away to Grenoble on matchday two, and have only conceded nine goals, four of which came in a season-opening draw at home to Marseille. That result aside, the stats point to one of the side's strengths this season; a rock-solid rearguard. One of the reasons behind that defensive meanness can be traced back to the signing in the summer of Carlo Bocanegra from Fulham.
The US captain arrived in Brittany after five years in London, and he spoke to FIFA.com about his new experience playing in France. Notably, Bocanegra was able to give an insight into Rennes' remarkable away record, which has seen them fail to score yet only concede once in five matches.
"You can take different views on our away form. What's good is that we've hardly let in any goals, and we've earned points from the draws," he said. "We make sure teams find it really tough to score, and going forward we've been creating chances, but they just haven't been going in. I'm sure we'll start finding the back of the net soon."
November should prove to be a challenging month, involving tricky away trips to Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux interspersed with home ties against Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. But after the disappointing loss to FC Twente and resulting early exit from the UEFA Cup in early October, Bocanegra is convinced his team-mates are ready to bounce back.
"The UEFA Cup is gone, so now we're looking to finish as high as we can in the league. If we get the chance, we'll be pushing for a top-three spot and a place in next year's Champions League. It would be great to play in that."
Bocanegra also spoke about the USA's recent encouraging performances in claiming a place in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone hexagonal final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The former Chicago Fire man has taken a lot of positives from the USA's untroubled march into the last round.
"We played really well and were very solid at the back against all our opponents. We let in very few goals and gained in confidence ahead of the last round. We just need to keep on doing what we've been doing, with the same positive attitude. A bunch of young guys have come through the ranks, players like Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Sacha Klejstan and Freddy Adu, who have taken over from those who retired. Their desire for a place in the side has made for healthy competition and inspires us all."
Costa Rica, in emphatic style, and a resurgent El Salvador are the other nations to have booked their berth in the final round of qualifying. Regional powerhouse Mexico look well placed to take one of the three remaining spots that are also being disputed by Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala. Understandably wary of the threat provided by such quality opposition, Bocanegra is convinced the United States have what it takes to make it to South Africa 2010.
"Football is changing. All the teams in our region have been getting better with every passing tournament, and the gap between the big and small sides has been narrowing in recent years. Just look at some of the totally unexpected results in qualifying so far. It will always be tough to get through to a World Cup, but I'm sure that if we focus on our own game, without worrying about what our opponents are up to, we will be on the plane to South Africa."