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French Ligue 1: Gameweek 1 Preview

Portuguese midfielder Renato Sanches

Football is back! After a tough season behind closed doors, fans are back and normality starts to creep its way back in watching the best of the best on the field. The French Ligue 1 is set to blow the first whistle of the top five European leagues with the excitement rife and the celebrations loading.

Paris Saint-Germain are out for blood after being dethroned by Lille in the last campaign with some massive signings. The defending champions Lille look to have taken their foot off the gas after losing their manager and making a few sales of key figures.

Meanwhile, Olympique Marseille have stepped it up in the market after failing to qualify for Champions League last season. Lastly, and most intriguing of the lot, OGC Nice have acquired the services of last season’s Ligue 1 winning manager, Christopher Galtier, coupled with big improvements across the park for the squad, making them a scary prospect through the season.

Let’s take a deeper look at the first gameweek!

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Friday 6 August

Monaco 5/10
Draw 34/10
Nantes 48/10
(21:00)

Niko Kovac is back on a mission with a good run of fixtures throughout pre-season. After having a good title chase last season, emulation of that will be difficult due to European football. A big focus will be on the third round UEFA Champions League qualifiers on either side of the game against Nantes, and focus might just be partially split. But with good depth in the squad, Kovac need not be worried.

A tough run for Nantes last season saw them finish 18th on the last day with a loss to Montpellier, and they go into a play-off to stay in Ligue 1. Head coach Antoine Koumbouare was brought onboard in February of this year to save the club from relegation. With a rocky pre-season but a preseason non the less under his belt, pressure will be on to get the Canaries singing. With eight new appearances at the club in various departments, we can assume the gaffer’s plans are in motion.

Monaco have built a better squad from last season, and with competitive football having already begun for them, the engine is already warm and rearing to go. Back a Monaco win to get things going.

Saturday 7 August

Lyon 7/20
Draw 46/10
Brest 6/1
(17:00)

Missing out on Champions League football by two points is a tough pill to swallow and Lyon will be coming out with a point to prove this season, whilst Brest, on the other hand, were lucky to narrowly survive relegation by just one point.

Lyon have lost talisman Memphis Depay to Barcelona this transfer window as well as starting centre-back Joachim Anderson. The replacements have been made without spending a cent with Moussa Dembele returning from a loan spell at Atletico Madrid, and a free transfer deal for experienced Rennes centre-back. The game plan from the Kids will be hard to be sure of, but 13 goals in their five pre-season club friendlies against well-known opposition tells a slight story.

For Brest, however, the opening league fixture against Lyon will be cause for concern in the mind of newly-appointed Michel Der Zakarian. A shaky Brest defence in pre-season saw the backline leak a goal or more in all six club friendlies and will not inspire confidence for his manager who would likely play defensively against the ‘bigger opponent.’

Pre-season is not much to go on, but there are always tell tail signs from club friendlies that might take longer to address in terms of the Brest defence, and Lyon on the Half-Time/Full-Time at 8/10 is a lot more appealing.

Troyes 9/1
Draw 48/10
Paris Saint-Germain 1/4
(21:00)

To close off Saturday night, Troyes take on the big guns Paris Saint Germain.

It has been two long seasons since Troyes squared off in Ligue 1, and a warm welcome from the league’s finest is set to be an unforgiving one. The squad has been bolstered by the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Lille signings amongst others. After an impressive Ligue 2 campaign, winning the race by seven points, Troyes will look to carry their winning mentality into the country’s elite division.

After a disappointing first season for Mauricio Pochettino at PSG, there has however been some faith showcased in Poch with a one-year contract extension. The business done by the board has also been remarkable to say the least, with three free transfer deals of Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos amongst Portuguese national Danilo Pereira and Inter Milan Serie A winner Achraf Hakimi for a combined €76 million (R1.3 billion). After a 1-0 loss to Lille in the Trophee des Champions, with a lot of the starting XI missing, every key player will be back up and running to get the season going.

There is no other outcome than a PSG win, so back them and Over 2.5 at 15/20 to find a little bang for your buck.

Sunday 8 August

Rennes 1/1
Draw 5/2
Lens 26/10
(13:00)

Lens. The opening fixture of Sunday should offer a heated affair seeing Lens gun for revenge over Rennes.

Both clubs have had difficult pre-seasons and have not shown anything to write home about in their fixtures aside from a single Lens win over Udinese which revealed some promise.

The talk of this fixture has to be centre-back Loic Bade leaving Rennes for Lens on a €17 million fee only to face his ex-club in his first game back in competition.

With all the speculation surrounding Eduardo Camavinga, he has been at training and is likely to feature in their opening fixture and could be key in securing victory alongside Jeremy Doku who featured with promise for Belgium at the Euros.

My prediction is based on quality of personnel for this fixture and Rennes edge that battle to be this gameweek’s value bet at even money.

Bordeaux 21/20
Draw 24/10
Clermont 11/4
(15:00)

Bordeaux comes into the new campaign looking to put an end to a period of instability and middling to poor results behind them. The club is indeed in debt to Jean-Louis Gasset who stepped in to steady the ship after Paulo Sousa dropped the reins just over a week before the beginning of the Ligue 1 season with Bordeaux lucky to finish 12th.

A new head coach, Vladimir Petkovic, who steered the Switzerland national team for some years and most notably this last European Championship takes charge. He is the perfect man for ushering in the Girondin’s new cycle under new owner Gerard Lopez. Known for his eye in finding young talent and managing that talent, he will have his work cut out for him as notable key players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Nicolas De Preville and Maxime Poundje have all left the club while a number of youngsters return from loan spells.

The opposition Clermont are back in topflight French football after a consistently good campaign, finishing second to secure automatic qualification. Pre-season has been a delight in terms of results, winning five of their seven club friendlies, drawing the latter.

By no means will this be an easy fixture, with a lot for the Girondins to prove to their fans, but with a new owner, hungry youngster, and the man for the job to lead those players forward, back Bordeaux on a straight win at 21/20.

Nice 1/1
Draw 49/20
Reims 11/4
(15:00)

The team to watch this season, in my opinion, will have to be OGC Nice. With Christopher Galtier making a move from Lille to the South of France, there is bound to be some major improvements in the structure and style of play from the Eaglets.

The dressing room has also seen a major shuffle with the arrival of Galtier with the arrival of two defensive midfielders, Barcelona centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo, Dutch national team player Justin Kluivert and lastly big money move right winger Calvin Stengs from AZ Alkamaar. Galtier has been particularly prolific in the Dutch market this summer with nearly half of his signings coming via Die Oranje.

Reims, on the other hand, have not been busy this summer with only outgoing players and a lonely loan of Inter Milan backup centre-back Andreaw Gravillon. The club friendlies seemed to be going according to plan with four straight wins before facing defeat to fellow league competitors Lens and German Bundesliga team TSG Hoffenheim.

Last season Nice versus Reims was a stale fixture with both results 0-0. Nice seem to have made the necessary improvements which should help them edge this encounter. Have confidence in Nice taking three points at the Allianz Riveira at even money.

Saint-Etienne 15/10
Draw 37/20
Lorient 9/4
(15:00)

Saint-Etienne have not lost to Lorient at the Geoffrey-Guichard Stadium in 12 previous fixtures which dates back to 2013.

The club friendlies have strayed a little off the rails with three losses in a row for Les Verts but have managed a goal in each fixture which inspires hope.

Lorient, on the other hand, have not lost a pre-season fixture and have also managed three clean sheets. The opening fixture will be the easiest (on paper) of Les Merlus’ first five ties and Christophe Pelissier will be urging his boys on for three points.

The toughest game to call for the opening round of fixtures, and for me, it can only be a draw at 37/20.

Strasbourg 19/20
Draw 24/10
Angers 29/10
(15:00)

The home team took a dive last season and fought against relegation for a few weeks, whereas the opposition Angers finished lower than they did the previous season but were able to accumulate six more points.

Strasbourg have secured Rennes manager Julien Stephan on a four-year deal but have not made many waves in the dressing room with just one incoming player and a host of outgoing. On the field, the Racers have not done much to impress either with just one win in their pre-season friendlies.

The away team have been a lot worse than their opponents in the transfer department, but on the field of play have produced better results, winning two of their five.

Last season’s head-to-head saw Angers fail to record a goal against Strasbourg and with not much change in either department, the same could be said of the upcoming fixture. Back the home team win.

Metz 42/10
Draw 5/2
Lille 7/10
(17:00)

Lille have started off their campaign already with a competitive win over PSG in the Trophee des Champs and will look to carry that into the opening weekend of their title defence.

With the return of Renato Sanches, who had a firing Euro campaign coming in alongside in-form strikers Jonathan David and veteran Burak Yilmaz, we can expect better things from Les Douges. The only exclusion from the squad will be Xeka who has been suspended through the French sports court.

Metz have had a decent run of pre-season fixtures, with not much change throughout the club, and will be looking to improve on a slap bang average 10th place last season.

There is no reason prevalent in my mind as to why Lille drop any points against Metz. Back the away win at a decent 7/10.

Montpellier 39/20
Draw 5/2
Marseille 13/10
(20:45)

Personally, the highlight fixture of the weekend has to be Montpellier taking on Olympique Marseille. Last season both teams had outstanding unbeaten runs and pushed for placing with Montpellier dropping off the pace towards the end.

The home team have had a rather inconsistent pre-season but did manage to defeat German Bundesliga club RB Leipzig on their way. No money has been spent but the club have managed to secure a few players on free transfer which includes ex-Crystal Palace centre-back Mamadou Sakho. New manger Olivier Dall’Ohlio joined in June and has had the pleasure of doing some work with the team leading up to the season and is expectant of finishing in a European slot this season.

Marseille seem to be the favourites to finish outside in the top four this season, but personally, I believe they will be PSG’s stiffest competition this campaign.

The signings are key in my analysis with manager Jorge Sampaoli being at the top of that list, followed by the central midfielder Gerson from Flamengo on a €25 million, Leonardi Balerdi from Borussia Dortmund, Cegiz Under from AS Roma and two Arsenal players William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi. With that much investment, you can expect a title push from the Olympians.

The pre-season has been just as promising with five wins and two draws in their seven club friendlies. Back Marseille confidently at a money move of 13/10.

TREBLE @ 5/1
Monaco Win 5/10
Lille Win 7/10
Marseille Win 13/10

Written by Joshua Gaillard