EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has scoured the opening Ligue 1 card and shares his favourite fancies from France this weekend.
Caen v Lorient | Saturday 19.00
Caen broke many club records during their 2015/16 Ligue 1 campaign with Patrice Garande’s side completing the season with 54 points in seventh. Now the Normandy outfit are looking to push even higher up the French top-flight standings.
Last year’s top goalscorer Andy Delort failed to show up for pre-season training and has wishes to leave the club but Garande’s group has enjoyed a rather serene summer. Croatian striker Ivan Santini has been brought in to cover Delort’s eventual departure.
Last season’s right back, Dennis Appiah, who started all 38 games last term, is Caen’s only significant departure to date. Mouhamadou Dabo and Ronny Rodelin will cover that flank having joined permanently with Damien Da Silva operating in front of the defence that’s covered by physical duo of Syam Ben Youssef and Alaeddine Yahia.
Veteran Steed Malbranque should feature alongside Juliet Ferret in an intriguing midfield combination as Stade look to exceed expectations yet again.
After two frustrating seasons spent just above the relegation zone under Sylvain Ripoll, Lorient will be hoping for a more productive campaign. Keeping hold of star strikers Majeed Waris and Benjamin Moukandjo has raised expectations but the departures of key personnel could hurt the visitors.
Les Merlus saw Raphael Guerreiro, Yann Jouffre and Lamine Gassama depart with Sylvain Marveaux the only notable addition. Lindsay Rose will fill in here at right-back and early signs suggest Lorient aren’t quite ready for a sustained challenge at mid-table.
Ripoll’s men were unable to win any of their five pre-season matches and head to the Stade Michel d’Ornano having lost 10 of their last 14 trips to top-half finishers. However, Les Merlus do have enough quality in attacking areas to trouble Caen here.
It’s tricky game to call and whilst Caen look a little overrated in the pre-match markets, I much prefer a punt on goals. Both Teams To Score has been chalked up at 39/40 (888) and that’s my favoured port of call.
Across two campaigns, the hosts have seen exactly half of their home fixtures feature three goals or more with 17 (45%) banking in the BTTS column. But Lorient have followed suit with 23 (61%) Both Teams To Score winners from the same sample of away excursions with 9/10 at top-half teams breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
Nancy v Lyon | Sunday 14.00 | BT Sport 1
Ligue 2 champions Nancy are expected to make the strongest challenge to stay in the French top-flight this season, returning to France’s elite for the first time since 2012/13.
The newbies face a difficult start to life back in Ligue 1 with runners-up Lyon visiting the Stade Marcel Picot on Sunday but legendary head coach Pablo Correa remains confident Les Chardons can match their more illustrious opponents.
Last season Nancy lost just six games and enjoyed the second-tiers best defensive record, shipping only 32 goals and recording 17 clean sheets. Those strong trends led to 21 (55%) of their outings finishing with fewer than three goals and 16 (42%) falling below the two-goal line.
Les Chardons built their title-winning campaign upon a strong home record (W14-D3-L2), leaking just 14 goals. And Correa’s positivity has ensured a relatively quite summer at the club.
Young attacking midfielder Arnaud Lusamba joins Nice but the club has snapped up a forward of great potential in Christophe Mandanne.
In attack, experienced Junior Dale will give defences plenty to ponder and new addition Anthony Koura arrives having scored nine goals from Nimes and could also give Lyon more than a few problems if he continues his promising development.
Nancy use a 4-1-2-2-1 system that focuses on the hosts staying compact in the defensive phase before springing forward when possession is turned over Correa’s charges will likely be defending for large swathes of this encounter.
But they still boast the personnel to take advantage of a haphazard Lyon backline.
Les Gones lost Samuel Umtiti, Henri Bedimo, Lindsay Rose and Bakari Kone from last season’s defence and although Nicolas N’Koulou is an outstanding arrival from Marseille, he’ll need time to settle after a horror-show alongside Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in the Trophée des Champions last weekend.
Lyon lost 4-1 to PSG and once again showed their willingness to embrace a forward-thinking strategy but they appeared very vulnerable to the counter-attack and without injury doubt Alexandre Lacazette, the visitors might struggle to pick up maximum points.
Of course, Nabil Fekir is back to full fitness and attacking duo Mathieu Valbuena and Maxwell Cornet give the guests plenty of options in forward areas so whilst a win might prove a fruitless exercise, Lyon should be able to play their part in a decent contest.
I’d fancy Lyon to score and therefore taking the 22/23 (888) on Both Teams To Score is advised.
Nice v Rennes | Sunday 16.00 | BT Sport 1
Claude Puel led Nice to an emphatic fourth-placed finish in Ligue 1 last season with Les Aiglons thrilling French football fans throughout a memorable campaign. However, it’s all change at the Allianz Riviera this summer.
Puel’s moved to take charge of Southampton and star man Hatem Ben Arfa was snapped up by his home club PSG. With fellow forward Valere Germain also leaving Nice along with important midfielder Alexandre Mendy, Niklas Hult, defender Romain Genevois and full-back Jeremy Pied, the south-coast side will be fielding a new-look team in 2016/17.
Forward Alassane Plea and midfielder Vincent Koziello remain an integral part of what’s now Lucien Favre’s squad but the group lack experience and are possibly one of the youngest in the division. With full-back Ricardo Pereira also crocked, Favre will be fielding plenty of youth on Sunday.
Like Nice, Rennes saw their top goalscorer from last season depart. Highly-rated Ousmane Dembele made a big money to Dortmund whilst Jeremie Boga’s loan deal expired. Nevertheless, Les Rouges et Noirs did manage to keep hold of Paul-Georges Ntep.
Rennes shipped 54 goals last time out – the second-most of any side outside of the bottom-six – but their attack (the best outside the top-four) was a real success, as was their solid away record (W7-D6-L7).
The vastly experienced Christian Gourcuff takes control for 2016/17 and has added central midfielder Clement Chantome from Bordeaux to give the side some class, experience and balance and optimism remains reasonably high in Brittany that SRFC can challenge in the upper echelons of the league.
Nice completed last season with nine wins from their last 11 home fixtures but with a new coach, a new-look and very youthful team, the hosts look a little overrated in the pre-match markets, to me. They’ve lost 31 of 58 (53%) goals from last season and it may take time for Favre to work his magic.
Rennes are a powerful outfit with enough experience to leave the Riviera with a positive result – I’ll be backing Les Rouges et Noirs at 24/19 (Marathon) in the Draw No Bet market.
Caen v Lorient – Both Teams To Score (39/40 888)
Nancy v Lyon – Both Teams To Score (22/23 888)
Nice v Rennes – Rennes draw no bet (24/19 Marathon)
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