MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the weekend coupon from France, picking out his favourite fancies.
Toulouse v PSG | Saturday 16.00
This PSG team are being talked about as possibly one of the greatest ever French club sides and whilst it’s easy to see why, the standard of their opposition probably makes these sort of suggestions redundant.
The Parisians are sauntering to another title in a dead betting heat and the goalposts have changed – now the club are focussing on becoming the first Ligue 1 side to complete a campaign unbeaten. You wouldn’t bet against them doing so.
Les Rouge-et-Bleu are a ridiculous 20 points clear after 20 games and haven’t been beaten in any of their last 29 (W26-D3-L0). On the road, Laurent Blanc’s men have W13-D2-L0, keeping nine clean sheets.
The capital club made a host of changes for their League Cup clash with Lyon in midweek and managed to progress to the semi-finals without impressing. The guests have notched at least twice in seven of their last eight and haven’t been beaten in Toulouse since 2009. In fact, PSG have W11-D1-L0 in their last 12 league encounters with Les Pitchouns.
I’ve put the boot into TFC plenty of times in 2015/16 but credit where it’s due, Dominique Arribage is beginning to turn a sinking ship. Last weekend’s crucial 3-1 success against fellow relegation scrappers Reims moved them to within one point of safety as they’ve collected W3-D2-L1 from their past six outings.
Although the hosts have only W1-D5-L2 on home soil, they have notched in each of their last 20 at the Stadium Municipal – the best current run in the French top-flight – with Wissam Ben Yedder hitting form. Toulouse’s greatest ever goalscorer is looking to move on and will no doubt want to impress potential suitors here.
So I like the idea of Les Pitchouns pinching a goal., especially with one (or both) of David Luiz and Thiago Silva absent through injury. Arribage is likely to switch to a less ambitious 4-5-1 formation incorporating Martin Braithwaite and Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro on the flanks but with a league-low two clean sheets to their name in 2015/16, they won’t be capable of keeping PSG out.
Toulouse played their best side in midweek and went to extra-time before dispatching Marseille and I’d imagine the emotional and physical excursions could catch up with them.
So I’ll back PSG to win and Over 2.5 Goals at 23/20 (Boylesports) – it covers a home goal and away win as well as the 3-0 away success; the Parisians have netted three or more goals in six of their last nine contests with TFC.
GFC Ajaccio v Reims | Saturday 19.00
One of the most remarkable stories in France this season has been the emergence of GFC Ajaccio into a competitive Ligue 1 outfit.
Early in their debut top-flight campaign, Gazalec were being talked about as possibly the worst ever Ligue 1 team as they had to wait until 24 October (W0-D3-L7) to record their maiden top-tier victory. And boy, have Gazalec kicked-on since.
Thierry Laurey's men have shown attack is their best course of defence as they’ve notched in each of their following 10 to record a fabulous unbeaten run featuring W6-D4-L0. In doing so, the islanders became the first Corsican team in history to go 10 top-flight games without defeat.
During that spell, the Ligue 1 debutants moved from rock bottom to 14th and five points clear of relegation. Montpellier, Reims and Bastia were all beaten on the road, Marseille could only settle for a share of the spoils in the Stade Velodrome and last weekend Monaco were fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw.
Gazalec led the principality club 2-0 at the break and although they surrendered possession and territory, always looked reasonably comfortable. Sadly, a debatable penalty and free-kick were converted by their hosts and they had to settle for a point apiece.
If the league started at the beginning of October, Gazalec would be second behind runaway table-toppers PSG – it’s an incredible statistic and makes supporting the hosts even more attractive this weekend. Betfred have chalked Ajaccio up as 23/20 shots here and that’s good enough for me.
Laurey will probably name the same squad as last weekend here as they look to enhance their excellent run of home results (W3-D4-L0). Mohamed Larbi’s the man to watch – he’s plundered five goals in his most recent six outings on the island.
Visitors Reims are in crisis-mode having W1-D3-L8 in their most recent 12, failing to record a clean sheet. On their travels they’ve W1-D2-L5 and last weekend suffered a demoralising 3-1 defeat at home to relegation-threatened rivals Toulouse.
Oliver Guegan’s men had led 1-0 at the break against Toulouse but once again, inept defending was to blame and their generous ways should play into the Corsicans hands. I just have to be with Gazalec.
Caen v Marseille | Sunday 16.00 | BT Sport 2
I was given a few pelters on Twitter last weekend for suggesting Marseille were a decent lay as they hosted out-of-form Guingamp. Thankfully, EAG did the business, grinding out a 0-0 draw and even coming close to snatching a victory.
Boos and whistles greeted Marseille's players and management at the final whistle last weekend and in midweek things only got worse for Les Phocéens – Toulouse dumped L’OM out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage and suddenly head coach Michel is under pressure.
So the reasons to oppose Marseille remain strong and if anything, their injury crisis has only increased. Contract rebel Nicholas N’Koulou returns from suspension but Lucas Ocampos has joined Karim Rekik, Benjamin Mendy, Romain Alessandrini, Bouna Sarr, Remy Cabella and Paolo De Ceglia on the treatment table.
Without centre-back Rekik, Marseille have won once in seven matches whilst left-back Mendy has missed 12 games since the start of last season and L’OM have lost six of them – they’d been beaten in just 11 of 46 fixtures he’d played in during the same sample.
With three first-choice defenders and two of their best attacking players unavailable, it’s impossible to lend support behind Les Phocéens. They’ve won just twice in eight and since the start of 2015, have returned W14-D12-L13 with a -20 goal difference – it’s middle-of-the-road, at best.
Of course their recent road form does deserve respect (W4-D1-L0) and they have notched in each of their last seven away from the Stade Velordome. But their midweek reverse saw the weary squad forced to play 120 minutes and may not be at their physical peak here.
Hosts Caen were beaten by L’OM on penalties in the Coupe de France just a fortnight ago despite enjoying the best chances and will be keen for a slice of revenge. Patrice Garande's men have picked up only two points out of a possible 15 but they remain one of Ligue 1’s most organised and solid units.
Centre-back Damien Da Silva is sidelined for a month but at the Stade Michel d'Ornano, I’d still want Caen onside for this encounter. We can back the home side with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 1.76 with BetVictor and that holds plenty of appeal.
With this selection, we’ll make money should Caen avoid defeat. We’ll pocket full profit should the hosts win but if the match ends all square, we’ll still bag half of that potential full pay-out.
Caen’s last 20 at home read W11-D2-L7 so, based on their recent home form, we’ve a 65% chance of profiting from this selection.
St Etienne v Lyon | Sunday 20.00 | BT Sport 2
The 100th edition of the Derby Rhône-Alpes takes place on Sunday and I reckon we could be in for a real treat between two bitter rivals as Lyon head to St Etienne.
Lyon have monopolised this fixture in recent years and their record of only three league losses to St Etienne (W17-D11-L3) in 31, including only one reverse in 15 (W8-D6-L1) at Les Verts’ Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, gives Les Gones the upper hand from the off.
The visitors have begun life under Bruno Genesio in decent fashion. Last weekend’s comfortable and expected victory over basement boys Troyes was followed up by a decent show despite making plenty of changes for their midweek cup trip to all-conquering PSG. OL were beaten 2-1 but did enough to suggest they’re not too far off finding their best form once more.
Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, midfielder Clement Grenier and forward Alexandre Lazaette are all expected to return here whilst playmaker Mathieu Valbuena returned to training this week and may feature from the bench.
The victory over Troyes was only Lyon’s first in seven league matches (W1-D1-L5) and their road record (W1-D3-L4) is also a little off-putting. But their penchant for high-scoring games ties in nicely with recent history in this fixture.
The last five Derby Rhône-Alpes’ have all produced at least three goals, as have 10 of Lyon’s last 17 away days. In fact, 16 of Les Gones’ last 29 road trips have all delivered for Both Teams To Score backers and Over 2.5 Goals hunters.
St Etienne are in the mist of their own slump (W1-D1-L5) but just one defeat in 41 (W27-D10-L1) home league matches makes Christophe Galtier’s hosts dangerous opponents. And although Les Verts are often accessed of being overly defensive, Sainte have scored in all bar one of their most recent 18 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Galtier’s men were outplayed at Nantes despite opening the scoring in their 2-1 loss but the coach has moved fast in the transfer market to strengthen his attack – Alexander Soderlund was Norway’s top domestic goalscorer and arrives with an excellent reputation.
There are problems at the back, mind. Skipper Loic Perrin won’t be fit to play and in the 54 matches of 171 he’s s missed since 2011/12, Les Verts win rate falls from 52% to 36% as they concede 25% more goals-per-game in his absence.
This really should be a cracker – away fans have been forbidden from travelling and there’s bad blood lingering from their earlier season meeting after Jordan Ferri ended Robert Beric's season with a dangerous tackle.
Expect plenty of fireworks and hopefully a few goals – I’ll be on Both Teams To Score at 11/13 with 888 Sport.
Toulouse v PSG – PSG to win and Both Teams To Score (23/20 Boylesports)
GFC Ajaccio v Reims – GFC Ajaccio to win (23/20 Betfred)
Caen v Marseille – Caen +0.25 Asian Handicap (1.76 BetVictor)
St Etienne v Lyon – Both Teams To Score (11/13 888 Sport)
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