MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) loves Ligue 1. So he was keen to share his favourite French fancies from Wednesday’s six games across the Channel.
Guingamp v Reims | Wednesday 18.00
It was on exactly this night last year, Guingamp rose from the ashes in a remarkable rebirth. EAG were sitting rock bottom of Ligue 1 at the start of December 2014 with a W4-D0-L11 record but head coach Jocelyn Gourvennec rallied the troops to a stunning 10th-placed finish as well as a run to the Round of 32 of the Europa League.
In the past year, Gourvennec’s guided the club to W16-D8-L14, which can be drilled down into W10-D4-L4 when hosting league opposition at their Stade du Roudourou home (W3-D3-L1 this season).
What’s even more impressive is, the highly-rated head coach lost 28 of his team’s 41 goals during the off-season with Claudio Beauvue and Christophe Mandanne leaving. And after a pointless start from their first three 2015/16 fixtures, a victory over Reims on Wednesday night would put EAG within striking distance of the European places.
Gourvennec’s extracting the maximum from limited resources and his commitment to playing entertaining football has made the Breton club he’s coached to promotion, a Coupe de France trophy and Ligue 1 stability since 2010 a real joy to behold. This man will manage at a much bigger club in the not too distant future.
Anyhow, EAG were beaten 3-0 at St Etienne on Sunday but the result was a touch misleading. Guingamp were behind by a goal as they pushed for a late equaliser and were twice caught out by counter-attacks in the dying embers. The hosts are looking to bounce back and look handy 19/20 (BetVictor) shots to do so.
Sloan Privat should start alongside Jimmy Briand up front after being rested at the weekend and as well as their aforementioned strong record on home soil, EAG have beaten seven of their last eight guests from the bottom-six positions. Visiting Reims fall into that category.
The Champagne club held the dubious honour of owning the league’s worst defence last term and lost hitman Benjamin Moukandjo in the summer. Nevertheless, Olivier Guegan’s side started their campaign in flying form (W4-D3-L1), even topping the table after Week 4.
But Reims have regressed to their mean and Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Rennes was the first occasion they’ve avoided defeat in seven Ligue 1 fixtures (W0-D1-L6). It was a welcome point considering Stade were forced to play the final half hour with 10 men but an injury to Diego has piled more pressure on their thin squad.
Defensive midfielder Jaba Kankava is suspended for the guests and Reims haven’t kept their sheets clean for two months. The visitors have lost their last four road trips – including a visit to second tier Dijon in the cup – and conceded at least twice in each of their last five. Home win.
Monaco v Caen | Wednesday 18.00 | BT Sport Europe
It’s time to give Caen some more love. Sunday’s emphatic 4-1 win at Bordeaux wasn’t quite as commanding as the scoreline suggests but even so, Patrice Garande's men are motoring and very dangerous opponents.
Like Guingamp, SMC have reinvented themselves after a woeful start to life in Ligue 1 following promotion. Garande's switch to a more offensive approach over the winter break at the start of the calendar year saved their top-flight status and their all-action performances in 2015 have lit up the league.
Since January, Caen have W18-D5-L11 – that’s a 1.73 points-per-game average that would have garnered 66 points over a full 38-game season, good enough for a sixth-placed finish last time out.
In 2015/16 (W9-D1-L5), PSG’s nearest challengers have fired in more shots-on-target than any side other than the runaway league leaders or Lyon whilst only four clubs have faced fewer. Sunday’s 4-1 humping came courtesy of three first-half set-plays, two of which were scored by centre-halves; but their W4-D0-L3 road record demands respect.
Caen will again field the central-back pairing of Damien Da Silva and Syam Ben Youssef due to Alaeddine Yahia's absence with the likes of Andy Delort, Vincent Bessat, Ronny Rodelin and captain Julien Feret expecting to carry the offensive threat that’s seen the guests score in all bar seven of their 26 away days since arriving back in Ligue 1.
SMC are unbeaten in their last five trips to the Stade Louis II since 2005 and also head into this head-to-head duel four points above their hosts. Caen are well worth siding with at 39/40 (Bet365) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start – just like a punt on the Double Chance market, we’ll get paid out should they avoid defeat.
Monaco were involved in an entertaining 3-3 battle with Marseille in Sunday night’s derby with two of their goals coming from regular full-backs Fabio Coentrao and Almamy Traore. Ricardo Carvalho and Mario Pasalic were rested and should return but Jeremy Toulalan won’t be involved and his lack of leadership and grip on midfield is a blow.
Les Rouges et Blancs’ defensive strength from 2014/15 has long departed with only seven shutouts in 24 outings as Leonardo Jardim’s charges are giving up the second most shots in Ligue 1 and the third most efforts on-target – only bottom club Troyes and defensively inept Reims have faced more.
But the goals haven’t been flowing for Monaco, either. Just once since August have the hosts scored more than a solitary goal in front of their home supporters and their W5-D4-L3 return at the Stade Louis II is far from impressive (W2-D3-L2 in Ligue 1). The principality club have lost just twice in 22 home league outings but even so, I’m happy to oppose them on Wednesday night.
Lille v St Etienne | Wednesday 20.00 | BT Sport Europe
New Lille manager Frederic Antonetti saw his side slide into the relegation places for the first time this season following his disappointing debut in the dugout. Les Dogues lost 2-0 in Angers and their W2-D8-L5 efforts include W0-D4-L2 in recent weeks.
To be fair to Lille, they competed fairly well over 90 minutes but were undone by two lacks of concentration from set-pieces. However, in attack their frontline failed to fire once more as they struggled to cope with the absence of key creative force Sofiane Boufal. The attacking midfielder is serving the final game of his three-game suspension on Wednesday night.
Marvin Martin has been recalled under Antonetti having failed to figure prominently under Herve Renard but his lack of match-practice showed as LOSC fired an eighth Ligue 1 blank already this season. Without Boufal, Lille have scored just once in two matches against newly-promoted opposition this term whilst the 10 fixtures he’s missed since signing have seen Les Dogues scored just seven goals with eight games featuring fewer than three goals.
LOSC look overrated in the markets considering their lowly league position and morale-sapping form. Antonetti is unable to rely on centre-back duo Marko Basa and Renato Civelli this midweek with Stoppila Sunzu set to start in an unusual four-man backline. And even though visitors St Etienne have had their troubles on the road recently, they look a decent 5/6 shot with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start from BetVictor.
With this selection, we’ll make money should St Etienne avoid defeat. If Les Verts win, we’ll bag a full pay-out at 5/6. But if the match ends in a draw, we’ll see half our stake returned with the second half deemed a winner at the 5/6 odds. The only way in which we’ll end up out of pocket is if Lille produce an unlikely third victory of the season.
Sainte bounced back from successive defeats to beat Guingamp 3-0 in a streetwise display on Sunday and have managed to come out on top with wins in six of their previous eight trips to bottom-six dwellers. Take out their home/away results to top-four teams this term and Les Verts have W8-D1-L2.
That’s encouraging enough to ignore the fact they’ve lost four of their last six away (Lyon, PSG, Caen and Lazio) and instead I’ve faith in Christophe Galtier’s charges’ counter-attacking ability to once again pay dividends.
Central defender Moustapha Bayal-Sall is suspended this midweek but Sainte are built from the back and well capable of covering his absence in what’s again likely to be a low-scoring encounter between these two. Both clubs prefer the defensive arts to the bright lights of the attacking third and each of the last five meetings has featured Under 2.5 Goals.
Lille have seen all bar one of their 15 matches this season fall below the 2.5 goal line with 8/15 (53%) even producing one goal or fewer. Since the start of last season, 18/26 (69%) of Stade Pierre-Mauroy matches produced Under 2.5 Goals winners with 11/26 (42%) keeping Under 1.5 Goals backers happy as the hosts scored more than once on just nine occasions.
St Etienne have scored an average of 0.96 goals-per-game on the road across the same sample of 26 away days with 16/26 (62%) failing to break the two-goal barrier. Again, 11/26 (42%) rewarded Under 1.5 Goals punters, including seven of their 12 trips to bottom-half teams.
With that in mind, I’ll also back Under 2 Goals at 68/67 with Marathon. Should the contest feature one goal or end goalless, we’ll be paid out. But should the fixture produce exactly two goals, we’ll get our cash back. The only way in which we’ll lose out, is if the fixture ends with at least three goals scored and by my calculations there’s just a 34.5% chance of that happening – not bad for an odds-against poke.
Guingamp v Reims – Guingamp to win (19/20 BetVictor)
Monaco v Caen – Caen +0.50 Asian Handicap (39/40 Bet365)
Lille v St Etienne – St Etienne +0.25 Asian Handicap (5/6 BetVictor)
Lille v St Etienne – Under 2 Goals (68/67 Marathon)
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