IT’S not just the Premier League returning this weekend – France’s Ligue 1 rolls back into town and Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has lined up four bets for the opening weekend across the Channel.
Lille v PSG | Friday 19.30 | BT Sport Europe
PSG have already started their 2015/16 campaign where they left off last season – winning trophies. Last weekend the Parisians were in Montreal to see off Lyon’s limp challenge and take the Trophée des Champions, France's traditional curtain-raiser.
Laurent Blanc’s men now travel to Lille for the Ligue 1 opener and it’s hard not to be taken in by Betfred’s 4/5 on the defending champions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing but that should allow Edinson Cavani the chance to spearhead the attack and whilst new signing Angel Di Maria and the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore may not be involved, the capital club’s squad depth makes the absences a nuisance rather than a nightmare.
Prized assets Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi are present and available to marshal the midfield, Lucas Moura is back from injury and defensively Les Rouge et Bleu are at full strength. Curiously PSG have won just one of their last nine opening league games (W1-D5-L3), way back in 2010, but they did conclude their 2014/15 campaign in spectacular fashion – winning nine successive Ligue 1 matches.
PSG’s W9-D7-L3 road return from last season doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing but their long-term away record under Blanc is incredibly impressive – W21-D12-L5. With a 55% win ratio on their travels, the 4/5 on offer is the right price but a backable price too when looking at Lille’s summer travails.
Les Dogues have lost their standout youngster Adama Traore, their star midfielder Idrissa Gueye, their most potent forward Nolan Roux, their outstanding centre-half Simon Kjaer and seen the loan spells of Rony Lopes and Divock Origi expire. They’re also under new management with Herve Renard charged with taking the club back into European competition.
Renard guided Ivory Coast to the African Cup of Nations title in January, his second ACON trophy, but has only coached in Ligue 1 for less than a full season – a disastrous spell that saw Sochaux relegated in 2013/14. Eleven names have been drafted in to plug the gaps and after a difficult campaign in 2014/15, it’s hard to find the positives to suggest they’ll improve upon their eighth-place finish, even with the emergence of Sofiane Boufal tearing defences apart.
Lille will attempt to be typically robust at their Stade Pierre-Mauroy home but they’ve W1-D5-L4 in their last 10 against last year's treble winners. The fans are thirsty for a more attacking brand of football during the new reign in north-east France but they may take time to flourish and so Betfred’s 4/5 on the away win holds appeal.
Marseille v Caen | Saturday 20.00 | BT Sport Extra
Marseille’s meeting with Caen on Saturday night promises to be the most entertaining fixture from the opening round of games and there’s plenty to suggest a goals angle should be taken.
Six of Marseille’s 11 mainstays from last season have departed, taking 43 of their 76 league goals with them, but there’s no reason to suggest Les Phocéens won’t be as thrilling as they were under Marcelo Bielsa’s watch this time around. The high-pressure, high-tempo style favoured by the legendary boss is centered on creating as many goalscoring opportunities as possible but that kamikaze approach can often work against L'OM.
Having led Ligue 1 from September to January, Marseille’s epic collapse almost cost Bielsa his job. But the bosses at Stade Velodrome have allowed El Loco to build his own team in his own signature style in the hope that a more streamlined financial approach may pay dividends with elusive Champions League qualification. Like last season, they’ll be a threat on the front foot but especially in the early rounds, don’t expect stability or solidity in defence.
L’OM’s best defender Nicolas N'Koulou is suspended and it’s no surprise to hear Lassana Diarra and Abou Dibay won’t be risked having not played a competitive match for over a year. The bookies believe Marseille will saunter to three points but I’m not so sure and like PSG, there’s a quirk going against them when looking at opening day results – Les Phocéens have W1-D1-L3 of their past five curtain-raisers.
Opponents Caen won just twice coming into 2015 following promotion but somehow, someway, Patrice Garande managed to inject a staggering improvement in play from SMC that saw the minnows eventually rise to finish in 13th. When they were good, they were stunning. When they were bad, they were disastrous.
But Caen’s high stakes, all-out approach worked more often than not in the second-half of the season, where they bagged nine of their 12 victories. Sure, defensively they’re one of the worst in the division and the loss of N’Golo Kante and Thomas Lemar robs them of two of their best performers, but if they can continue to cipher out as many efforts on goal (7th in 2014/15) they should be fine.
Garande's troops will hold no fear of the Stade Velodrome – SMC won 3-2 their last season as well as holding PSG and Monaco to draws on the road – whilst victories in their last three Ligue 1 opening games and an impressive unbeaten pre-season suggests they’ll be on the ball come 8pm.
I’d be surprised and disappointed if two brash offensive set-ups failed to reap rewards in the goals market. Caen failed to keep a clean sheet in their final 14 away from home but only failed to net in four of their last 18. With Marseille scoring at least twice in 16 of their previous 18 in front of the home supporters, I’m happiest getting on Bet365’s 11/10 on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score. It’s a bet that’s won in exactly half of those aforementioned 18 Caen games and 11/19 (58%) of Velodrome matches under Bielsa’s watch.
Troyes v GFC Ajaccio | Saturday 20.00
Two promoted clubs go head-to-head on Sunday as Ligue 2 champions Troyes take on GFC Ajaccio. Despite both teams plying their trade in the second tier last year, there’s a significant gap in quality and budget and that should show at the Stade de l'Aube with the hosts a solid 11/10 (Bet365) play.
Troyes finished 13 points clear of their opponents last term and that included an outstanding W14-D4-L1 return on home soil. Jean-Marc Furlan’s squad have serious momentum behind them and the re-signing of Corentin Jean has given the club a huge boost; the talented young striking has starred and earnt France U21 recognition for his displays and returns on-loan to spearhead Troyes’ survival efforts.
Experienced stopper Denis Petric is sideliend through injury and key attacking outlet Stéphane Darbion is suspended but it’s also worth noting that L’ESTAC handed GFC their heaviest defeat (4-0) in Ligue 2 last season. A repeat result is unlikely but the home team should have enough in their locker to justify favouritism at a nice odds-against price.
As for Ajaccio, the club are simply delighted to be here. The minnows have risen from the National leagues to the top tier of France in double quick time and achieving a runners-up spot in the second tier on the league’s lowest budget was nothing short of remarkable. Le Gaz’s campaign was built around their results at their Corsican island base and their W5-D7-L7 efforts on the road (reverts to W2-D6-L7 when excluding the bottom four) suggest a trip to the Champagne region is unlikely to bear fruit.
Bordeaux v Reims | Sunday 16.00
In my Ligue 1 preview I suggested Bordeaux might have enough about them to mount a challenge for a top-three finish. Last season Les Girondins never fell lower than seventh, finishing their campaign with a Europa League place in sixth and Willy Sagnol’s troops were in Larnaca on Thursday night to secure a place in the qualification play-off round.
Brazilian right-back Mariano might have moved on but Bordeaux are stronger proposition than 12 months ago, having had a full year working under Sagnol’s charge. January’s capture of Clement Chantome solidified the team and sparked an excellent return of W8-D7-L2 to end their campaign. Cheick Diabate returns from injury to lead an exciting front three including Diego Rolan and Whabi Khazzri and their tightened defence, capable midfield and fearsome forward line make Les Girondins a dangerous weapon.
The journey back from Cyprus may impact their preparations but arguably those two Europa League outings will have helped galvanise the side for another season of competitive action. Saturday night they return to their sparkling new Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux home to face a Reims side they’ve failed to beat in eight (W0-D6-L2).
But I’m not one for taking an interest in head-to-head records. More of importance to me is their superb return when hosting top tier fixtures (W13-D8-L2 and only failing to score once) as well as their potency when welcoming the lesser lights of the division – Bordeaux have beaten 11 of the last 14 bottom-six visitors.
Reims ended last season in 15th and seven points clear of the drop but it wasn’t quite that comfortable. Jean-Luc Vasseur was relieved of his duties in April and Olivier Guegan guided the club to W3-D0-L3 in their final six games. Still, Stade have lost 11 Ligue 1 games this calendar year (more than any current Ligue 1 club), held the league’s worst defensive record in 2014/15, failed to keep a clean sheet in their most recent 12 on the road and hold a horrible away record (W4-D5-L16).
To make matters worse, top goalscorer Benjamin Moukandjo joined Lorient last week, making Guégan’s task even tougher. The now permanent boss has said he’s tried to focus on defensive structure during the off-season but it remains to be seen whether they can make the step up.
888 Sport have made Bordeaux available to back at 10/11 off a -0.75 Asian Handicap start and that’s the smartest play. Taking the -0.75 line means, should the hosts win by a two goals or more we’ll get a full pay-out on our investment. But should Sagnol’s side only come out on top by a single goal, we’ll still pocket half of that potential full pay-out. The only way we’ll end up out of pocket is if Reims scrape a draw or an unlikely victory.
Lille v PSG – PSG to win (4/5 Betfred)
Marseille v Caen – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (11/10 Bet365)
Troyes v GFC Ajaccio – Troyes to win (11/10 Bet365)
Bordeaux v Reims – Bordeaux -0.75 Asian Handicap (10/11 888 Sport)
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