FRENCH football returns from its winter break this weekend. Mark O’Haire’s analysed the coupon for us, sharing his best bets here.
Marseille v Guingamp | Sunday 20.00 | BT Sport 2
Rewind 12 months and a Marcelo Bielsa-led Marseille were top of the charts for Christmas 2014 in France. The implosion that followed has left many fans bemused, angry and upset, and quite right too.
The club shipped out a host of stars in the summer and after an opening day defeat to Caen, Bielsa tendered his resignation. Michel was brought on board and opened his account with a thrilling 6-0 success over struggling Troyes and although L’OM are the only side other than PSG to still be involved in four competitions, Les Phocéens are still treading on eggshells.
Amazingly, Marseille’s 2015 form read W14-D11-L3 with a -20 goal difference – it was only good enough to finish ninth in the calendar year standings and a full 43 points behind bitter rivals PSG’s exploits. Crazy, huh?
The contracts of captain Steve Mandanda and centre-half Nicholas N’Koulou expire in the summer and there’s talk the board will look to sell the pair this month rather than risk losing them for nothing in June but there’s been no sign of major reinforcements.
Now there have certainly been improvements from L’OM under Michel. They’d lost just once in 10 prior to the winter break but their Stade Velodrome form remains rotten – no league wins in seven – and the Spanish head coach will be without a spate of players as their league campaign resumes on Sunday.
Karim Rekik, Benjamin Mendy, Romain Alessandrini, Bouna Sarr, Remy Cabella and Paolo De Ceglia are all out for the clash against Guingamp. That’s three first-choice defenders and two of their best attacking players. Without Rekik, Marseille have yet to keep a clean sheet and only won once in six. Ouch.
Guingamp lost five on the spin before Christmas, including 2-0 loss to home rivals Rennes, and so with nine defeats in 12 on their travels stretching back to last season, outsiders will be expecting little from Jocelyn Gourvennec’s travellers.
But don’t write them off. EAG dispatched amateurs Chantilly 4-0 in the French Cup with Jimmy Briand and Slovan Privet scoring twice each to boost confidence ahead of their trip to the Cote d’Azur.
Guingamp remain two points from safety but they’re certainly no mugs. Their small squad was stretched to the limit before the break – arguably a good reason for their struggles – and I reckon they’re an excellent proposition at 4/5 with a +1 Asian Handicap start here.
We’ll get our cash back should Marseille win by a one-goal margin – something they’ve achieved in just three games this term – but pick up profit if Guingamp avoid defeat.
Monaco v GFCO Ajaccio | Saturday 19.00
PSG smashed the Ligue 1 record for most points accumulated before the winter break (W16-D3-L0) and last year’s quadruple champions now lead the French top tier by staggering 19 points at the midway stage.
Monaco finished 2015 tucked in behind the Parisians but tellingly; the principality club are closer to relegation – 13 points – than the league leaders. But that’s not the only anomaly when looking at Leonardo Jardim’s hosts.
Les Rouges et Blancs were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw at marooned Troyes before Christmas making their season stats read W8-D8-L3. Despite only losing on three occasions and claiming eight victories, their goal difference stands at just +2 – that’s not the sign of a dominant side.
Indeed, five clubs having more shots-on-target and seven have faced fewer. Two clean sheets in nine against top-half teams hasn’t helped their case and last weekend’s bizarre 10-2 success against amateurs Saint-Jean Beaulieu highlighted their defensive deficiencies.
So how about going forward? Well, Monaco haven’t been close to fluent in the attacking third, either. Jardim’s side had only managed 10 goals in their previous 10 matches at the Stade Louis II before last weekend and their W3-D4-L2 home record is bettered by 12 divisional rivals.
The hosts haven’t won by more than a one-goal margin this term, all three Stade Louis II successes have been recorded by the same 1-0 scoreline and only Rennes, Angers and Nantes have landed more shots-on-target than Monaco’s paltry 35 in nine games.
Visitors GFC Ajaccio were being talked about as possible the worst ever Ligue 1 team early on as they had to wait until 24 October (W0-D3-L7) to record their maiden top-flight 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 nine to record a fabulous unbeaten run featuring W6-D3-L0.
During that spell, the Ligue 1 debutants moved from rock bottom to 12th and five points clear of relegation as well as beating Montpellier, Reims and Bastia on the road whilst Marseille could only settle for a share of the spoils in the Stade Velodrome.
If you want more, Monaco’s unavailable list remains long – Adama Traore, Almamy Toure, Danijel Subasic, Elderson Echiéjilé, Fabio Coentrao and Lacina Traore are either confirmed out or major doubts – and although they’ve lost just once in 13, I can’t see them clicking into gear and blowing Gazalec away.
I’m getting the guests onside by backing GFC Ajaccio +1 at 21/20 (Ladbrokes) on Saturday night – we’ll get our cash back should Monaco win by a one-goal margin but pick up profit if Gazalec avoid defeat.
Montpellier v Bordeaux | Saturday 19.00
Rolland Courbis called time on his career as Montpellier manager just before Christmas. Pascal Baills, the club’s most capped player of all-time, was quickly installed as his replacement and so MHSC begin a new era this weekend.
Courbis took Montpellier from the brink of third-division football and into the country's top flight in his first stint in charge of the club (2007-2009), and then took the club to 15th and seventh-placed finishes in the last two seasons, but found the current campaign much tougher going.
La Paillade were rock-bottom after seven games with a solitary point to their name but the experienced leader turned the corner, churning out W6-D3-L3 in the following 12 fixtures as Montpellier concluded 2015 in 15th.
Five of those six victories came at their Stade de la Mosson base as MHSC struck at least twice in six of their last seven home games. It means that, since the start of last season Montpellier have managed an excellent W16-D2-L11 in front of their home fans and scored two or more goals in 16/29 (55%).
In Ryad Boudebouz, Jonas Martin and Morgan Sanson, the hosts boast three of the best midfielders outside the big guns and the trio look set for a rare start together in the starting XI here. But Geoffrey Jourdren, Joris Marveaux and Paul Lasne are long-term absentees.
Travellers Bordeaux are now six games unbeaten across all competitions (W3-D3-L0) but their winless streak on the road in Ligue 1 football now stands at 13. Last weekend in the French Cup, Les Girondins needed a late winner to see of third division Frejus 3-2, typifying their struggles as guests.
Since Willy Sagnol took charge, Bordeaux have only won five of 28 away league games and they turn up here with a few selection problems too. Nicolas Pallois and Frederic Guilbert are suspended whilst centre-back Pablo remains injured.
But I still believe Les Girondins cavalier, high-energy approach can lend itself to a goal-heavy game here, The duo have posted two of the worst six defences in France with Montpellier leaking 1.32 goals-per-game and Bordeaux standing at 1.47.
Between them they’ve managed only eight clean sheets in 38 matches and since the beginning of 2014/15 they’ve recorded an accumulative 31/57 (54%) of winning Both Teams To Score bets.
Looking at 2015/16 alone, the BTTS bet has banked in 6/10 (60%) of Montpellier’s home matches and 6/9 (67%) of Bordeaux’s away days – that implies a 63.5% chance of a repeat here. If we turned that probability into betting odds we’d be looking at a 4/7 shot.
Monaco v GFC Ajaccio – GFC Ajaccio +1 Asian Handicap (21/20 Ladbrokes)
Montpellier v Bordeaux – Both Teams To Score (11/10 William Hill)
Marseille v Guingamp – Guingamp +1 Asian Handicap (4/5 Bet365)
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