Controversy in Ligue 1: PSG v Marseille- a sending off, a missed penalty and 4 goals

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This past weekend in Ligue 1 was always going to be dominated by one: PSG v Marseille the fiercest rivalry in Ligue 1 that is more than just a game. In the end it was a game yet again won by PSG who ran out 3-1 winners in Paris and went 20 points ahead of 2nd placed Lille as a result and still have a game in hand of them.

Marseille were aiming not only for a top 3 place which would give them Champions League automatic qualification plus of course there would be bragging rights about becoming the first team to beat PSG in Paris in the league. It wasn’t to be but we were entertained to a thrilling game nonetheless, which as normal had its controversy.

In total 7 yellow cards were shown and in the 2nd half Marseille’s Steve Mandanda who has had an impressive season was shown the red card and sent off. Kylian Mbappe had opened the scoring but the hero for PSG in the absence of Neymar’s injury was Angel Di Maria who scored a fantastic brace.

Even with the game won at 3-1 there was still controversy to be had when Saki tripped Mbappe for a penalty which delayed the game somewhat. Mbappe then stepped up to take the penalty…… and missed! Nobody could have seen that coming, least Mbappe who was looking for his 26th goal of what has been an incredible season for the 20 year old.

Marseille coach Rudi Garcia had this to say about the game. “We have nothing to be ashamed of in this defeat. Up until Steve [Mandanda]‘s sending off we were playing a coherent match. We didn’t let PSG impose their game and we didn’t concede chances. But we didn’t have enough chances in the second half, and that’s where my regrets lie. We could have been more clinical and more enterprising in the final 30 metres. It was also tough to play an excellent first 45 minutes and then go into the break a goal down – it happened to us last season here in Paris as well.”

Garcia continued, “The negative point is that the lads who were here last season   haven’t learnt the lesson and that’s a shame. We need to grow in experience as we have a young team. Still, they did extremely well to equalise early in the second half, but unfortunately we couldn’t hang onto the 1-1 score line for long enough.”

Marseille are still in the hunt for a top 4 place but after Lyon’s win they have slipped 6 points behind with just 9 games remaining.

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Ligue 1- 11 Player Picks for the Weekend

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There is a full fixture list for Ligue 1 this weekend and whilst PSG will win the league this season there is still so much to be proven, won and lost from now until May. Who will get the other 2 places for the Champions League? And on Sunday night we will witness one of the grandest fixtures in European football when PSG take on in form Marseille. Below is our list of players to watch out for this weekend that you may want to add to your Ligue 1 Fantasy team.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Steve Mandanda 8.5m

Mandanda hasn’t always had it easy this season and that is why he is in 7th place in Ligue 1 fantasy standings. But his current form has been terrific where he has shipped just 2 goals in the past month or Marseille. He picked up 7pts last weekend and a good performance this weekend would see him into the top 5.

Defender: Yunis Abdelhamid 6m

The Reims defender has been in good form in the back four who have been able to keep a few clean sheets already in 2019 as the club are now in the top 5. Reims play Nantes at home, and we could well expect them to achieve another clean sheet against a side who are in 14th place.

Defender: Kenny Lala 5m

Lala has been an unsung hero of the defence of the Strasbourg team. While it is true that his defenders conceded 2 goals last weekend that was against Lyon. But they have a good chance to keep a clean sheet as they play newly promoted Nimes at the weekend and Lala who has 43pts already should be looked into.

Defender: Dante Costa 6.5m

Dante Costa won’t ‘costa’ you a lot and the Nice defender has already garnered 36pts this season. Nice are at home against Toulouse on Friday night where they will be the favourites to win and could well keep a clean sheet, helping Costa’s cause.

Defender: Thiago Silva 9.5m

The PSG talisman has proven himself to be one of the best defenders in Ligue 1. PSG play Marseille at the weekend in a game which could go either way when we look at recent form. At the same time history tells us this might be a very difficult match for Marseille and PSG may be able to keep a clean sheet. Silva is 9.5m but has scored a massive 61pts so far.

Midfielder: Maxime Lopez 5m

Maxime Lopez has just got on with what he needs to do at Marseille and whilst he only has 29pts in midfield, he remains a luxury player at a good price of 5m that can change a game. Marseille do have a difficult match against PSG but they will be 100% focused as they try to reach 3rd place in the standings. He is more adept at assists than scoring goals.

Midfielder: Thiago Mendes 7m

Mendes has been very solid for Lille this season in the middle of the football pitch and Lille will be taking on Monaco who have struggled this season even though they are playing much better now. But Lille at home should be able to ease to victory and Mendes could be a key player.

Midfielder: Xavier Chavalerin 6m

Chavalerin is just 6m and has done very well for his team Reims this season starting 26 games. Reims have been a revelation and remain a strong contender for European football and are playing an average form team in Nantes this weekend. In recent months the player has scored a few goals and assisted well. He could be worth a pick this weekend for his price.

Midfielder: Younousse Sankhare 8m

Looking at his season the Bordeaux midfielder Sankhare looks overpriced but he is the type of player that can make teams of the weekend and he might be able to help his club when they will be at home to Rennes. Rennes will be tired after the Arsenal game in the Europa League and Bordeaux could take advantage of that. Plus Sankhare has assisted in 3 goals this season.

Striker: Nicolas Pepe 8m

Pepe is excellent value to add to your team as he has been one of the best strikers in Ligue 1 this season. We will pick him because he is in form and will face the defence of Monaco who have been less than impressive this season. He has 84pts and has scored 17 goals this season and assisted in 8.

Striker: Gaetan Laborde 5m

Laborde is just 5m and the Montpellier striker has scored 10 goals this season and is always a danger and attacking player. Montpellier play play Lyon but Lyon have been shipping goals lately which could work out for Laborde and he should be looked into.

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Controversy in Ligue 1 as Saint Etienne lose the plot against league rivals Lille

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The match between Saint Etienne and Lille was billed as match of the weekend in Ligue 1 given the teams standings. It was 5th v 2nd and 2nd one.

Saint Etienne have really punched above their weight this season and looked odds on for a European place and maybe even a Champions League one, but recent form had dipped before having to meet Lille who have been a revelation this season. Though Lille will not win the league as they are 14 points behind PSG and have played two games more they are eyeing 2nd place.

The game was a frantic one but was littered with 6 yellow cards and then Lille grabbed the game just as it looked like it was heading for a 0-0. Tensions had already been strong beforehand but when one of the starlets of the season Nicolas Pepe scored for Lille with just three minutes remaining you could have heard a pin drop in the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

With only one team realistically going to win from there on, the problems started. And it felt like the Argentina team level problems from the 1990 World Cup final when a few Saint Etienne players simply lost the plot.

Not one but two players would be sent off and the chaos of course simply played into Lille’s hands. The first to go was Mathieu Debauchy whose frustrations were taken out through un sport man like conduct and he wen 250 seconds after Pepe’s goal for a second bookable offence. But the embarrassment wasn’t over for the home side yet.

Striker Wahbi Khazri lost the plot in the 4th minute of injury time as his side had a chance to score and level everything up. He ended up receiving a straight red which will be a massive miss for his club who rely on his goals, and now he is set to miss at least 3 games in a row as the club try to home on in a European finish.

Despite this setback Saint Etienne coach Jean-Louis Gasset tried to remain optimistic. “We knew Lille were a stronger and faster team on the break. We were lucky not to take a hiding in the first half, but then at the end we were pushing for a winner and lost it on the counterattack with three minutes left. The two sendings-off will handicap our squad which is already affected by injuries.”

Gasset continued: “We wanted to get back on track after the match at Marseille. We tried, but we were clumsy and not good enough technically. There was a bit of frustration after the goal. Our European hopes are not over. We have lost to the three teams – Paris, Lyon and Lille – who are fighting for the Champions League. We have lost to teams who are stronger than us. Now we will try to remobilise everyone. Not everything is to be thrown away, even if we have not been playing as well since January now.”

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How Lille’s ownership spent wisely in Ligue 1 for Champions League football

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One of the biggest success stories in France’s Ligue 1 this season has to be Lille. The club are no strangers to success this decade after they won the league and cup double in 2011, but that was their first league success in 57 years. But this season has been the clubs strongest since then and they have dabbled in the transfer market last summer spending 1/10th what many European superpowers spend to get into the top 4 and Champions League.

Currently Lille are in 2nd place and while they are 17 points behind league leaders PSG they are also 5 points ahead of Lyon. But how have Lille improved over recent seasons?

Lille brought in 16 players in the transfer window spending £48m doing so, that is an average of 3m per player, incredible business in 2018/19 and to further that they were clever as the average age of the players is 25, not too old or young and just in their prime.

And the club made a profit this season on players as they sold on 20 players and got £54m making a clear profit of £6m. Their highest sale was Yves Bissouma who went to Premier League side Brighton for £17m. And the clubs biggest spend was Jonathan Ikone who came from PSG for less than £5m. Lille have been incredibly business minded, spotting talent but refusing to pay through the nose for it.

Many players for Lille came back on loan but some of their best buys have been Jose Fonte who has been terrific in defence this season and was bought from China, sure he was 34 and a possible risk but for less than £2m he has brought with him bags of experience. Jonathan Bamba came on a free transfer from Saint Etienne at just 22 and has been another integral part of the squad.

Manager Christophe Galtier has been able to identify who he needed and in what position and has made the most of it with a tight budget in only his 2nd season with the club. Owner Gerard Lopez has been clever enough to give Galtier a chance at coaching Lille, not because his resume is brimming with trophies or that he has years of experience but because Galtier was a former player who played almost 100 times for the club in the 1990s. This project is about bringing a togetherness to the club and rooting it in older players having a chance to come back and prove themselves.

Lopez bought Lille in 2016 with a project of getting to the Champions League, which the club are now on course to do 3 years later. The key has been how they have sold for more and bought for less. On a lower scale Lille have played the market much like Monaco and it is bringing with it much success.

Can Lille get a  Champions League place this season? The odds look good. Not only are they 5 points clear of Lyon, but even if they slipped to 3rd that would still be good to qualify for the qualifiers. But it is all about getting that automatic place. Lille have been 2nd for most of the season and it would seem cruel if Lyon swallowed up that chance in the final straight.

For now Lille look good for 2nd- a great ownership that has blossomed in just a few seasons and a tight way of working on limited budgets has actually brought the team together, and pound for pound Lille have proven to be the most improved team in France this season.

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Lille and Lyon to fight it out for 2nd place in Ligue 1 as PSG go clear

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The Ligue 1 title is heading back to PSG, that is a certainty as the club have shot into a 10 point lead at the top. Not only that but the current French champions have 2 games in hand of 2nd place. This league is done and dusted and there is nothing to see here, well almost nothing.

Not many pundits and fans would have expected Lille who have been threatened with relegation in recent years to be in 2nd place, but that is where they are. Yes the league has gone but 2nd place means qualifying directly to the Champions League which would be a fantastic achievement for the club.

Lille have been nothing short of spectacular this season in France. Their consistency has been champion material it’s just unfortunate for them that PSG have been able to build such a strong team at the same time.

Lille have won 15 games this season from 24 and at home they have lost just one game all season. The good news for the club is that there is only one other realistic team that can catch them and that is Lyon. The other good news is that Lyon lost 1-0 to Nice last weekend which means that Lille has opened up a 6 point gap to 3rd place. Could playing in the Champions League really be a reality for the club next season?

Ligue 1 really has become a little boring this season with PSG running away with the title and that is why so much focus has gone on to 2nd and 3rd place. After all it is Lyon who are usually the team right up there and being France’s next best team. Not so this season and it is the common man and fan that would love to see Lille pip Lyon to that 2nd place- for Lille it would feel like they have won the league, make no mistake in that.

And Lille have some great players too- most notably Nicolas Pepe, who has scored some great and important goals this season and he is tipped to make a big name in Europe and World football as his career progresses. He is certainly checking all of the right boxes for Lille.

For Lille to finish 2nd it could all come down to May 4th, that is when they will play a potentially massive game against Lyon which could decide both clubs fate this season. The catch for Lille is that Lyon will be at home.

This little battle has become the most interesting in Ligue 1 this season.

PSG lose first league game of the season- could this be the meltdown?

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There was just that feeling going into this weekend that Lyon had the players to beat PSG on Sunday night. And they did just that by coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 to inflict PSG’s first defeat of the league season.

PSG are going to win the league regardless, that just seems a given where they are 10 points clear and have a game in hand, but this defeat feels like a bitter blow to Thomas Tuchel and his team.

It is clear that when a club get to February unbeaten they are thinking about going the whole season that way, and it would have been the icing on the cake together with breaking numerous French Ligue 1 records, but it isn’t going to happen and after this defeat one could expect more will follow.

PSG haven’t been helped with the recent injury to Neymar where he could miss up to 2 months of the season. But is it all going wrong for the team at the wrong time of the season? It does seem so, a defeat here will feel like such a body blow to the players and Tuchel will need to pick them up given that the Champions League is just around the corner and they will be playing Manchester United and not just any United, a brilliant looking side since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The hierarchy at PSG are happy to win the league of course and it would have to take the mother of all meltdowns to let in Lyon or Lille, it shouldn’t happen. But at the same time now that PSG are feeling that they can lose big games it could well have a psychological effect on them for the Champions League. It is no secret that the team that really need it most are PSG and possibly Manchester City. But PSG have been called chokers in the past for not winning it, considering the amount of money they have spent trying too. This could be another frustrating season in that department.

PSG lost out in bringing in some quality in January to replace Neymar with his injury but even if they did they would have most likely been cup tied. They tried for Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil but that deal fell through. One wonders if all of this will count against Tuchel and how long he will keep his job.

Of course Tuchel has lost just 1 game in the league this season and fully deserves to keep his job, but in football questions arise very quickly and a lot of people will be keeping an eye on how the club performs over the next month.

 

Neymar could be back for PSG sooner than expected after injury blow

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Just like this time last season Neymar PSG’s Brazilian forward has been ruled out for a chunk of the season when all of the competitions are reaching their business end and reports have suggested that the player will miss the next 10 weeks with a return date pencilled in for the beginning of April.

Neymar has injured his fifth metatarsal and received the injury in PSG’s French Cup win over Strasbourg. This latest injury just highlighted the unfair treatment that Neymar has had to put up with his supposed diving antics and fooling around. Truth is most of the time he is getting chopped down. This time it was because he was showboating, and it feels quite sad that Neymar has been cut down like this especially at a time when his club really need him.

Neymar’s injury shouldn’t affect the team in the league given that they are 13 points clear at the top and have games in hand. Ligue 1 in theory has been wrapped up since before Christmas and it seems that it is just a matter of when and not if PSG win the league title for the 2nd time in a row.

But the focus will be more on the Champions League, a trophy that PSG desperately want to win and keep failing at against the more elite and historic teams when it really matters, it was the major reason that the club brought in coach Thomas Tuchel.

But Neymar will certainly miss the teams first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which is a massive bonus for the Premier League side. The second leg in Paris is on March 6th and that might be the game that PSG are secretly targeting Neymar’s return.

For example if the game is still open by then and PSG need that extra piece of magic Neymar would be key to the side’s chances of progression. However the 2nd leg date is only in five weeks time, so will it really be possible?

Players in the past have been able to recover from such injuries in 4-6 weeks at the very least if they have been able to fully rest properly. Also in Neymar’s advantage is that he hasn’t required surgery on the injury. So in theory he could be back much sooner than expected.

Of course the problem is would he be match fit? The answer is no, and Neymar returning so early could be seen as a desperate move and a last roll of the dice for Tuchel. The correct method to take would be for Neymar to return for the quarter finals in PSG were able to make it past United.

In any sense Neymar’s injury and especially the timing of it is hard luck on Tuchel who will most probably be judged more by the owners on how PSG perform in the Champions League compared to the league.

Circus at Monaco continues as Jardim is back after Henry sacking

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105 days after being sacked from Monaco, Leonardo Jardim is back as coach after Thierry Henry was suspended and then sacked as head coach after a dismal three months in charge.

Nobody expected that Monaco would go back to Jardim though, and perhaps nobody believed that Jardim would be willing to go back after being unjustly sacked the first time but that is what has happened.

It has been a circus season for Monaco, the 2017 champions who are 19th in the league table, the result not down to coaches but down to constantly selling their best players, and that is why it is a surprise that Jardim is back. Let’s remember whilst Jardim is ten times the coach of Henry he was still struggling with the club this season.

Perhaps Jardim has been promised that his best players will stay and that the tactic of selling half the team come each summer will stop. Evidently it hasn’t got the club anywhere and they may well still end up in Ligue 2. Perhaps the players were informed too and they voted to have Jardim back, if this is the case then we should expect to see an upturn in the clubs fortunes. One wonders what new signing and established international Cesc Fabregas thinks of it all- has he jumped ship from the Premier League too soon?

And what of Henry? Where does he go from here? One remembers Gary Neville’s poor stint at Valencia which seemingly finished him as a coach and it could be that Henry returns to punditry. Having said that he seems like a determined person and the Monaco job could have been a case of taking such a project too soon in his career. Henry won just 4 games from the 20 he was in charge of.

For Jardim the work must start immediately. His side lost at the weekend to Dijon 2-0 however he wasn’t in the dug out and his first game back will be the home match against Toulouse next Saturday.

The month of February looks like a tough one for Monaco with tricky fixtures against the likes of Montpellier and Lyon, so this will be no easy ride for Jardim. However despite how poor the club have been this season they are still only 3 points from safety and if the club were to get a winning run together they could still finish in midtable.

Jardim’s job is simple and that is to keep the club up, one senses, he will do just that.

Can Cesc Fabregas save Monaco from Ligue 2 football?

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Cesc Fabregas left Chelsea and the Premier League after many successful seasons to join Monaco, and the Ligue 1 club really need his services- but can the ex Barcelona and Arsenal star save Monaco from relegation?

Monaco have been languishing near the bottom of the league for most of the season and started 2019 in 19th place. Just before Fabregas joined Monaco enjoyed a very narrow 1-0 win in the Coupe de France against non league Canet Rousillon FC which just underlined how far the 2017 Ligue 1 champions have fallen. But with Fabregas in the ranks and Franck Passi now as Thierry Henry’s assistant the future might be bright for the side.

This as evident when Monaco travelled to the Stade Velodrome at the weekend to play Marseille- a game that everybody was expecting Marseille to win. The match finished 1-1 and Monaco came back from a goal down. It was a fantastic team effort and one wonders if the club buoyed on by the signing of Fabregas can now turn a corner?

Fabregas had a great game as he was drafted straight into the squad and manager Henry had this to say about the Spaniard. “Cesc Fabregas got better as the minutes ticked by. He managed to take the match in his grasp and read between the lines. We could have finished certain moves off better, but we’re on the right track.”

What was evident was how Fabregas teamed up so well with the Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans who ended up getting the equaliser for the team. But of course there has to be some degree of caution and Monaco clearly are not out of the woods yet.

Even though they got a great result at Marseille the club are still in 19th position and are 4 points from safety. The good news is that they have reached only the halfway stage of the campaign and they have plenty of time to escape from the bottom three. You’d have to think now with the capture of Fabregas and Passi in the wings that as long as the player stays fit and there is calm at the club that Monaco should have enough to stay up.

On Wednesday we will find out more about the club in the second half of the season as they face Nice in the derby at home. Nice already have double the points of Monaco and are good form having lost just one game from their past five, so this match will be a great indicator if things are going to change for them.

For now getting Fabregas on a 3 year deal could be a lifesaver.

Mario Balotelli’s romance with Ligue 1 football is coming to an end

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The very talented and often misunderstood though egomaniac Mario Balotelli is set to leave Nice after spending almost 3 seasons with the club. It seems that there may have been a confrontation with new manager this season Patrick Vieira, although that has not been confirmed.

What we do know is that this season will very likely be Balotelli’s last in France and certainly last with Nice. The club are understood to want to sell the Italian player this month to cash in on him for small fee. Otherwise he will be free to leave in the summer for nothing.

Balotelli finally seemed to settle down in France where he had become a cult figure with Nice. The club had not only improved since his arrival in 2016 but he also scored goals. On his debut season in the league he scored 15 from just 23 games. In all competitions he has played 76 games and scored 43 goals which anyway you look at it is a terrific return. Balotelli proved that in Ligue 1 at least he still had the magic despite the usual baggage that comes with him.

Vieira and Nice have frozen the player out for much of this season where he has played just 10 games and has yet to score. Has there been a coming together between player and coach? One thing is for certain and that is the summer fiasco that Balotelli was involved in. Before the season started it looked like Marseille would buy Balotelli and he deal came very close but in the end never happened. The problem though was that as a result Balotelli missed most of pre season and training and did not come in fresh, this could be another reason that Vieira has been indifferent to the player.

So if Balotelli is to leave Nice and possibly France what could be next for a player who is 28 and still has a good 4-5 seasons ahead of him? A return to Italy could be out of the question, every time he has played their he has been sadly subjected to racist chants.

Perhaps he will come back to the Premier League He has divided a few fans since he has played for both Manchester City and Liverpool and getting a chance to play with some of the bigger teams will probably not be an option.

However a team near the bottom of the league could well do with Balotelli- as long as the coach strikes up a friendship with him, then Balotelli has proven that he can be a deadly striker and he could end up saving a team from relegation. If so a move could happen in the next few days. For now though it looks like au revoir to Balotelli’s career in France, which is slightly sad given that it seemed the French air and regime had indeed calmed the player down.