Daniel Bravo, BeIN Sports & the forgiveness of Strasbourg’s Nuno da Costa

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It was a quiet week in France’s Ligue 1 as PSG retained the league title, but it is important not to forget the controversies involving racist chanting and racist ignorance which has engulfed Ligue 1 and indeed the rest of European football this season.

Of course racism has never gone away, neither in society as a whole or in the confines of a football stadium, it has simply turned the cheek and then waited for its moment to strike. We had Prince Gouano last week having to stop the Amiens-Dijon game because of racist slurs from a fan. One story that hardly got told was not of a fan or a football player being racist but of a TV commentator.

That commentator, Daniel Bravo was working for BeIN Sports one of the top Satellite pay per view TV stations in Europe if not the world and the game he was commentating on was Strasbourg’s 4-0 win over Reims. This is a story that should be brought to light given that it wasn’t the first time around.

The player attacked was Nuno da Costa who scored for Strasbourg, the player born in Cape Verde had scored his 8th goal of the season, but that fact didn’t matter to commentator Bravo. When da Costa scored he said, “not bad for a black guy.” Those six words should have ended his television career but it was da Costa himself who came to the pundits rescue.

Da Costa simply defended the former French international defender and put his comments down to a slip of the tongue and that perhaps he works too much given that this match was a midweek one. The Strasbourg player in one sense should be praised because he has tackled an obvious racist comment head on, but at the same time he has tried to diffuse the matter. Without saying it, da Costa is asking for him not to make a second slip of the tongue.

From an outside point of view though, it feels as if Bravo has got away with it- just imagine an English commentator doing the same thing with Sky Sports for example- could you imagine in your wildest dreams that person in a job 24 hours later?

There has to be a zero tolerance attitude to racism full stop- and it doesn’t feel that the issue was tackled correctly. If a fan can get a lifetime ban for being racist in the stands, how is it that pundits in France have immunity?

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How Reims went from Ligue 2 to Top 6 in Ligue 1

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The Stade Auguste Delaune houses one of the most famous and certainly historical team in France in Stade Reims, also known as Reims. This is the club that was made most famous by their 1950s team which included Raymond Kopa and a team that got to 2 European Cup finals only to lose to the infamous Alfredo di Stefano Real Madrid team.

Since then it hasn’t been easy for the club who were promoted back to Ligue 1 in over 30 years in 2012. They spent a few seasons in Ligue 1 before being relegated again and this season marks the clubs first back in 3 years. They won Ligue 2 and then started this campaign off very slowly before hitting their stride in October, surging into the top 10 and quite frankly they haven’t looked back. So what has been the secret for Reims who as the season draws to a close are in the top six teams in France?

Let’s start with the coach first and Reims have had too many coaches in the past decade so it was a surprise when youth team coach David Guion was finally given the job in 2017 when the club were in Ligue 2. Guion has been with Reims in some capacity since 2012, coaching the youth team, the B team then acting as caretaker manager and then taking the job full time two years ago.

He has oversaw a team this season back in Ligue 1 who have lost just 6 games this season and have lost just 1 game in their last 10 matches. which came in midweek against Strasbourg.

But Reims are in 6th place and just 3 points behind 4th and what would be an automatic qualification for next seasons Europa League- there is no doubt that the club have taken massive strides this season. Club ownership should be applauded for giving someone from within the club the job as manager as preferred to an outsider and the decision made so much sense given that Guion has been with the club for so long.

The big money for Reims at the beginning of the season was spent on Ghislain Konan a left back who came from Vitoria in Portugal for £3.6m. The attacking winger Arber Zeneli came for the same fee from Dutch side Heernnveen, and both have had to make their impacts known.

The majority of Guion’s buys though were centred on defence, be it the back four or holding midfielders and he has been able to correctly identify where Reims weakness would be entering Ligue 1 again, for that he should be applauded, plus a total expenditure of just under £14m for what amounts to bringing 8 new players in is very good business in this day and age.

Reims did take a £4m loss in the transfer market, but their buys last summer have been evidently beneficial and they have a game in hand in the league which could see them take 4th place if they can stay consistent. The dream for Champions League football is a little distant right now as they are 10 points from that milestone but at the same time if the club keep on this trajectory then they have every chance to realise that dream.

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Controversy in Ligue 1: Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic goes into meltdown after defeat to Lille

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Frustration would have been at the heart of it as Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic just can’t see a way that his side are going to keep on picking up points and get out of the mess that they are currently in.

Nantes latest defeat came in spectacular fashion at the weekend when they lost at home to 2nd placed Lille 3-2. It was a game that had plenty of twists and turns and excitement but also another game for Nantes and another loss and after it Halilhodzic was close to tears with frustration and kind of put his players through the wringer so to speak and did it through the press.

Halilhodzic in his press conference said: “Did we lose our nerve? I’m not sure, but you have to ask this question because it’s not the first time this has happened. It may be a psychological problem, maybe they’re afraid to win. It’s inexplicable, it’s really a total nightmare. Because I also think they played a good match! We worked so hard for this game and everything fell apart in seven minutes.”

The opposition manager Christophe Gaultier agreed that the game had been a crazy one but was obviously much more happier than Halilhodzic and commented: It was a crazy game, it must have been fun for the spectators. There were a lot of twists and suspense but the most important thing is that we won. At this time, only points are important. We had the wind at our backs and we have the same advantage (this is four points) over Lyon. We have to focus the players but without curbing their attacking instincts.”

This latest defeat has left a once proud Nantes side in 15th place. The good news is that they should be safe from relegation given that they are 8 points from the drop. Having said that there are still 24 points on the board. But Nantes have won just 1 game in their past five matches and have not tasted victory since beating Bordeaux at the end of February. This loss also means back to back defeats and their next game will be away to Toulouse.

We have seen in the Premier League for example what it means when a coach criticises his players through the media and it will be interesting to note if Nantes players will dig deep or not dig at all. The question will be have they just lost respect for their manager after his controversial comments?

Ligue 1: Player of the Week: Romain Hamouma

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Our player of the week in Ligue 1 football fantasy is Saint Etienne’s midfielder Romain Hamouma who picked up the most points from any players position as he earned 10 points this past weekend.

Saint Etienne climbed to fifth place as they beat Caen 5-0 away from home in an enthralling game of football which saw Hamouma open up the scoring with a superb finish. But the midfielder was not finished at that point when he assisted in the next two goals to give his side a 3-0 lead. Soon afterwards he was substituted but was applauded from the bench and the bigger surprise was that he was even applauded by the home supporters, the Caen fans knew that they had seen a special performance as it was clear that he had had his best game of the season for the club.

Let’s look at Hamouma’s performance in the Ligue 1 Fantasy Football rankings. This season he has played 19 times, though he hasn’t always started as a regular for the club and has come off from the bench 7 times. He has scored 3 goals this season and the two assists he made at the weekend was his first of the season.

Hamouma has an overall points tally of 21 and would be ranked as 38th in the midfielder rankings. Whilst that is low down it might be worth considering taking Hamouma on for your side given that he has found some real form and the fact that his club are in a great position to challenge for a good finish and a possible European place.

If you want to buy Hamouma he is available at 6.5m. What we have to consider is the player’s performance which his manager Jean-Louis Gasset was highly impressed with, it’s why Hamouma should see more games as a starter than from the bench. After the game Gasset said, “We needed to win again after Marseille and Lille where we had been found wanting. We dominated the game, we started really well. We were clinical at the back and up front. It went perfectly. We were disciplined against a side that is full of doubt.”

Hamouma has been at Saint Etienne since 2012 and has played over 150 games for the club and this season could finish in a European one for a player that has also scored 28 times for the club.

As far as the rankings go Hamouma who used to play for Caen only needs 7 more points to move into the top 25 rankings and could still make a real impact on the rankings.

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Topical: Lyon exert pressure on Lille for 2nd place after shock loss

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Lyon’s objective this season in Ligue 1 is to get the runners up spot which affords teams in France automatic qualification for the Champions League. For most of the season they have been locked in a battle with Lille who have surprised everyone. Only a week ago it looked as if Lyon’s dream was over but Lille finally slipped up.

That slip up came at the weekend when Lille lost at home to Monaco 1-0 in what was seen as a shock. True Monaco have progressed since Thierry Henry was sacked but they still hadn’t found their stride away from home, so the thought of going to Lille and getting all three points seemed unrealistic.

What added salt to the wounds for Lille was that it was a last minute goal for Monaco through Carlos Vinicius that settled matters and despite Lille having 12 attempts on goal they had to succumb to only their first defeat in their last 10 games. It was a defeat that let Lyon right in. Lyon beat Montpellier 3-2 in a thrilling game which means that the gap between 2nd and 3rd has been reduced to just 4 points with 9 games left. Lille’s next game is away to Nantes and Lyon will play Rennes at Roazhon Park.

The game that everyone was talking about was PSG and Marseille’s match up on Sunday night. The two biggest rivalries in French football came together in Paris, but the result was inevitably the same as PSG ran out 3-1 winners to keep their 100% success rate at home. Because Lille lost PSG also went 20 points ahead in the league.

Kylian Mbappe scored his 25th goal of the season for PSG  but then missed a last minute penalty. The hero of the day for the home side was Angel Di Maria who scored a brace before Steve Mandanda was sent off for the visitors in a frantic and exciting game. The defeat for Marseille means that they have slipped 6 points behind 3rd place Lyon in the chase for the final Champions League spot.

Saint Etienne ended their losing run in style by defeating Caen 5-0 in a one sided match which saw five different goal scorers and just one shot on target for the home side who are now bottom of the league.

Reims impressive unbeaten run continued as they beat Nantes 1-0 and have put the pressure on Marseille in the process being just 1 point behind them. The run in for the top six is still undecided and looks set to go down to the wire. Montpellier’s loss against Lyon has dealt a huge blow to their top 6 aspirations as they have fallen four points behind 6th place. Rennes in 8th place dropped another two points as they drew 1-1 against Bordeaux, but the draw did mean the side have not lost  a game for the past 3 weeks.

Whilst PSG and Lille are still clear of the chasing pack it is interesting to note that there is just 7 points between 3rd and 6th, and most of the European places are still up for grabs. Ligue 1 takes a break next weekend and returns on the weekend of March 29th.

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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.

Prove you have what it takes to challenge the best French Fantasy Football managers here www.fantasyligue1.com 

Ligue 1: Player of the Week: Angel Di Maria

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There were several players that performed well this past weekend in Ligue 1 including Marquinhos for PSG, Moussa Dembele for Lyon and Ludovic Ajorque for Strasbourg. But our pick goes to Angel Di Maria for league leaders PSG who put in a terrific display ahead of what has been a difficult couple of weeks for the Paris club following their Champions League exit at the hands of Manchester United.

Di Maria picked up the joint most points for the week with 8 after his performance against Dijon which saw the champions increase their lead at the top to 17 points over 2nd placed Lille.

So how did Di Maria pick up his points for the week? It was a match that PSG ended up winning 4-0 away from home against relegation threatened Dijon and it only took 7 minutes for PSG to take the lead. It was Di Maria’s perfect cross which set up Marquinhos to open the scoring for the away side.

Soon after Kylian Mbappe arguably the best centre forward in Europe right now doubled the lead for the club, so PSG had gone in at 2-0 for half time. The 3rd goal followed five minutes into the second period and it was a goal to finish the game off and secure the win for PSG and it came from Di Maria. The Argentinian had now scored a goal and set one up for an all round fantastic display.

Overall this season Di Maria has scored 7 goals and assisted 9 times which is the best assist record in Ligue 1 this season. He’s currently in 5th position in Fantasy Ligue 1 standings, with all positions considered which is a remarkable statistic and he is 40 points behind his team mate in 1st place Kylian Mbappe who has of course picked up most of his points through virtue of being the league’s top goal scorer.

As midfielders go Di Maria sits in 2nd place and is 7 points behind Marseille’s Florian Thauvin. Whilst Thauvin has scored 6 more goals than Di Maria this season he has assisted in three less goals than him.

Apart from the goals and natural skill of Di Maria, the Argentina international has really curbed his temper and it has stood out and served PSG well. For example since the beginning of the season Di Maria has been booked just once, which is another remarkable statistic. It has meant that he hasn’t had to miss a run of games through disciplinary problems and has always been available for the club unless of an injury.

In the Ligue 1 Fantasy standings his showing over the week has risen by 2.19% and he can be brought into your team for 9m. This looks like a good deal given how many points he can pick up with assists and given the fact that he rarely drops points with a near clean record of yellow cards. You can add Di Maria to your team by going to the link below. Get playing!

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Topical: Ligue 1 Lille continue to make strides as Reims edge into Europe

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The 28th week of Ligue 1 was another exciting one and we should start with league leaders PSG who gladly had the weekend off after they were knocked out of the Champions League against Manchester United. Their game against Nantes was postponed to a later date.

That gave Lille an opportunity to close the gap on the French champions which they did with a hard fought 1-0 win over Saint Etienne. For many this was the game of the weekend as the two top 5 teams went head to head. It ended with Nicolas Pepe grabbing the winner for Lille with just three minutes left and then Saint Etienne ended the game with 9 players as frustrations took over the game. Despite the win Lille are still 14 points behind PSG and PSG have 2 games in hand.

Lyon maintained 3rd position but it was not a good weekend for the club who slipped 7 points behind Lille and an automatic qualification for the Champions League. They could only draw 2-2 away to Strasbourg. The draw also means that Marseille have caught up to Lyon as they try and take the last remaining Champions League place away.

Marseille were involved in a South of France derby as they took on Nice and it was inevitable who was going to get the winning goal. The one and only Mario Balotelli. The Italian who moved from Nice to Marseille in January has been in great form for the home side. Nice manager Patrick Vieira was humble in defeat and even had time to give Balotelli a warm hug, but the defeat would have hurt the former Arsenal player. As for Marseille they have won 4 games from their past 5.

With Saint Etienne losing to Lille it means that Reims entered dizzying heights and moved into the top 5. This position would be enough to secure a Europa League place if PSG win the Coupe de France. Though there is a long way to go it was a moment of clarity for such an historic team in France and it would be special to see the team in a European competition once again. They drew 1-1 away to Dijon, and have drawn their last two games and if they are starting to dream big they will have to start winning games more consistently.

The feel good factor continued at Rennes this past weekend. After the club beat Arsenal 3-1 in the last 16 of the Europa League they repeated that trick and won by the same score line against Caen to move past Nice and into 8th place.

The race for Europe is hotting up with a possible 5 places at stake and at least 9 teams in with a shout, the final straight of Ligue 1 is upon us and it should be very exciting indeed. PSG play their game in hand against Dijon on Tuesday, March 12th.

Think you know all about Ligue 1 players and the French League? Play the most popular Fantasy Ligue 1 game https://ligue1fantasy.com

 

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.

Play the most popular Ligue 1 Fantasy game here: www.fantasyligue1.com and invite your friends too!