PSG fans must back up Neymar now after 2 goals in 2 games as PSG beat Lyon

Neymar the magician who is Brazilian did it again, didn’t he? After a summer where he has spoken negatively about his club PSG and wanting a move away to Barcelona, he has come straight back into the team and earned the club 6 points straight off the bat.

He is turning into an enigma someone that is hard to figure out. It is easy to throw negative criticism at him too. His lack of passion and loyalty seemed fairly evident, like a baby throwing out his toys he wanted out of one of the most successful teams in world football to play for another. His feelings were clear. One could think of the endless run of kids in and around Paris dreaming to play for the club and the youths who have been rejected at the final hurdle- the commitment, the passion and the loyalty. And then look over at Neymar who was playing with his career at the club and seemingly didn’t care.

But what Neymar has, which the other hopefuls don’t is sheer and utter quality. It is why he can want a move away with his career feeling like it is coming to an end in France and then come back and produce wonder goals, each time saving his club and winning the game.

A few weeks ago he scored an outrageous bicycle kick in injury time against Strasbourg with the tie at 0-0. And then this past weekend PSG travelled to a direct league rival in Lyon. Again the score tied at 0-0 before Neymar went on a mazy solo run and scored with the winner with just two minutes remaining.

Neymar is an unbelievable player and in a generation where Brazilian football has stalled on produced attacking greats, he is one of them and perhaps the only genuine one. The heir apparent to the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho before him.

The hardcore PSG fans known as the ultras put out a statement upon Neymar’s return that they won’t easily forgive the player, and to be fair it did seem understandable. But after these 2 games, that’s 2 return goals and more than that it is clear without the player that they would have drawn those games and had 4 less points as a result. That would mean PSG would have 11 points now and Angers would in fact be top, with PSG resigned down to 4th place and that is the reality of the situation.

It might be hard for the ultra fans or even regular PSG fans to admit this, but the team can’t afford to be without Neymar, he is simply that good a player.

 

 

Top Ligue 1 Strikers in 2018/19: Andy Delort

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It’s incredible to think that Andy Delort is only 27 years old when we see the amount of clubs he has played for. So far it stands at 9, with his career being made up of quite a few loan deals. Indeed his current club Montpellier started off as a loan before his move was made more permanent this past season.

Delort’s efforts means that he finished in the top 5 strikers in Ligue 1 and his value coming into the season was 7m, given that he produced 66 points the return seems worthwhile.

Whilst Montpellier did not make Europe the team played some very good football and had some wonderful spells during the season becoming difficult to beat at their home ground Stade de la Mosson.

Delort was an integral part of the team and played 36 times from 38 games he scored an impressive 14 goals and assisted in another 7. His disciplinary was good too as he received only four yellow cards for the whole season. Only six other players scored more goals than Delort in Ligue 1 and his overall striker ranking when we take into account all of the major European leagues would be 30th.

Even though Montpellier lost their first game of the season, at home to Dijon 2-1, Delort assisted in his teams goal and so he earned 2 points from his first game. He then went the  next 5 games earning no points at all as he couldn’t find the back of the net.

His form took an upswing at the end of September and throughout October where he scored points in each of his next five games. This included scoring a goal in everyone of those games and he quickly was taken into the hearts of the fans of the team.

His best moments of the season included scoring both goals as Montpellier drew 2-2 with Rennes and netting two goals as Montpellier beat Strasbourg 3-1, on each occasion he earned 8 points.

Form did tail off towards the end of the season and Delort’s last 4 games came with no points as the clubs European hopes faded fast.

Delort has experienced his best season of his career consistency wise. When we look at his past two seasons before this one he earned just 18 and 23 points respectively. Delort’s career has always looked like one that refuses to settle down and stay a few seasons at the same club, after this successful campaign one would think that Montpellier would do everything to keep the player on their books for next season and perhaps beyond.

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Top Ligue 1 Midfielders in 2018/19: Ismaila Sarr

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Ismaila Sarr may not come first to your mind when you think of brilliant midfielders plying their trade in France’s Ligue 1 but Sarr had a very solid season at Rennes to end up being the 5th best midfielder of the season.

Sarr who is from Senegal is widely unknown even in the league- although his performances this season should change that view. One has to remember that Sarr is still only 21. Sarr had played for Metz before being snapped up by Rennes in 2017 and has since fit into the team without any problems.

The Rennes midfielder would have cost you 7.5m to have in your team- that could go up next season after his performances in this one. He gained a total of 60 points, just 10 points shy of Reims’ Remi Oudin. His goal scoring feats were impressive as he netted 8 times and assisted in a further 6 goals and was part of a team that kept 11 clean sheets.

Sarr’s season started by picking up points in 3 of his first four matches as his play and his team gained momentum. However that was stopped soon after as Rennes went through a bad period of form that begun in mid September. As a consequence Sarr picked up no points for 5 games in a row.

His best form started at the beginning of December where he scored points in five consecutive games totalling 18 altogether. His best game of the season actually came down to two matches. The early season win over Angers in which he scored a goal and kept a clean sheet and the terrific 2-0 win at Lyon where he assisted in both goals and of course kept a clean sheet. For the player the Lyon victory might be the best moment of his season league wise.

Sarr picked up 6 bookings but otherwise never finished a game below -1 points which is an impressive sign at his age that he is maturing well. This is his highest ever points total and he will be looking to keep that momentum going for next season.

As for Rennes season they had a memorable one. True they could only finish in 10th place with 52 points and finished 14 points from a European place, but that is only the beginning of the story. Rennes qualified for the Europa League after winning their first major trophy in a generation when they stunned PSG in the Coupe de France final and beat them. It was one of the biggest shocks in French football history. The club won on penalties after a 2-2 draw and Sarr was on hand to score one of his to crown a very special season indeed.

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers 2018/19: Edouard Mendy

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Edouard Mendy might not be a household name even in France but the goalkeeper who keeps command for Reims in Ligue 1 has, by his standards, had an interesting season after finally breaking through to first team football in the last couple of years.

Mendy had spent time in the lower national leagues of France and then was taken on for Marseille’s B team but at age 24 it seemed that Mendy’s career was in trouble, that is when Reims decided to take a chance on the shot stopper who hails from Normandy.

Mendy helped Reims win Ligue 2 and was rewarded when the team decided to keep him, mostly because of his chemistry with the back four. He has rewarded Reims by being statistically one of the best goalkeepers in the league this season.

In the fantasy rankings Mendy ranks as 4th finishing on 59 points and only 3 behind PSG’s goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. Mendy would have cost 8m to add to your team. What has been terrific about Mendy’s season is he went the whole 9 months without missing a game in the league and played all 38. Though he conceded 42 goals he also kept  a highly impressive 14 clean sheets- that’s the 3rd best record in the league. He was booked 3 times which is easily the most from the top 10 keepers in the league.

Overall Mendy finished in 16th place if we take into account all goalkeepers in the major European leagues. So what went well for the goalkeeper during the season, and not so well?

Mendy started the season in terrific form picking up 14 points from his first two games as Reims beat Nice and Lyon and kept clean sheets on both occasions. However in his 3rd game Amiens shocked Reims by beating them 4-1 and that earned Mendy -6 points and this was repeated a further two times during the season. Less goals conceded would have seen Mendy easily finish in third place.

His best period was from the end of September until the beginning of December where from 5 games he scored points in four of them and walked away in that time frame with 28 points.

Mendy and Reims started to fall away from springtime after having a decent shout at finishing in an European place. His final 7 games were average indeed, this despite earning a couple of clean sheets those games earned him -3 points.

In the end Reims blew their European chance and finished in 8th place on 55 points and 11 points behind European qualification.

However Mendy proved himself in Ligue 1 and has really come up the ranks and it will be interesting to see next season if he continues to grow as a footballer after a tough start to his career.

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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.

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