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.

 

Patrick Vieira is creating small miracles at Nice in Ligue 1

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His time as coach of Nice started off bumpy, awkward even that included losses, draws and a lack of back bone within the side. Patrick Vieira’s time looked up even after just a month, as another 1990s generation player that got found out when it came to stepping up as manager.

But Vieira has worked hard and worked his mentality and theory into his group of players. He even has Mario Balotelli playing well and the two of them have respect for one another and get along fine. More than that Nice are winning games and have headed up the table. Their objective this season was to do well enough to stay in the league. Now their objective will be to finish in a European spot and who would think that wouldn’t happen?

The club currently sit in 7th place and have won 4 games in a row. On form they would be in 3rd place in the league- that is astonishing when you think Vieira still has limited first time management experience and at this point the capture of the former French and Arsenal midfield legend looks like a good call from Nice.

Nice’s most recent victory raised eyebrows as it came against Lille who have been superb this season but Nice ran out 2-0 solid and deserved winners. Vieira said: ”I’m satisfied with the score and the way we played. Against a very good Lille side, we managed to play the perfect home game. Even if they had chances in the first half, we didn’t really suffer in the second half. The team is more solid than at the start of the season and the players played for each other. Mario Balotelli and Allan Saint-Maximin put in a huge amount of work defensively and that’s why I took them off.”

Vieira mentioned the word perfect and that is what Nice have been in the past four weekends. Next they will face Guingamp in a game they will be expected to win again.

For Vieira being black and being in management is one thing. Sadly the story in 2018 is that black managers are grossly under represented at this level. The good news is that Vieira is proving his worth and hopefully more ex black players who decide to get into management will have the opportunities that Vieira has. Right now he is flying the flag high just as high as his Nice team.

Outstanding Lille setting bar high in Ligue 1

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After 10 games Lille are still there. There means 2nd place in Ligue 1 which is de facto for 1st place because no one will be catching PSG this season. The current French champions have 30 points from 10 games, a 100% record that was underlined at the weekend with another devastating win, this time against Amiens in Paris which ended 5-0. Job done.

As for Lille, no one could have expected such a start from a team who have traditionally struggled in recent seasons showing only glimpses of what they can achieve. This season is very different.  It was only in May that Lille pulled off a fantastic escape from the relegation zone, and the club have worked hard all summer in changing the set up of what is now expected.

Coach Christophe Gautier has come into the team last December and had a mountain to climb, but with survival came some new recruits in the summer and also the real emergence of Nicolas Pepe who is growing into one of the better players in Ligue 1. It was his goal- albiet a penalty that helped Lille win their latest game. The club have acquired 22 points from 10 games, continue at that rate and they will come 2nd and could get 80 points.

Clearly the objective at the beginning of the season for Lille was to finish in the top half- this is an objective that is being easily met, but now the team and their coach and fans must be thinking to take things a little further and finish in a European place, if that ends up being for the Champions League then Gautier would have made a miraculous turnaround.

Whilst Lille are 8 points behind PSG, they can marvel at the fact that they are 3 points in front of Marseille and 5 points in front of Lyon. Monaco who are usually a threat can be discounted this season after their nightmare start has led them into 19th position and they are a whopping 16 points behind Lille. It will be fascinating if Lille can keep up their superb start to the season.

The club have lost just 2 games so far and have won 3 games in a row, at home they alongside PSG have a perfect record of played 5 games won 5, and Lille certainly mean serious business.

On November 2nd just how far Lille have come will be put to the ultimate test when they will travel to Paris to face PSG. By that time if both teams continue to win, the gap could be 11 points in PSG’s favour or just 5. For Lille’s Ligue 1 achievements this season, watch this space.

Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid could become very complicated

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In the past few weeks the major transfer talk has been of Chelsea star Eden Hazard possibly moving to Real Madrid. On the face of it the deal could make perfect sense for both clubs. But the transfer could end up becoming a saga with many complications involved.

Let’s begin with Hazard himself who is becoming a club legend at Chelsea and at 27 has played 7 seasons with the west London club. There is the option for Hazard to simply remain with the Blues something that he is assured of for at least the next four seasons. He will win trophies with Chelsea, but he clearly wants to win silverware with the likes of the great Real Madrid and add the team to his resume.

The question remains when will Hazard join Real Madrid? On the face of it January looks out of the question as Chelsea will be challenging for major honours including the league. Hazard himself has ruled out a January move. And yet he may have very little say on the decision. The problem is that Hazard’s contract with Chelsea runs out in 18 months time and as the time ticks down so will his transfer fee.

For example Chelsea could demand £100m for the player in January but wait until the summer and that fee could be around the £80m mark. There is also the complication of Real Madrid’s finances at the moment which are not good. For example 300m euros is still owed in debt and the club want to invest up to 500m euros to upgrade their stadium, which when done will look like a spaceship.

Real Madrid face the question of should they dive in for Hazard in January or wait? Their problem is that the team are simply not performing at this time and this season could well be a write off after the big time departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. The fans are clearly crying out for a big name signing, something that oddly deserted them this summer, which just goes to show Madrid’s financial state at the present time.

Hazard has been linked to Real Madrid as far back as 2010 when Zinedine Zidane commented that he would take Hazard to Madrid with his eyes closed- he was that good. It’s been a long time coming and it looks almost guaranteed that 2019 will finally be the year that Hazard becomes a Real Madrid player.

 

Who have been the best pound for pound teams in European football so far?

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We are two months into the domestic league seasons and each league is starting to take shape around Europe. The usual suspects are either sitting on top of the league or ominously close to that. But who have been the best pound for pound teams so far in Europe? The teams that clearly do not have the same budget as the Manchester City’s and PSG’s. And perhaps the following teams will be able to keep up their good starts to the season and cause some surprises. Whilst they may not be crowned new champions of their respective leagues they will all have the ability to try and qualify for European football and possibly have deep runs in their respective cup competitions.

Premier League- Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves as they are commonly known were not supposed to cause much of a fuss in England this season and many expected them to finish in the bottom half of the table. However currently they are in 7th place and have 15 points from a possible 24. Coach Nuno Espirito Santo has been a revelation and has struck a fine balance between attack and defence. Wolves are the only club to take points from champions Manchester City so far and have also come away with a 1-1 draw at their rivals Manchester United. They have lost just 1 game all season so far and are only 5 points from the top of the league.

Ligue 1 – Lille

Lille have struggled in recent seasons so this is a real surprise to see the team in 2nd place and 3 points clear of Marseille in third position. Whilst they won’t be catching league leaders PSG anytime soon as they are 8 points adrift of them their aim will be Champions League qualification for next season. Lille have been superb and have recorded such results as beating Marseille 3-0. They have won 6 of their 9 games so far and are scoring goals too, they currently have 17 which is the 3rd highest in the league.

Serie A- Sampdoria

Sampdoria got off to a slow start in Serie A but their form has been constantly improving week by week. So much so that they find themselves in 5th place behind the more traditional teams who we are expected to see in the top four. Form is good where they have lost just 1 game in their past five matches and have only been defeated 2 times this season. But it has been the clubs away form that has impressed where they have the 3rd best record in the league.

La Liga- Sevilla

This choice is easy, Sevilla, because they have taken the Spanish league by storm and currently sit in 1st place above both Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have already comprehensively beaten Madrid in the league and have won 5 of their 8 games so far. They have won their last 4 games in the league and have scored 14 goals alone in those games. Indeed only Barcelona have scored more goals. It remains to be seen in such a difficult league if Sevilla can keep up their form but they are definitely added to the mix which is sure to make La Liga experience one of the most exciting seasons in years.

 

Lille in pole position to keep Pepe amid Barcelona interest

pepeLille forward Nicolas Pepe has had a cracking start to the season – no headlines there – with five goals from his first eight appearances. Included among those goals was a hattrick in the club’s 3-2 win at Amiens in September, and as a result the 23-year-old has found himself in some demand from around Europe. Spanish giants Barcelona are one club to have been credited with an interest in him, while Premier League outfits Arsenal and Everton have also reportedly been keeping tabs on his progress. It would seem easy, then, to assume he could be bringing an end to his time in France after arriving in 2017 with a move to pastures new, but it would appear that the former Angers forward would prefer to remain with Les Dogues – for now, at least.

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Nicolas Pepe could be the next sensation coming from Ligue 1

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There has been a pool of excellent forwards that have come from Ligue 1 in the last few years. Just a quick look around and you can see Anthony Martial plying his trade at Manchester United, Alessane Plea at Borussia Monchengladbach, Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal and Kylian Mbappe at PSG. Now meet Ligue 1′s new hero, Nicolas Pepe.

Pepe hails from the Ivory Coast and is 23 years old and currently plays for Lille. Although he has starred for the likes of Angers and went on loan at Orleans it is this season that Pepe has made his mark on the league.

Last weekend he scored a hat trick for the club as Lille beat Amiens in a five goal thriller and this has made him a household name for the club. Lille have started the season brightly and Pepe is feeding off of this positivity. Lille have scored 9 goals so far this season and Pepe has 4. But the 23 year old isn’t just about goals. He has also assisted in another 3 goals meaning that he has been involved in 80% of Lille’s goals this season, that is a stat that is mind-blowing and has the likes of Barcelona already sniffing around for his services.

On the links to Barcelona Pepe had this to say: “I’m focused on Lille and I’m having a great time playing in a team that’s performing well and that’s all that matters to me. I’ll let other people speak. I’ve got a great coach who has confidence in me and plays a large part in me expressing myself. I’m doing well on the pitch because I’ve got my family around me. When I go home, my mother, father, sister and brother all make things easy for me. I only have to think about football.”

It was of course a very diplomatic statement but the truth is if a team such as Barcelona do come along for a player that has scored 17 goals for Lille then he will almost certainly be sold, on the flip side is the asking price that Lille should get for such a player. For now Lille is the best place for Pepe to keep on learning and the objective for the club has to at least be a Europa League position.

Lille will face Nantes at the weekend at their home and it seems favourable that Pepe will again be on the score sheet. Is he the new French Ligue 1 sensation? Everything is pointing to yes.

 

Ligue 1 Fantasy Picks – Round 5

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We are only four weeks into the new season and standing champions Paris Saint-Germain have taken no time in asserting their dominance in the league.

After four rounds of games, PSG tops the league with a perfect record and expect some of their players in our best eleven picks. In standout fixtures this weekend, PSG and Marseille have easy home ties while Monaco have a tricky trip to Toulouse.
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Who is Thiago Maia and what can he bring to Inter’s squad?

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According to the latest reports from Le10sport.com, Inter have expressed an interest in signing Lille midfielder Thiago Maia before the Italian transfer window closes on Friday evening. Luciano Spalletti has made no secret of the fact that, in an ideal world, he would like to have one or two more options in that department. Indeed, it is evident that the Tuscan does not believe the likes of Borja Valero, Roberto Gagliardini and Matías Vecino possess the requisite qualities to make an impact in the UEFA Champions League long-term. Continue reading