A look at Barca’s possible UCL opponents

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Lionel Messi issued a clarion call at the very beginning of the season where the Champions League was concerned.

That was the priority for Barcelona. No messing about, a stated aim to take home the trophy once again.

Drawn in the ‘group of death,’ the Blaugrana sailed through it, but now the real business begins.

Barcelona have six possible opponents they could draw in the Round of 16… Continue reading

Thierry Henry gets first win with Monaco but a testing month awaits

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Thierry Henry finally achieved his first win as Monaco coach after his side beat Caen 1-0 at the weekend. It was a deserved victory too and means that Henry could celebrate for the first time in 7 games.

Monaco are still in the bottom three but there was a huge sense of relief after the win from the players and Henry. It meant so much and means that Henry’s win rate leaped up to 14%. After the game Henry said: “I am happy for the team and the supporters. We needed that, even if we were not completely in control of the match. We could have been out of sight sooner, and in football you don’t know what can happen. Caen like to get crosses in quickly, they fight, and we knew what to expect. The manner in which we get results is important, but we will worry about that later. (Radamel) Falcao showed that he is Falcao. He is the captain, he is there to score goals.”

Henry also realised what lies ahead for the club in the coming weeks. “We went out and got this victory, and it can help bring us some peace. It is always better when you win, but we are not getting carried away. This is just the beginning. There are still lots of matches and battles to come. I am especially happy for the squad, for all the work they have put in and not been rewarded, but we are still in the relegation zone.”

Henry talked about battles ahead and he is exactly right on that point. It all commences for Henry and Monaco this Wednesday when they must travel to Spain in the Champions League to face Atletico Madrid, Monaco can be quoted at 16/1 to win the game which pretty much says it all. There is some hope for a Europa League spot for the side but even those hopes may seem faint after this game.

After that Monaco return to Ligue 1 action against Montpellier who have been in fine form so far. They play Amiens away which could be a possible win and then come the 3 really hard fixtures. Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Lyon. Monaco will also face Nice in what is always a special derby and this season will have the extra spice of Henry going head to head with his old Arsenal teammate Patrick Vieira, who is doing very well with Nice.

If Monaco can get something from these games then we will know if Henry can and has created some sort of turnaround miracle. The Caen win has given Henry reasons to be cheerful but he will want that momentum to continue. A defeat looks inevitable against Atletico in a few days but that game will be all about not getting stuffed for many goals and keeping the score predictable. The next 3 weeks will be a fascinating time at Monaco, that is for sure.

Lyon star Fekir once again linked with move away

fekirLyon star Nabil Fekir looks once again set to depart the Ligue 1 outfit – and will hope that this time the deal can make it over the line. The 25-year-old had previously looked set to depart France for a move to Premier League side Liverpool, and had even recorded an interview for LFC TV. On top of that, the Merseysiders held a photoshoot of Fekir in the Reds’ home kit, with the move having looked all but done. However, Liverpool pulled the plug on the transfer at the last minute, leaving Fekir to return to the club he thought he had left to ply his trade once again in the 2018-19 campaign. Suggestions have risen up, meanwhile, that not one, but two top European clubs are keeping tabs on his progress.

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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.

Thomas Tuchel’s version of PSG is set to be the best ever

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When PSG strolled to a 3-0 victory over Nice at the end of September it seemed to go by without much fuss and why should it as everyone expected the champions to win the game. However more fuss and attention should have surrounded this historic result. In beating Patrick Vieira’s team, PSG had just equalled an 82 year old Ligue 1 record by winning their first 8 games of the season.

The record was held by Lille in the 1935/36 season and had stood for that long despite PSG being dominant in France since their takeover from the 2011/12 season onwards. In order to break the record the club from Paris would have to play an old foe in Lyon. Lyon of course dominated French football themselves in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row and whilst they are a team now playing second fiddle to PSG they still would not have been chosen as the team you had to beat to break an historic record.

A few weeks ago this Lyon side had travelled to Manchester in the Champions League and stunned Manchester City by beating them and they had started to pick up form and points in the domestic league. But the match would be held in Paris where PSG have simply been irresistible.

Ninety minutes later PSG had not only broken the record they had done it in style by beating a genuine league rival 5-0. PSG had just won 9 games in a row thanks to a Neymar goal and a stunning performance by Kylian Mbappe who scored 4 goals in 13 glorious minutes to break another Ligue 1 record.

One has to wonder if, under current coach Thomas Tuchel, PSG have their best team since their takeover and indeed they are proving wholeheartedly to have the best team ever in Ligue 1 history.

The club have 27 points after just 9 games and their nearest challenger is Lille who are 8 points behind on 19. The only team to stop PSG’s title runs have been Monaco who won in 2017 and they are already 21 points behind. PSG are scoring almost 4 goals a game and at home they have scored 19 times from just 5 games and conceded just 2. The team are on fire and have a belief in breaking records and winning the league in record time.

Of course the wider view will be that their season will be judged on how well they do in the Champions League. They were unfairly criticised when they lost to Liverpool 3-2 in their opening game of the competition. Many teams will lose at a packed out and atmospheric Anfield- what will count more for Tuchel will be how his side react when they play Liverpool in Paris. And PSG were clearly not at their best that night and yet came back from 2-0 down and could have drawn the game. The team remains a real danger to any side in Europe.

However they have historically made too many errors and a bad lack of judgement in the competition against the better teams. But if PSG can play like this then they have every chance of going very far in this seasons edition of the competition.

PSG’s Mbappe returns to action and breaks Ligue 1 record

mbappe4A couple of weeks back we reported about how Kylian Mbappe would serve a third match suspended following his sending off against Nimes last month, having previously hoped to get away with two matches on the sidelines. That suspension is now over of course, and this past weekend Mbappe lined up for his first home game since returning to the team with Lyon as the guests. The first half was a fairly run of the mill 45 minutes, with PSG going into the interval holding a 1-0 lead thanks to a first half penalty from Neymar. The second half, however, produced the type of football that fans in attendance could one day look back and say “I was there”. In just 13 second half minutes, Mbappe set the world alight once again – and made history while doing so.

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Elite Premier League teams are struggling in the Champions League

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We are often told that the Premier League is the best in Europe if not the World and yet the Champions League has been a good measure of failure for the very best Premier League teams not just so far this season but for a good few years now.

The last time that an English team won the competition was Chelsea back in 2012 when they beat Bayern Munich and before that we have to go back to 2008 when Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in an all Premier League final. Apart from Liverpool’s run to the final this year no team has reached the showpiece event since Chelsea won it.

This season the Champions League has kicked off with a massive wake up call for the teams that have qualified. Take Premier League champions Manchester City, vying for their first ever European Cup, they lost their opening game at home to Ligue 1 side Lyon. In their next game they found themselves 1-0 down to Hoffenheim within a minute of the game starting, although clawed their way back to stake a 2-1 win, but they had to work very hard for the result. Had City drawn or lost that game they could have been looking at an early exit from a competition where they have been tipped as the favourites to win just a few weeks ago.

Manchester United have had all sorts of problems in the Premier League but last season they racked up 82 points to finish 2nd. In the Champions League they won easily against Young Boys but suffered a 0-0 draw at the hands of Valencia in their next game. Had this match taken place in Spain this result would have been acceptable- but it didn’t and that is 2 clear points dropped for Jose Mourinho’s team. Add to the fact that they still have to play Juventus twice and United may not qualify for the next round, their chances are certainly in the air at the moment.

Liverpool looked impressive in their 3-2 win over PSG at Anfield, though they were leading that game at one point 2-0. But when they travelled to Italy to play Napoli they lost 1-0. True Napoli’s goal came in the final exchanges where the game looked like it was heading for a 0-0 result but Liverpool did not have a shot on target the whole game and it looks clear whilst Liverpool may reign supreme at home they could well struggle away in Europe. Given that they still have to travel to Paris to play PSG this loss could come back and haunt the Reds.

And then there is Tottenham who pound for pound have been one of the best teams in England of the past 18 months. But when it really matters the club seem to come up short time and again and their latest loss to Barcelona which ended 4-2 could be the nail in the coffin to their Champions League hopes this season. They are already 6 points behind both Barcelona and Inter Milan and their best shot now looks like trying to qualify for the Europa League.

All in all the best teams in the Premier League have struggled in Europe, unable to adapt to a plan B and finding out that defending on the continent is much more superior to the Premier League. On this evidence it doesn’t seem likely that a club from England will be winning the competition this year which would stretch the winless run to 7 editions. That would be the longest ever that a club from the Premier League has gone without winning it. The current record is 6 editions from the inaugural start of the Champions League up to 1998, with Manchester United infamously winning it in 1999.

For all the money being pumped into the league it isn’t guaranteeing success on the highest level.

PSG could have Ligue 1 title wrapped up within a few months

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Who is going to give current French champions PSG a run for their money this season? The answer after 4 games is no one.

That sure sounds like depressing news as far as Ligue 1 is concerned with PSG opening up a 3 point gap at the top already. The team actually look at their best since 2012 when they started to dominate French football after being taken over and then having a seemingly bottomless pit of money to buy players with.

Not only do PSG have a 3 point lead at the top but in effect and for some it is more like a 5 point lead. That is because the teams currently in 2nd, 3rd and 4th position are Dijon, Toulouse and Lille. With all due respect neither of these teams are being counted on to keep up their challenge for the remainder of the season  and whilst all have started very well the odds are very much against them keeping that consistency.

That leaves us then with the usual suspects. First up is Marseille who are in 5th place with 7 points. Their last result was a superb 3-2 win at Monaco but they have had an indifferent if not unbalanced start to the season which includes drawing at home to Rennes and losing 3-1 away to newly promoted side Nimes.

Lyon have tried to close the gap in recent seasons to PSG but find themselves in 8th place and already 6 points behind the champions. They have already lost 2 games this season, something which PSG may not do until halfway into it. Can we write them off, most probably.

Then of course there is Monaco, a team on the face of it that we should take seriously since they are the only team to have stopped PSG’s utter dominance since 2012 when they won the league title in 2017. Alas they are a team who like to sell on their best players and they have lost so much quality that they are a shadow of the side we could once rely on to win games week in and week out. That was finalised with the sale of Kylian Mbappe to PSG for over 100m euros. Yes the money was too good not to take but Monaco have also sold the one player that could have changed their fortunes and the club have sold quite possibly the best teenager in the world to their biggest domestic rival.

Monaco are currently in 13th place and for a team that would normally be bear hugging PSG for much of the season it is sad to see them less than a month into it 8 points behind.

That leaves us back with PSG a team that in theory last season had won the title by Christmas. And whilst it remains true that no team no matter how great they are can win a league so early, they can stretch their lead so much that in effect other teams give up, that’s why in a few months time PSG in theory yet again will be league champions, anything else will simply be a stay of execution until billionaire owners open up the league more and takeover PSG’s closest rivals, until then PSG will dominate in France.

Mariano is a clever signing for Real Madrid

Under Zinedine Zidane, a route between the young ranks and the first team was established at Real Madrid. It was a path followed by the likes of Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez, but not Mariano Diaz, who was sold in the summer of 2017.

Now, the striker is back at the Santiago Bernabeu, returning to the Spanish capital after a year at Lyon, where he impressed, scoring 18 goals in 37 games. Real Madrid were desperate for a striker before the close of the summer transfer window and they have got one in the form of a familiar face.

Mariano

Some will argue that Mariano’s return is an illustration of Real Madrid’s wastefulness. Mariano was always a good squad player for them and arguably should have been kept last summer. The wisdom in allowing both Mariano and Alvaro Morata to leave in the same window was questionable, at best.

But at least Real Madrid have now corrected their initial mistake. Mariano will provide competition in attack for the likes of Karim Benzema and even Gareth Bale. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid a little light in the attacking positions, but now they have Mariano, along with Borja Mayoral, to at least ease the burden on Benzema in particular.

Benzema struggled at times last season, scoring just five goals in La Liga all season long. The Frenchman might even have left Real Madrid had Ronaldo not beat him to departing the club, with the club’s notoriously tough-to-please support making a habit of whistling and jeering the 30-year-old.

From Mariano’s perspective, there might be a chance for him to establish himself as a first team figure. This Real Madrid team are in the midst of a transition following the exit of Ronaldo and Zidane at the end of last season. Right the way through the squad, there are youngsters looking to break into the first team over the coming campaign and Mariano is one such name on that list.

On the basis of his performances over the first few games of the new season, Benzema has been revitalised by his break over the summer. The sale of Ronaldo to Juventus has given him more freedom across the frontline. He no longer has to make way for the Portuguese forward. Real Madrid’s formation is now built around Benzema.

Mariano was close to joining Sevilla, with Lyon accepting a bid for the striker before Real Madrid came in with their own offer. But Julen Lopetegui made a personal play to sign Mariano. “Julen called me and told me he would be happy if I came back,” Mariano explained. “A great part of it was when he told me was counting on me.”

Signed as a back-up option, don’t be surprised if Mariano ends up playing an important role at Real Madrid this season. The young striker has proved his doubters, which included Real Madrid wrong at every turn.

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Ligue 1 stars Mbappe, Neymar, Fekir, Depay, Thauvin & Cavani back in Action!

Ligue 1 kicks-off on Friday, August 10th with Marseille hosting Toulouse! The French fans have celebrated a glorious summer with the likes of Kylian Mbappe helping Les Bleus lift the World Cup! However, this Friday, Fantasy Football Managers will be looking to the likes of Florian Thauvin to earn precious fantasy points in the long and exciting quest to be crowned best Ligue 1 Fantasy Manager!

While PSG may be clear favorites to repeat as champions, in particular with Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar all on the club’s payroll, Lyon- as long as they keep Nabil Fekir, have an exciting and fun core in Fekir, Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore and striker Mariano. Marseille have some good players, and not just Thauvin, but it will be hard for them to compete with PSG in a long season due to the low budget limiting the club’s ability to lure quality signings.

Finally, Monaco have sold players again this summer but they have made a habit of rebounding and performing well with the help of clever signings and quality work by coach Leonardo Jardim.

So who will be on your Ligue 1 Fantasy Team? How about Cavani who is PSG’s all-time leading scorer (he surpassed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record last season), or perhaps iconic Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon?

Remember to play now and invite your friends to join your Mini-League! It is Free to join, so what are you waiting for? If you believe you have what it takes to challenge other Ligue 1 Fantasy managers then click the following link now: https://ligue1fantasy.com/users/register and prove your knowledge of French football!