Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Memphis Depay

There were quite a lot of challenges to Memphis Depay for Ligue 1 player of the weekend, with players scoring braces of goals and defenders getting the winner in Monaco’s case and keeping a clean sheet. But Depay gets the nod after he scored a hat trick.

Lyon beat Dijon 4-1 and that was important for three reasons: The first was eradicating how poor the club had started last season which gave them no chance of challenging PSG for the league title. The second was that this game, their first of the season came just days after losing at the semi-final stage of the Champions League, naturally the club would be feeling down, so this win back in the domestic league is a great sign. The final reason was getting one up, at least psychologically on PSG, as the champions will not play a game until September 10th. They were given an extra 10 days rest given that they had reached the Champions League final.

Back to Depay who has always remained a quality purchase for Lyon. Last season he was very important for the club and amassed 40 points. He scored 9 goals and also assisted in a further two. That was probably his weakest link last season not setting up more goals.

However Depay has started the season in brilliant style by scoring a hat trick. Lyon were 1-0 down when they were awarded a penalty with just six minutes left of the first half which Depay converted. But even more good news was to come when Depay scored again right on half time. That goal had put Lyon 2-1 up at half time from a losing position and that was key to Dijon losing their hearts in the game. Depay wasn’t finished though and completed his hat trick after his side were awarded another penalty in the second half. The other Lyon goal came through an own goal. The only blemish for Depay was that he was booked during the game.

Despite the man of the match performance and a blistering start from Depay there was a downside to what he said after the game speculating on his future, Depay said: “I do not see the future, I do not know if I will do the full season here. I have been here for four years, I became captain. After you have to look at your career, there is no Champions League. At the moment I don’t know.”

And that could be key for Depay’s future at Lyon. He wants a move to possibly Barcelona and certainly wants to play in the Champions League. For now Lyon are happy to have Depay, but is Depay happy to be at Lyon?

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Amine Gouiri

Amine Gouiri will be unknown to most even if you follow Ligue 1 religiously as he is very new to the game. But his 2 goals for Nice as his club beat Lens 2-1 on the opening weekend of the Ligue 1 season make him the player of the weekend in France.

Gouiri is just 20 and started his career off at Lyon’s B side he only played 33 games in three seasons but scored 14 goals and that was enough to get him promoted to Lyon’s senior side. However after not getting in enough games (just 8 in three seasons and with no goals) Lyon decided to sell him. He just didn’t seem to be able to find his footing with the club but at the same time it could be argued that Lyon were not prepared to be patient with him.

Nice were going to be his suitors and the club secured his services only in July for around 7 million euros. They could clearly see his potential and he is already starting to repay his club grabbing both goals as it seemed that newly promoted Lens were going to shock Patrick Vieira’s team. Not so and Gouiri took his goals well.

Gouiri’s first goal was a piece of magic after good build up play he received the ball on the edge of the area and with some backlift he placed the ball beautifully into the top right hand corner of the goal giving the goalkeeper absolutely no chance. His 2nd goal in the second half had him running at the defence and shooting a beauty, the right hand side again but this time the bottom.

His goals were confident and he looks the perfect fit for Nice. Coach Vieira was understandably very happy with Gouiri’s performance, he said “Amine confirmed what he’s shown since he arrived here. He’s ambitious, wants to improve and gives himself the means to succeed. His work paid off. He’s not a winger who’s going to stay wide. He likes to get on the ball and play between the lines. His relationship with Kasper [Dolberg] is important for us, even if it didn’t work. They speak the same language. We’ll be more dangerous in the coming games.”

Gouiri looks like keeping an eye on and once the Ligue 1 season really rolls on this season you may want to think of adding him to your team or keeping an eye on him. He is so young but is playing beyond his years.

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Could a French team win the Champions League?

Marseille’s tainted Champions League win of 1992-93 is the only time in the competition’s history that a French team has got its hands on the trophy.

The following season AS Monaco reached the semi-finals, losing to eventual winners AC Milan, and the following season Paris Saint-Germain followed the same fate to the Italian giants at the same stage.

That was PSG’s one and only Champions League final four appearance prior to Wednesday’s dramatic 2-1 victory against Atalanta.

In 1995-96 won the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup; the only European title in their trophy cabinet. That same season, Nantes also reached the final four of the Champions League, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Juventus, who beat Ajax on penalties in the final.

In fact, since Marseille’s victory in 1993, the only Ligue 1 side to have even appeared in the final since was Monaco – that’s when they were hammered 3-0 by Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in 2004.

France have produced six finalists in all – including the runners-up of the inaugural tournament in 1955-56: Stade de Reims. The same team appeared in the final three years later, with the same result: losing to Real Madrid.

Saint-Etienne were beaten 1-0 by Bayern Munich in 1976 and Marseille themselves lost on penalties to Red Star Belgrade two years before they got their hands on the trophy.

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Not a great time for Manchester as United and City dumped out of European competition

First it was the turn of Manchester City who were dumped out of the Champions League at the quarter final stage against Lyon. A few days later their bitter rivals Manchester United followed suit losing 2-1 against Sevilla in the semi-finals of the Europa League. It’s fair to say that it’s been a bleak week for English football in Europe especially as Wolves exited the Europa League too. But it hasn’t been a good week for football in Manchester either.

Manchester City’s defeat means that they finished the season by ‘only’ winning the Carabao Cup. For a club of its size and budget that return marks a failed season and manager Pep Guardiola will know this. City were supposed to make light work of French club Lyon and advance to the semi-finals. But it was easy to tell early on in the game that Lyon had City’s number.

City remained with the threats and had the superior technical skill but Lyon had the pace of the game in the bag. They could slow it down when they wanted and their tactic of a 3-5-2 worked to perfection.

Moussa Dembele ended the game as the hero as he scored 2 goals which killed the game off and his redemption seems complete after his talents have largely been ignored by the Premier League. In France the media were all over Houssem Aouar. He was deemed as being all over the pitch and always in the right places and was named man of the match for most publications with a 9/10. Aouar has been on the fringes of the French team and these type of performances will only do him good, and he is still only 22 so has that chance.

As for City Guardiola said he has no excuses and that the better team won, but this loss would have been a big blow to him. Having said that with Bayern Munich waiting in the semi finals one wonders if it was light escape for City, it will be interesting to see how Lyon fare against the German team who look incredible.

For Manchester United their sheer momentum and confidence as the Premier League wrapped up simply wasn’t enough to get them past the line and into what would have been a surprise Europa League final. The problem for United is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan b and that is why even though on the night they were better than Sevilla they couldn’t get past them. The Spanish team who have won the Europa League on 5 occasions from the past 15 years may well add to that record.

All in all it has been a disappointing season for the Manchester clubs. City have lost their title to Liverpool and the one trophy they want- the Champions League- continues to elude them. As for United, they finished the season very well and that was good enough to play in the Champions League next season, a major plus point, but they have a long way to go to get back to the top.

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French Cup finals to go ahead and fans will be present as Ligue 1 announces new season details

Out of all the major European leagues only the French Ligue 1 was cancelled due to Coronavirus. The season had to end abruptly as it was agreed upon that it could not be completed in time. This said even though the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A have found a way.

So it will be to everyone’s surprise to see that the French football federation in line with government plans have announced that fans will be allowed to watch the two French cup finals that will take place in July.

As it stands fans will be allowed to any sporting event in France from July 11th, the maximum will be 5,000.

The irony of course is how the league season was ended so quickly whilst other major leagues tried to work through the obstacles to get their seasons finished- and some fans in France may feel rightly annoyed by that given that the cup finals- the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue (which is the final one to take place) will not only be played but played with some fans.

The idea in France is to start small at 5,000 in stadiums that hold at least 50,000, so 10% capacity. If that goes well there will be another review in August. The new French Ligue 1 season is due to kick off on August 22nd, which would be at least four weeks before England, Spain, Italy and Germany who will have to postpone the new season as their seasons won’t end until late July.

With the Champions League due to take place in the month of August this could mean that PSG won’t play a game until September if they go far in the competition.

The FFF will be hoping to increase capacity by 10% each month, if that is a success then stadums could be full again in France by March 2021. Though many games only averaged between 60-70% full so everything could be back to normal in Ligue 1 much sooner.

The news is certainly a twist given France’s direct approach to the pandemic, but certain fans will be very happy by it- at least the ones that get to attend the cup finals.

In the Coupe de France final PSG will play Saint Etienne and in the Coupe de la Ligue final PSG will play Lyon. Both matches are scheduled to take place at the Stade de France in Paris which holds 80,000 fans, so 5,000 would still feel very empty.

Certainly if PSG were to win both games it would give the club a nice boost and another two trophies. The dates for the finals are still being arranged but look likely to take place sometime in July.

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Lyon Defeats Highlights Juventus’ Woes in Plain Sight

While yesterday’s narrow defeat still gives Juventus a decent shot at progressing, the bianconeri’s lacklustre performance was vastly concerning and brought to light the side’s major issues. After the hosts scored an early goal, Lyon opted to defend in a deep, compact block and did so expertly. The French side conceded very little and emerged victorious keeping a clean sheet.

This season, Juventus have encountered a number of issues breaking down sides defending in their own penalty area and struggled to create anything of note last night. In fact, it took over eighty minutes for the Italian champions to register their first shot on target. Sarri’s men may still progress to the next round, but if last night highlighted anything, it’s that this Juventus side is NOT built to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.

For one, Juventus’ defence lacks depth out wide. After selling Leonardo Spinazzola and loaning out his replacement Luca Pellegrini, Alex Sandro is the only senior left-back on the roster. Since last season, the Brazilian’s form has declined and offers close to nothing in the final third. Last night, Sandro looked gassed and struggled to beat his man.

On the opposing wing, Danilo did not fare much better. After pushing Cuadrado forward in his natural position, Sarri turned to Danilo for the right-back position. Since joining from Manchester City, the former Real Madrid man has regularly been sidelined and has struggled for form.

When he’s not injured, Danilo represents Juventus’ biggest liability, either at the back or in the final third. Last season, the now-departed Joao Cancelo made the right-back role his own and was arguably the side’s best performer in the first half of the season. Even if they progress past Lyon, Juventus’ questionable depth and options at full-back will come back to haunt them.

Beyond their stuttering fullbacks, Juventus’ biggest problem lies in the midfield. Miralem Pjanic is on the steep decline and hasn’t looked like himself for years while new recruit Adrien Rabiot is typically a passenger in the midfield when given the nod. Outside of Bentancur, Juventus’ midfield lacks drive and incision in the final third and often plays on the peripheries of games. Last night was no different.

Aaron Ramsey, Juventus’ other midfield recruit, is yet to establish himself as a set-starter but is slowly improving. After a top-notch performance on the weekend, the Welshman was inexplicably left out of the eleven by Sarri, leaving Juventus with three extremely similar midfielders on the pitch. If the bianconeri are to have a shot at progressing past Lyon and making a deep European run, Ramsey will need to be at the heart of it. The former Arsenal man is one of the side’s only midfielders that makes runs into the box, opening space for his teammates. Without him on the pitch, opposing sides are happy to drop off, conceding possession outside their penalty area.

The reality is, however, whatever setup Sarri goes with will have its own flaws. The side is poorly constructed and lacks pieces in key areas. If the tactician fields Dybala with Higuain and Ronaldo, Juve will lack balance and offensive options off the bench. If Sarri goes with the 4-3-3, it alienates the bianconeri’s best player Paulo Dybala and shoehorns him into a wide role. If he goes with the 4-3-1-2, he doesn’t have an out-and-out trequartista to make it work. He tried with Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi, and had no success. All this with one decent fullback.

While Ronaldo may very well put the team on his back like he did last year against Atletico Madrid, Juventus’ issues are there for everyone to see and Lyon know the tie is there for the taking. Their full-backs are sub-par, their midfield is anonymous and their roster, as a whole, is unbalanced.

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PSG win 7 goal thriller as Rennes move closer to Marseille

If there is one thing that seems to be certain with PSG it is entertainment and following their 4-4 draw at Amiens last weekend the club scored another 4 goals, except they won this time beating Bordeaux 4-3.

No one really expected such a fight from Bordeaux who showed a lot of character in not just coming to Paris in order to defend. PSG had gone a goal down but veteran striker Edinson Cavani soon equalised. The star of the team this past weekend though was Marquinhos who can sometimes be seen as the forgotten man, but he scored two goals and Kylian Mbappe got the winner in a fantastic energised game.

But there would still be a negative to take from the match as Neymar received two yellow cards and was sent off in the very final moments of the game and now he will miss the trip to Dijon. However PSG have pulled clear at the top by 13 points, and that was helped as Marseille lost 3-1 at home to Nantes. It was the clubs first defeat in over 15 games and it wasn’t a good performance which was capped off by Alvaro scoring an own goal.

Marseille losing meant that Rennes took full advantage and their 2-1 home win over Nimes took them to within 8 points of 2nd place. M’Baye Niang scored both of Rennes’ goals as his good form continues. Rennes needed to win because Lille also picked up 3 points in 4th place with their victory over Toulouse. Toulouse who are rock bottom were never given a chance and this was a match where Lille ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. Loic Remy scored a brace and the club have won 4 from their last five games, as they chase down 3rd position.

Monaco’s winning run came to an end but at least they didn’t lose and instead they drew 1-1 away to Dijon. Lyon won their first game in almost a month by beating Metz away 2-0 and that was seen as a very good result for the club as Metz had picked up in form lately even in the bottom half of the table. But the club are still behind Strasbourg who were involved a dour 0-0 draw against Amiens- the same Amiens who had put four goals past PSG, but that is football.

Reims have lost just one match in their past five and they got a decent 1-1 draw away to Saint Etienne and are in 8th place. They were losing 1-0 and heading for defeat until they were rewarded a penalty in the final minute which Boulaye Dia scored for the away side.

Reims European hopes are still alive even though they are drawing too many games and the reason for that is how close the league still is with only 12 games left to play. The club are in 8th and yet are only seven points behind 3rd place, so there really is all to play for.

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Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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PSG held in 4-4 thriller as Monaco make a move into the top 5

There was no doubt about it that the game of the weekend in Ligue 1 was between  PSG and Amiens. It was simply an incredible match that ended in a scoreline that nobody would have predicted: 4-4.

Of course PSG did rest some players namely Kylian Mbappe as Thomas Tuchel’s side have their crucial Champions League match to play against Borussia Dortmund in midweek. But even taking that into account it was an incredible start from Amiens who are in 19th place. The club went 3-0 up within 40 minutes and the home fans simply could not believe what they were witnessing. This was the same Amiens who had won just 3 games at home this season and scored just 13 before the game, now they had 3 in one match.

Serhou Guirassy opened the scoring after just five minutes to make Amiens intent very clear. Perhaps they had sniffed blood and realised that one eye for PSG would be on their Champions League game and that this was the perfect time to face the current French champions. Gael Kakuta made it 2-0 shortly afterwards and then Fousseni Diabate sent the stadium out of control with the third goal. How many teams come back from this situation and it seemed like the home fans were celebrating a rare victory over the mighty PSG who had lost just 3 games all season.

But this is still PSG, and even though some stars were rested they have an almighty talented team. Ander Herrera scored just before half time to make it 3-1 and there was a little self doubt at that point that had crept in.

In the 2nd half PSG dominated the game and Tanguy Kouassi broke home fans hearts with 2 goals in five minutes and now Amiens were hanging on from a cliff that they thought they had just conquered. With 16 minutes to go Mauro Icardi put PSG in the lead to make it 4-3 and PSG looked to have made one of the great comebacks and earn yet another three points. But there would be some joy for the home crowd when in the very final minute the man who had opened the scoring finished it and Guirassy scored his 2nd to send the stadium wild and the final score ended an incredible 4-4.

Amiens are 19th and 6 points from safety and it looks like the best the club can hope for would be the play-offs. But then again if they can put in consistent performances like they did at the weekend could they make one of the very special comebacks in Ligue 1 history themselves?

It was a very good weekend for 2nd placed Marseille who beat Lille 2-1 away from home, a very hard ground to go to. Not only did PSG drop points which means that Marseille have shortened the gap to 10 points but Rennes also lost which means they have an 11 point safety net and the club are almost guaranteed 2nd spot now which means automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League, job, almost achieved one would suspect.

Rennes lost at Reims 1-0 and the club have now gone their last 3 matches without a win, but they somehow stay in 3rd place with 41 points. With Lille losing too it means that Monaco have shortened the gap and they made  a big splash into 5th place after beating Montpellier 1-0. It was the club’s 3rd win in a row and Islam Slimani scored again. The pressure now looks off coach Robert Moreno and the club have climbed onto 38 points and are just three points from 3rd place. It has been quite a season for the club so far but it could end up on a positive note.

Strasbourg’s good form continued as they drew 1-1 away to Lyon to keep 7th place and Reims are back into the top 8 with a 1-0 win over Rennes. A penalty by El Toure settled the game.

European spots are still up for grabs in Ligue 1 and it is interesting to see how close the league has been this year. Marseille also will not give up on a league title even if it does seem unlikely, but if PSG keep progressing in the Champions League whose to say that they will lose some focus in the league? You never quite know in football.

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Ligue 1 Fantasy Picks for the Weekend: Matchday 25

It’s week 25 of the French league season, let’s look ahead to the players that could make all the difference to your fantasy team this weekend in Ligue 1.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Steve Mandanda- Marseille

There is only one goalkeeper worth talking about and that is Steve Mandanda. He has kept 5 clean sheets in a row and Marseille will play Lille at the weekend. With 61 points Mandanda is ranked as the best goalkeeper currently in the league and he would cost 8.5m.

Defender: Pablo- Bordeaux

Bordeaux have kept 2 clean sheets from their last four games and Pablo has been good at the heart of defence. He has kept 6 clean sheets and even has 3 goals, so a good all round player and he could really be worth adding to your team.

Defender: Yunis Abdelhamid- Reims

Yunis Abdelhamid has been really impressive for Reims this season and the club will be at home to Rennes and determined to get back to winning ways. The defender has kept 10 clean sheets this season and also scored three goals.

Defender: Axel Disasi- Reims

Disasi has 46 points and like his teammate he has kept 10 clean sheets. What has been impressive with Reims this season has been how they do not concede many goals. For example at home the club have conceded 7 goals, only Lyon with 6 have shipped less.

Defender: Laurent Koscielney- Bordeaux

Koscielney has 22 point and has helped his club keep 6 clean sheets this season. Bordeaux have picked up on some form and are at home to Dijon where they will be looking to keep another clean sheet.

Midfielder: Houssem Aouar- Lyon

Aouar has helped with 7 clean sheets and been involved in 6 Lyon goals. He is the invisible player, that just gets the job done. Also Lyon will be looking to get back to winning ways and they could do just that being at home against Strasbourg.

Midfielder: Mehdi Abeid- Nantes

Mehdi Abeid has scored a goal and been involved in two assists, with the way he plays down the flank his club will be looking to him as they try and stop a 3 game losing streak. They will play Metz at the weekend have every chance of winning.

Midfielder: Xavier Chavalerin- Reims

Chavalerin has become one of the most important players for Reims and he has 22 points and scored one goal but also assisted in a further three. Reims are at home to Rennes and have the quality to shape that game if he is on form. He is valued at 6m.

Midfielder: Ibrahim Sangare- Toulouse

This is an interesting one as Toulouse have been so poor this season. But they will be at home to Nice, who have been a little under confident lately, and what do Toulouse have to lose now? Sangare is a risky choice to have a good game but is valued at just 5m and he could come good this weekend.

Striker: Andy Delort- Montpellier

Andy Delort is scoring goals again and could add to his tally this weekend as Montpellier take on Monaco who have a leaky defence. Delort has 9 goals and 3 assists so far.

Striker: Islam Slimani- Monaco

It was really important that Slimani found the net last weekend and that could give him the confidence to continue scoring goals for Monaco. He has scored 8 goals this season and assisted in another seven which has been really impressive.

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