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

Real Madrid are hopeful that Mariano can follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Morata

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The very instant news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was about to become a reality, Madridistas were already compiling their shopping lists for a potential replacement before the words ‘communicado official’ could even be tweeted.

Finding someone to adequately fill the boots of arguably the greatest player in the club’s history would be a tall order, yet the names thought to be in play this summer provided a faint glimmer of hope. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mauro Icardi and Robert Lewandowski were just some of the most frequently mentioned, as securing the services of at least one was seen not only as a possibility, but a downright certainty.

Then, the weeks rolled along and nothing happened. Nobody was signed. Florentino Perez’s briefcase of cash rumored to be somewhere around the entire GDP of Malta remained unopened. Defcon five had been initiated by supporters convinced of Madrid’s impending doom. After all, could you really trust a Gareth Bale to stay healthy, or a Karim Benzema: scorer of 16 La Liga goals combined over the past two seasons, to pick up the slack in front of net?

Much to dismay of Madridistas, most of the aforementioned targets failed to become available. This left Madrid with two options: overpay for a player of similar profile to the ones already on the squad, or use a measured approach this window and instead bring back a familiar face to provide depth. Los Blancos ultimately chose the latter, ripping Mariano Diaz from the dead, lifeless fingers of Sevilla.

Having risen through their youth ranks, Mariano showed off his ability for the Real Madrid first team in the 2016-17 season; scoring five goals in 14 appearances. Behind the likes of Benzema and Alvaro Morata, chances appeared to be limited so Mariano opted to join Lyon last July and enjoyed a stellar campaign in Ligue 1, netting 18 times in 34 outings.

As part of their agreement with the French club, Real Madrid retained not only 35 percent of Mariano’s playing rights, but they also included a clause that gave them the right to re-sign the player if they matched any future bid for his services. As a result, the €30 million fee Lyon agreed with Sevilla saw the European champions only have to pay €20m to fortify their depth behind Benzema.

It was a shrewd piece of business by Florentino Perez. Not only is Mariano a bargain in this type of market; he will also require little time to adapt having already spent so much time here. Furthermore, returning to Madrid has always been a goal of the forward, evidenced by comments Mariano made last November.

“I have a five-year contract with Lyon but going back to Madrid would be incredible, even if I decided it was best to leave the club in the summer,” he said. It was the correct decision by Madrid to let me go: for me, for them, for Lyon. But it is true that it would be a dream for me to return in the future.”

Now, the players dream will come true and Madrid are hopeful that Mariano’s return could mirror that of one-time Merengue, Alvaro Morata. Similarly brought through the Castilla youth ranks, Morata would feature sporadically for the first team from 2010-2014. Fed up with his lack of opportunities, Madrid granted his wish and sold him to Juventus for €20m, while still possessing a buy-back option in the future. Morata saw ample game time in Turin, allowing him to build the the type of confidence that was instrumental for him to score 27 goals over two seasons.

Madrid were naturally impressed by his progression, so much so, that they exercised their buy-back option for a reasonable fee of €30 million. Coming back as a player re-born, Morata would have a stellar campaign as Benzema’s primary backup; scoring 20 goals in all comps as Madrid captured the league title and the Champions League. Still, Morata was not pleased at the prospect of going into another campaign stuck behind the shadow of the Frenchman.

Consequently, he made his feelings known to Perez and all parties agreed that a change would be best. Madrid would eventually find a willing partner in Chelsea, agreeing to a whopping transfer fee of €67m for the Spaniard. Combining that with the other business conducted with Juve, Perez had essentially made €57m on a striker who was never realistically going to be a full-time starter for his club, while also getting the best season of his career out of him.

To this point, Mariano’s journey appears to be trending the exact same way Morata’s did. With a full season spent at Lyon, he was able to develop integral parts of his game not only physically, but mentally as well. This bodes nicely for a Madrid side that lacks the profile of a striker who is ruthless in front of goal. Given the hallowed number 7 shirt will only enhance expectations of the forward, but if a Galactico is brought in next summer and Mariano has a career season, all will be forgotten.

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Our picks ahead of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action

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The usual suspects star heavily in our picks of the week for the 26th round of Ligue 1 action – check out our top tips as you prepare your side for the next game day!

Steve Mandanda, Marseille

It’s testament to his mental strength that he’s returned from a mixed season at Crystal Palace and slotted straight back into the Marseille side.

With 45 points thanks in large to his 11 clean sheets, Mandanda will undoubtedly believe that his return to his homeland was an inspired decision.

Lucas Lima, Nantes

The pacey left back has been a revelation under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri and a key figure in the side’s excellent run.

His three assists and one goal have helped him onto an impressive 37 points this season and his attacking output could be critical if his side are to beat Nice. Continue reading

Ligue 1 focus: Lyon slump to third defeat on bounce

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Having beaten the powerhouse of Paris Saint-Germain in the third round of matches in the post-winter break round of fixtures, many a Lyon supporter would be justified in having lofty expectations for the back end of their campaign.

However, things have not panned out in the way that many of us will have anticipated – with the side’s third consecutive Ligue 1 defeat seeing them fall from second place in the table to four points behind third placed Marseille.

Having unexpectedly faltered against Bordeaux and an AS Monaco side that had been reduced to ten men in respective 3-1 and 3-2 defeats, the seven time league champions will have been keen to have shown their mettle as they sort to bounce back with a home victory over a Rennes side that had encountered form issues of their own. Continue reading

How defeat for Lyon compounds their ‘also-ran’ status

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The Olympique Lyonnais bubble was well and truly burst this weekend, as they succumbed to a surprise 3-1 defeat away to mid-table Bordeaux – a defeat that sees their outside hopes of a title chance all but diminish and compounds their reputation as ‘also-rans’.

Whilst the side still sit second in the table – albeit on goal difference – the defeat sees them fall to 11 points behind league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

The significant gap between the league leaders and Lyon is a raw reminder of how far the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes side remain behind the super club when it comes to the resources available to them.

Lyon may have the quality to beat the likes of PSG when at their formidable best but they lack the reserves capable of delivering on a more consistent basis, the true sign of a team of champions. Continue reading

Lyon continue to prove post-Lacazette doubters wrong

This week’s Ligue 1 focus looks at how the emergence of Nabil Fekir as the goalscorer-in-chief for outside title hopefuls Olympique Lyonnais has ensured the club have not encountered a post-Lacazette hangover in front of goal.

Many a Lyon supporter would have been justified for coming into the 2017/18 with a sense of trepidation, having said goodbye to the club’s star striker Alexander Lacazette.

A local boy, Lacazette joined Lyon in 2003 at the age of 12, rising his way up through the ranks of the academy to become the lynchpin of his childhood club before eventually departing to seek a new opportunity at Premier League giants Arsenal. Continue reading

Jouez le meilleur jeu de Ligue 1 Fantasy Football!

Etes-vous pret a selectionnez les meilleurs joueurs de la Ligue 1 pour votre equipe, comme, par exemple, Alexandre Lacazette, Angel Di Maria et Vincent Enyeama? Continue reading

Arsenal not interested in Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette

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Arsenal have been linked with a move for Olympique Lyonnais striker Alexandre Lacazette this summer, with reports suggesting manager Arsene Wenger is keen on bolstering his frontline after a long-term injury suffered by Danny Welbeck. The Gunners failed in their bid to sign Jamie Vardy from Leicester City during this summer’s 2016 European Championships, and are keen for more competition for centre-forward Olivier Giroud.

Lacazette’s name has been on Arsenal’s radar for many years, and while his stock has risen and fallen in recent years, manager Arsene Wenger is said to have taken a fancy to the 25-year-old. However, president Jean-Michel Aulas recently downplayed any transfer talk of the sides chief striker, insisting Wenger hadn’t contacted him this summer about Lacazette’s availability.

“I saw Arsene a lot during France’s matches (in Euro 2016) and he didn’t talk to me about it. So I don’t think that there is something, and it seems to me that Alex wants to spend this season with Lyon in the new stadium. He wants to experience an adventure in the Champions League that could prove to be much better than last season. I think he’s going to stay with us and we’re very happy about that,” he said.

Lacazette has talked up the prospect of moving to a top European side in the future, and it was expected he would make the switch to continue his development to get back into the France national team for the 2018 World Cup. However, the 25-year-old seems content for now to stay with his boyhood club so no move looks to be on the cards.

Its potentially a big loss for Arsenal as Lacazette has been in fantastic scoring form in Ligue 1. He scored 21 goals in 34 games last season for Lyon, and has notched 15 league goals and more in each of his previous three campaigns. Boasting pace and power, Lacazette has a skill set that could well see him shine in the Premier League, but Arsenal could well be overlooking him.

The Gunners are still expected to sign another centre-forward to compete with Olivier Giroud for a starting place ahead of the 2016/17 season, but it’s largely unknown who is on the list this summer. Lacazette is a transfer target for West Ham United but rebuffed their interest recently too. Lyon have slapped a big price tag on his head, and the striker is yet to force the issue of a transfer which suggests they still hold the cards to his future.

Alexandre Lacazette Pining for a Premier League move in the summer

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Olympique Lyonnais’s Alexandre Lacazette has set a number of Premier League clubs on red alert after admitting he’s be interested in a move to England in the summer. The 24-year-old striker has enjoyed a decent season with Lyon, scoring 13 goals in 26 games, but his time with the French Ligue 1 side could be up with the side some distance from winning major honours.

Paris Saint-Germain have won the title with many games to spare this season and with Lyon potentially even missing out on a Champions League spot as things stand, Lacazette is expected to leave to pursue a side who can offer him European football as well as the chance to challenge for trophies. There doesn’t seem to be anything left from him and French, and he’s always wanted a move to the Premier League in his career.

“A departure? Yes, I think about (it, and) the Premier League is very attractive for a player. But I know that to go, I have to play well this season. So I’m very focused and perhaps after that, I will leave. I know it is possible to go to the Premier League, and Lyon is also aware,” said Lacazette. Having scored 55 goals in his last 95 league games over three seasons, the 24-year-old has become one of Europe’s deadliest strikers.

However, he risks hitting a brick wall in his development if he stays at a club not matching his ambition, and there’s plenty of interest from the Premier League so he shouldn’t struggle finding a suitor in the summer. Lacazette also wants to boost his chances with the French national team, and if he can be prolific in the English top flight, he’ll have no trouble representing Les Blues on a regular basis in the future.

Still contracted to Lyon until 2019, the French club could command a big asking price for the striker. They accepted a £22M bid from Newcastle in January this year, but the play rejected terms from the North-East outfit, but given the expected summer interest from even more clubs with lucrative finances, Lacazette could move for around £30M this time round. And his scoring record from the last few years suggests he’ll be worth every penny.

Arsenal and Liverpool are two sides reportedly keen on his signature, but Newcastle might renew an interest in one last attempt to get their man. Lacazette looks destined for a Premier League move for the 2016/17 season, but which club will he be playing for?

Olympique Lyonnais to challenge Paris Saint-Germain for the French Ligue 1 title

French Ligue 1 runners-up Olympique Lyonnais have recently strengthened the side with the signing of Manchester United’s Rafael this summer. The Brazilian defender will compete with Christophe Jallet and Mehdi Aeffane for a starting place in the side next season, but could he be getting his hands on some silverware in 2015/16?

Lyon ran Paris Saint-Germain close in the title-race last season, and importantly have retained their standout stars of the previous for another push this time round. Striker Alexandre Lacazette bagged 27 league goals in 33 games last season, and reaffirmed his desire to stay at the Stade de Gerland for the following year and more. He was linked with every top side in Europe following his outstanding scoring record in France, but remains loyal.

Attacking-midfielder Nabil Fekir scored and created 22 goals in the division, and is also sticking around to fight for the title. “I have to back up what I have done. I have to do everything I can to continue progressing. There is also the Champions League. I want to give back to OL what the club has given me,” he said.

The French club have a side good enough to challenge Paris Saint-Germain, and their impressive form for the majority of the last campaign proved they can stand up to Laurent Blanc’s side. With Lyon able to retain their best players despite interest from top European sides shows just how much confidence the players have in the club.

Olympique Lyonnais have real history in the league, dominating the top-flight between 2001-2008, winning seven consecutive titles under four different managers. PSG’s financial muscle has seen them as the top side in France over the last few years, but Lyon are making up the ground gradually. Their title rivals are ageing, and are expecting to lose some of their most influential players in the coming seasons, so it’s a matter of time before a shift in power.

Lyon have the best striker in the division in Lacazette, they have the best playmaker in Fekir, and they have a defence who helped to earn 16 clean sheets last season. Manager Hubert Fournier is worried about pre-season preparations, however, suggesting certain individuals are showing the wrong attitude. Nevertheless, the French giants have all the ingredients to be a side worthy of challenging PSG for the league title this campaign, but they need to finally prove their worth to bring back the glory days.

How far can they go?