Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Malang Sarr

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One of the outstanding defenders in Ligue 1 this past season might not be a household name yet but he has already made an impression at just 20 years old and his name is Malang Sarr.

Sarr who plays for Nice finished 2nd in the European Fantasy League Ligue 1 rankings for defenders with 70 points. He was outstanding value and would have only cost you 5.5m to buy this season. Sarr started 34 games and was part of a defence that kept 15 clean sheets. He also scored a goal and assisted in one. Even though Nice just fell short of picking up any silverware and a European place for next season, personally Sarr shone under the leadership of Nice coach Patrick Vieira.

Sarr was born in Nice and this is already his 3rd season with the club, he has never been afforded the opportunity to play this many games for the club in a season and he has now been established as a regular call up. His next game for Nice will mark his 100th for the club.

The youngster remained very consistent throughout the season with his best points tally being 7 when Nice beat Nimes 1-0, he assisted in the winning goal and also kept a clean sheet.

His worst month was in September when he actually scored no points and indeed because of a booking- his only one of the season, he ended the month of -2 points. From October 28th to December 4th he stepped up his game scoring points in every match between that time and earning 32 points in the process.

Last season Sarr earned just 17 points and that signals a massive improvement this season earning over 3 times that in the past 9 months.

Sarr’s future looks bright. Vieira thinks very highly of him so much so that in the penultimate game of the season he named Sarr as captain of the team- this was partly down to rewarding Sarr for all of his commitment, dedication and hard work.

One wonders what could be in store for Sarr’s future and it could be away from Nice if he continues to be this good. One thing is for sure and that is getting a senior international call up with France. He has played at every level for the nation, and if he keeps in good health and form it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sarr at the 2022 World Cup. However he will also be eyeing up a possible place in next years European Championship, so another good season will be high on his agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Walter Benitez

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Nice may have finished 7th and a huge 35 points adrift of champions PSG but they still had the best goalkeeper statistically in the league in 26 year old Walter Benitez. The Argentinian is still very much unknown so much so that he has never played for the senior national side and if you go to his Wikipedia page you get the following: ‘Walter Daniel Benítez is an Argentine footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Nice’. That is all the information on the world’s leading encyclopaedia on the internet.

And yet Benitez has been outstanding for Nice this season who just missed out on a European spot under coach Patrick Vieira who is in his debut season with the club in Ligue 1.

Benitez finished top of the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1 with 91 points, 7 more than Mike Maignan of Lille and interestingly 29 points more than PSG’s Alphonse Areola. Benitez kept 16 clean sheets the most for any goalkeeper in Ligue 1 and had a superb period in the season which we must talk about.

It started against Amiens in November when Nice beat them 1-0, and it was to be a superb run of games for Benitez where he went the next 5 games without conceding one goal. It was at this time that the 26 year old started to garner attention from other teams and then other leagues including the Premier League. It is true to say that Benitez’s performances this season are like a catch 22 for a club like Nice. Good in the fact that he has undoubtedly won the club many points 10-15 at least but at the same time bad in the fact that they will almost certainly have to sell him at one point and that could be as early as this summer.

Overall Benitez ranks as the 6th best goalkeeper in Europe’s major leagues this past season. If you had Benitez in your fantasy team then you would have picked up a bargain as he is just 6.5m. He is sure to rise next season. There is little doubt that he is arguably one of the most underrated goalkeepers playing in Europe today.

Benitez has impressed Vieira and has been one of the real breakthrough talents in Ligue 1 even with his age in consideration. His benefit is that in his position he can be a goalkeeper easily for another 10 years.

Surely after this season and being ranked No.1. in the Ligue 1 Fantasy Football rankings he will get his break to be the number 1 choice for the Argentina national team. He recently said that getting the chance would be like touching the sky, but surely that will simply be the beginning for him, the sky in his case will not be the limit.

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Dante Costa

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Dante Costa earned 9pts at the weekend and is the Ligue 1 Player of the Weekend in the fantasy Ligue 1 rankings.

The Nice defender and Brazilian player also known simply as Dante has been the bedrock and guiding light in Patrick Vieira’s team and has played every game in Ligue 1 this season for Nice. In truth Dante’s career is supposed to be winding down given that he is 35 years old, but he has been raking in the points especially in the last few weeks- Nice have had 3 clean sheets in the last five games and his display this past weekend was the arguably his best of the season.

At the weekend Nice played Montpellier and this was given extra hype given the teams standings in the league, it was 7th v 8th, and both teams still have  a chance to qualify for next seasons Europa League.

Nice at home were installed as the slight favourites and the match lived up to what was seen beforehand as a close battle. In the end Nice won 1-0, Dante kept a clean sheet and the extra massive bonus for Dante which ended up giving him 9pts for the weekend is that he scored the only goal of the game- the winning goal in the 20th minute after a superb assist from Wylan Cyprien. Not only had Dante greatly contributed to the 3 points he had also scored his first goal of the season.

In all competitions Dante has only scored 3 goals for Nice from 112 games so at the weekend he celebrated the goal as if Nice had won Ligue 1 themselves. But in truth there was still a long way to go and he defended well, led the back line superbly with his experience of playing most of his career in the German Bundesliga and richly deserves to be named as Ligue 1 player of the week.

Patrick Vieira the Nice coach was all praise for his team especially the way his players were organised and focused, he said: “We were able to take control. We created real opportunities, we could have scored more this evening. I saw a very attractive Nice team. I may have changed systems slightly too early, which made us sit back. But the important thing was the spirit we showed over the 90 minutes. The important thing is to continue our run. If you look at our game against Dijon and the one this evening, we showed defensive solidity and we created chances. It’s encouraging for what’s to come. Not everything was perfect but to win against a good Montpellier side is a good thing. We need to continue to work to keep this dynamic.”

Dante will have to keep up his good defensive displays and he might be worth adding to your team given that Nice have the motivation to keep moving up the table and try out for a European spot. Dante has 50pts overall and is 7th in the defender Ligue 1 rankings for fantasy Ligue 1. He can be bought for just 6.5m and is worth keeping on your radar.

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Mario Balotelli

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Since leaving the Premier League and joining the French Ligue 1 Mario Balotelli has been able to reinvent himself. Perhaps he has found a level where he can consistently shine but the Italian international has been superb, first with Nice and now with Marseille.

Balotelli joined Marseille only in the January transfer window when it was made clear to him that he would not be part of Nice coach Patrick Vieira’s plans. And since joining Marseille Balotelli has consistently been one of the best strikers in the league.

At the weekend he earned 8pts in Ligue 1 fantasy standings amongst the very best performance of all players in all positions. He earned these points as Marseille drew 2-2 with Angers, but Balotelli scored both of Marseille’s goals. On a personal level Balotelli had a fantastic game but given that his side with his goals were leading the game 2-0 and at home the match ended in disappointment for the former Inter Milan player.

Balotelli has really struck up a friendship and a connection on the pitch with Lucas Ocampos and it was Ocampos who assisted for both of Balotelli’s goals on Saturday at Stade Velodrome. Both classic style Balotelli finishes even if they weren’t his best ever. The two goals took Balotelli’s total to 7 from just 17 starts this season but the bulk of his goals have come from playing with Marseille in the past 8 weeks.

In the Ligue 1 fantasy rankings Balotelli is ranked 20th but this is mostly due to his non starts as a Nice player. He has 23pts so far but if he continues his form he could easily reach the 40pts marker and perhaps squeeze into the top 10 players. And he may be worth bringing into your team because he needs to keep scoring and helping his team as they try to qualify for the Champions League. He can be bought for 7m.

Marseille coach Rudi Garcia had this to stay after his teams 2-2 draw, bizarrely not praising Balotelli for his goals in this statement, it could be down to the fact that he was angered that his side did not win the game being 2-0 up. “As long as it’s mathematically possible we’ll still believe we can qualify for the Champions League. Of course we believe but we still have to win matches, and tonight we had the opportunity given we were leading 2-0. It’s a bump in the road, getting held at home. We’ll have to recover points on the road. We have to be solid for the whole game. We lost balls that we shouldn’t be losing and Angers took advantage. We played well for the first half-hour and then stopped attacking. We can’t blame refereeing decisions for this”.

Balotelli is richly deserving to be named Ligue 1 player of the week.

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Mario Balotelli’s romance with Ligue 1 football is coming to an end

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The very talented and often misunderstood though egomaniac Mario Balotelli is set to leave Nice after spending almost 3 seasons with the club. It seems that there may have been a confrontation with new manager this season Patrick Vieira, although that has not been confirmed.

What we do know is that this season will very likely be Balotelli’s last in France and certainly last with Nice. The club are understood to want to sell the Italian player this month to cash in on him for small fee. Otherwise he will be free to leave in the summer for nothing.

Balotelli finally seemed to settle down in France where he had become a cult figure with Nice. The club had not only improved since his arrival in 2016 but he also scored goals. On his debut season in the league he scored 15 from just 23 games. In all competitions he has played 76 games and scored 43 goals which anyway you look at it is a terrific return. Balotelli proved that in Ligue 1 at least he still had the magic despite the usual baggage that comes with him.

Vieira and Nice have frozen the player out for much of this season where he has played just 10 games and has yet to score. Has there been a coming together between player and coach? One thing is for certain and that is the summer fiasco that Balotelli was involved in. Before the season started it looked like Marseille would buy Balotelli and he deal came very close but in the end never happened. The problem though was that as a result Balotelli missed most of pre season and training and did not come in fresh, this could be another reason that Vieira has been indifferent to the player.

So if Balotelli is to leave Nice and possibly France what could be next for a player who is 28 and still has a good 4-5 seasons ahead of him? A return to Italy could be out of the question, every time he has played their he has been sadly subjected to racist chants.

Perhaps he will come back to the Premier League He has divided a few fans since he has played for both Manchester City and Liverpool and getting a chance to play with some of the bigger teams will probably not be an option.

However a team near the bottom of the league could well do with Balotelli- as long as the coach strikes up a friendship with him, then Balotelli has proven that he can be a deadly striker and he could end up saving a team from relegation. If so a move could happen in the next few days. For now though it looks like au revoir to Balotelli’s career in France, which is slightly sad given that it seemed the French air and regime had indeed calmed the player down.

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.

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.

Patrick Vieira faces uncertain times in his new job

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Newly-appointed Nice manager Patrick Vieira has endured a terrible start to life in his new job in Ligue 1. Three games into the new season, Nice have picked up a solitary point and they currently sit 18th in the table. In the process, Nice have managed to score only one goal while they have managed to concede six goals.

It’s still early days for Vieira at Nice, but his side’s 4-0 home defeat to Dijon last weekend has raised alarms at the club. Nice have also lost to Stade Reims in a home fixture this season. Continue reading

Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira’s nightmare in France continues

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French music legend Johnny Hallyday once sung ‘It’s a long way home, in the night alone’ which could well have reflected Patrick Vieira’s mood at the Allianz Riviera on Saturday evening. His players shattered, confused and outplayed had just been dished out a 4-0 defeat. But their opponents had not been PSG, Monaco or Lyon but Dijon who, a few seasons ago, were playing their football in Ligue 2.

Vieira who is usually very calm and upbeat looked like a broken man at the side lines as he witnessed another inept display that means he is still waiting for his first win as Nice manager. This result followed a shock loss at home against newly promoted Reims, then soon after his team were heading for defeat away to Caen before finding an equaliser in the final ten minutes of the game. But with this Dijon defeat the club are now in 17th place and have conceded 6 goals, on average 2 a game. Only Angers with 8 have shipped more and their currently bottom of the league.

Last season Nice won 15 games and finished in 8th place and Vieira was brought in after his 2 year tenure from MLS side New York City. It seemed like the perfect fit, Vieira a French football legend in charge of a French Ligue 1 club and it was also very refreshing to see that a top tier team were appointing a black manager. So what gives and why have Nice got off to such a terrible start in the league?

The first warning sign was when the club were willing to listen for offers for their forward Alessane Plea. A player who had scored 21 goals in all competitions last season including 16 in the league. The former Lyon player had also struck up a working relationship with fellow forward Mario Balotelli. In the end Plea rejected moving to the Premier League where West Ham and Newcastle were offering him a kings ransom in wages and instead chose the Bundesliga and signed for Borussia Monchengladbach for a reported 25m euros.

Plea’s sale was good business for a club like Nice, but only in monetary terms, and the sale on the face of it seemed like an odd one. And then we turn our attentions to Balotelli the other half of Nice’s strike force who scored 26 goals last season and has in some ways rejuvenated his career at Nice. If nothing else he has been at his most consistent in the south of France. The problem is that consistency for Balotelli is two sides of the coin and that means his negative side so for the third time at the club he was suspended. This meant missing the first 3 games of the new season.

For Vieira he has been able to play a front three at home which he prefers. However this includes pushing Allan Saint-Maximin up front but he’s in reality more suited to a midfield role. Vieira will be able to roll the dice once more next week when Balotelli will be available to him and surely he will pick the Italian.

Nice need a lift and goals, who thought that responsibility would fall to Balotelli who once when playing in England needed help to put a football bib on. But the truth is Balotelli would relish such a challenge to help his club and cheer up the fans who he has a special relationship with.

As for Vieira whether he can turn around the clubs negativity is yet to be seen. But in France there is talk that another French legend Thierry Henry is set to take over at Bordeaux and we could witness two ex Arsenal team mates coming head to head as managers in France. The thought seems mouth watering, the question is, will Vieira still be there to witness that himself?