Rare Lazio comeback produces more questions than answers ahead of trip to Celtic

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The contrast was startling.

After a drab, eventless first half in a must-win Europa League fixture against Rennes on Thursday, Simone Inzaghi turned to his bench early in the second.

He made a double substitution, bringing on rested star men Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the hope of injecting some life into his team’s performance.

The strategy didn’t get off to the best of starts when the hosts almost immediately conceded the opening goal, but it soon paid off as Alberto set up Milinkovic-Savic for the opener before the Serbian’s cross found the head of Ciro Immobile to complete the comeback. Continue reading

Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Benoit Costil

Benoit Costil’s career will always be remembered by his time at Rennes but since 2017 he has been guarding the goal of Bordeaux and this past season he had a decent campaign with Bordeaux finishing in the top half of the league and for him he finished 7th with 35 points.

During the season he kept 9 clean sheets which was impressive for the 32 year old and he ended up being the only goal keeper from the top 9 in Ligue 1 that was neither sent off or booked for the whole season.

Costil’s went into last season with a value of 8m. While Bordeaux struggled at times, they did find enough form at one point in the season to think they could challenge for a Europa League finish but it quickly became evident that it couldn’t be the case for this year.

Costil started the season with by earning -4 points in his opening two games as the club kept conceding goals. In fact it wouldn’t get easier for him at the beginning of the season as in the next games Bordeaux beat Monaco but conceded with that match finishing 2-1 and the following game ended in a 2-0 loss to Rennes. The next match was a thriller but for Costil it did his points total no favours as Bordeaux drew 3-3 with Nimes. The next match ended in a 3-1 win over Guingamp but again Bordeaux had conceded. It meant that Costil did not earn any positive points until his 7th game of the season. But once he started he couldn’t at least for a while stop.

The great run begun when Bordeaux beat Lille and Costil kept 3 clean sheets in a row to earn 21 points. While he would gain some more consistency it was this run which started at the end of September and ran until the first week of October that ended up being the goal keeper’s best run of the season.

His single worst game points was against Nimes, Saint Etienne and Lyon were in those fixtures he earned -4 points on each occasion.

Costil ended the season much like he had begun it and earned no points in his last 6 games with a total points haul of -10.

This wasn’t a great season for Costil, although in some games he was outstanding, but Bordeaux simply were not strong enough and it showed. Still Costil beat his total from the season before which was 31,and he will be hoping to improve in the points stakes and try to keep a few more clean sheets next season.

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Top Ligue 1 Strikers in 2018/19: Andy Delort

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It’s incredible to think that Andy Delort is only 27 years old when we see the amount of clubs he has played for. So far it stands at 9, with his career being made up of quite a few loan deals. Indeed his current club Montpellier started off as a loan before his move was made more permanent this past season.

Delort’s efforts means that he finished in the top 5 strikers in Ligue 1 and his value coming into the season was 7m, given that he produced 66 points the return seems worthwhile.

Whilst Montpellier did not make Europe the team played some very good football and had some wonderful spells during the season becoming difficult to beat at their home ground Stade de la Mosson.

Delort was an integral part of the team and played 36 times from 38 games he scored an impressive 14 goals and assisted in another 7. His disciplinary was good too as he received only four yellow cards for the whole season. Only six other players scored more goals than Delort in Ligue 1 and his overall striker ranking when we take into account all of the major European leagues would be 30th.

Even though Montpellier lost their first game of the season, at home to Dijon 2-1, Delort assisted in his teams goal and so he earned 2 points from his first game. He then went the  next 5 games earning no points at all as he couldn’t find the back of the net.

His form took an upswing at the end of September and throughout October where he scored points in each of his next five games. This included scoring a goal in everyone of those games and he quickly was taken into the hearts of the fans of the team.

His best moments of the season included scoring both goals as Montpellier drew 2-2 with Rennes and netting two goals as Montpellier beat Strasbourg 3-1, on each occasion he earned 8 points.

Form did tail off towards the end of the season and Delort’s last 4 games came with no points as the clubs European hopes faded fast.

Delort has experienced his best season of his career consistency wise. When we look at his past two seasons before this one he earned just 18 and 23 points respectively. Delort’s career has always looked like one that refuses to settle down and stay a few seasons at the same club, after this successful campaign one would think that Montpellier would do everything to keep the player on their books for next season and perhaps beyond.

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Top Ligue 1 Midfielders in 2018/19: Ismaila Sarr

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Ismaila Sarr may not come first to your mind when you think of brilliant midfielders plying their trade in France’s Ligue 1 but Sarr had a very solid season at Rennes to end up being the 5th best midfielder of the season.

Sarr who is from Senegal is widely unknown even in the league- although his performances this season should change that view. One has to remember that Sarr is still only 21. Sarr had played for Metz before being snapped up by Rennes in 2017 and has since fit into the team without any problems.

The Rennes midfielder would have cost you 7.5m to have in your team- that could go up next season after his performances in this one. He gained a total of 60 points, just 10 points shy of Reims’ Remi Oudin. His goal scoring feats were impressive as he netted 8 times and assisted in a further 6 goals and was part of a team that kept 11 clean sheets.

Sarr’s season started by picking up points in 3 of his first four matches as his play and his team gained momentum. However that was stopped soon after as Rennes went through a bad period of form that begun in mid September. As a consequence Sarr picked up no points for 5 games in a row.

His best form started at the beginning of December where he scored points in five consecutive games totalling 18 altogether. His best game of the season actually came down to two matches. The early season win over Angers in which he scored a goal and kept a clean sheet and the terrific 2-0 win at Lyon where he assisted in both goals and of course kept a clean sheet. For the player the Lyon victory might be the best moment of his season league wise.

Sarr picked up 6 bookings but otherwise never finished a game below -1 points which is an impressive sign at his age that he is maturing well. This is his highest ever points total and he will be looking to keep that momentum going for next season.

As for Rennes season they had a memorable one. True they could only finish in 10th place with 52 points and finished 14 points from a European place, but that is only the beginning of the story. Rennes qualified for the Europa League after winning their first major trophy in a generation when they stunned PSG in the Coupe de France final and beat them. It was one of the biggest shocks in French football history. The club won on penalties after a 2-2 draw and Sarr was on hand to score one of his to crown a very special season indeed.

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Nimes- the business model team of Ligue 1 this season

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Nimes will not be finishing in a European place this season but the club have every possibility of ending up in the top 10 which would be a fantastic achievement given where they have come from.

Let’s start at the beginning of the season where they were promoted back to Ligue 1 after securing qualification from Ligue 2. Nimes were back in the top flight for the first time since 1993.

A lot of the teams progression is down to coach Bernard Blaquart who joined as head coach in 2015 when the team were struggling in Ligue 2. Blaquart implanted a  more attacking style to the team and while it took time for his initial players to adapt to their new style it paid off in the end and after 3 years Nimes defied the odds to make it back to Ligue 1.

What has been impressive about Blaquart has been that the majority of his managerial career has been based in the lower leagues in France but he has struck up a chemistry with his players here and is now a well respected figure. The fans adore him too because win, lose or draw they know they will be entertained. Take the clubs 4-2 loss to PSG earlier in the season at home. The players were applauded from the pitch- they had taken the game to the French champions, had lead in it too, before succumbing to some naïve play and tiredness, but they didn’t just lie down and take the defeat like some clubs would have.

It’s incredible to think that Nimes spent just 2.7m euros on players before the season started and all of that went on one player- Denis Bouanga from Lorient. Bouanga has played just 15 times this season scoring 4 goals but injury and fitness has set him back in his debut season for the club.

But where Nimes have been clever has been loaning players from bigger clubs such as Lyon’s Jordan Ferri and Faitout Maouassa from Rennes. Nimes best performing player has been Rachid Alioui the forward who has amassed just 19 points this season in Ligue 1 Fantasy Football- but points have been deducted for most of the players due to yellow cards and a lack of clean sheets.

Nimes have still been able to win 13 of their games overall, which isn’t a great record but at the beginning of the season finishing 17th would have been seen as a success or at the very least a building block for the next one. Nimes have done superbly well, although it is important that they have the funds and spend them to be able to remain in Ligue 1 for the following season.

For now Nimes are one of the best success stories in Ligue 1 following promotion. If anything even when they lose they do it well.

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Neymar allegedly punches Rennes fan in ultimate meltdown after Coupe de France defeat

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The Coupe de France final was supposed to not only be a straight forward win for champions PSG, but was supposed to be ‘Neymar’s final’. The Brazilian had just come back from a lengthy injury lay off, this was supposed to be his redemption.

It had all started so well for PSG who took an early lead through a brilliant long distance strike from Neymar’s Brazilian team mate Dani Alves who was looking for his 43rd trophy in his career. He made it to 42 with the league win which has since been confirmed as making him the most decorated football player in history.

PSG then made it 2-0 with a delightful goal from Neymar, there was surely only going to be one winner here, and PSG was about to pick up its 5th cup final trophy in a row. But the football Gods had not had their say.

Quite incredibly Rennes pulled it back and started to believe. An own goal made it 2-1 and a quick fire header that no goalkeeper in the world was saving made it 2-2. The game went to penalties and Rennes triumphed as PSG wilted. The scenes were simply incredible. PSG look stunned, but Neymar even more so after missing a chunk of the season only to experience this episode.

But there was more to come. Some fans could be seen screaming towards Neymar- all inaudible and to be fair it seemed to be just banter. But as the PSG players passed the fans to collect their trophies it all kicked off.

Allegedly a Rennes fan joked and said to Neymar ‘you should learn how to play football’. Then allegedly Neymar struck out at the fan as seen in video footage. It is unclear if it was a punch, slap or push, although wide media are reporting the incident as a punch.

More details need to be gathered and the French Football Federation will be doing that over this week. But if the fan really did say just that then Neymar is set to be in a lot of trouble. Some are talking that he could be looking at a 5 game ban, some even say that under French football rules it could be 8 games.

All of this feel like a huge meltdown for a player that was banned for the first 3 games of next seasons Champions League after his criticism tweet of UEFA when PSG were controversially knocked out of the Champions League against Liverpool.

Sometimes football is unfair, but it seems that Neymar can’t take that and he has certainly over stepped the mark in the Coupe de France. Is this the beginning of the end of his career at PSG? It could well be.

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Topical: Ligue 1 Lille continue to make strides as Reims edge into Europe

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The 28th week of Ligue 1 was another exciting one and we should start with league leaders PSG who gladly had the weekend off after they were knocked out of the Champions League against Manchester United. Their game against Nantes was postponed to a later date.

That gave Lille an opportunity to close the gap on the French champions which they did with a hard fought 1-0 win over Saint Etienne. For many this was the game of the weekend as the two top 5 teams went head to head. It ended with Nicolas Pepe grabbing the winner for Lille with just three minutes left and then Saint Etienne ended the game with 9 players as frustrations took over the game. Despite the win Lille are still 14 points behind PSG and PSG have 2 games in hand.

Lyon maintained 3rd position but it was not a good weekend for the club who slipped 7 points behind Lille and an automatic qualification for the Champions League. They could only draw 2-2 away to Strasbourg. The draw also means that Marseille have caught up to Lyon as they try and take the last remaining Champions League place away.

Marseille were involved in a South of France derby as they took on Nice and it was inevitable who was going to get the winning goal. The one and only Mario Balotelli. The Italian who moved from Nice to Marseille in January has been in great form for the home side. Nice manager Patrick Vieira was humble in defeat and even had time to give Balotelli a warm hug, but the defeat would have hurt the former Arsenal player. As for Marseille they have won 4 games from their past 5.

With Saint Etienne losing to Lille it means that Reims entered dizzying heights and moved into the top 5. This position would be enough to secure a Europa League place if PSG win the Coupe de France. Though there is a long way to go it was a moment of clarity for such an historic team in France and it would be special to see the team in a European competition once again. They drew 1-1 away to Dijon, and have drawn their last two games and if they are starting to dream big they will have to start winning games more consistently.

The feel good factor continued at Rennes this past weekend. After the club beat Arsenal 3-1 in the last 16 of the Europa League they repeated that trick and won by the same score line against Caen to move past Nice and into 8th place.

The race for Europe is hotting up with a possible 5 places at stake and at least 9 teams in with a shout, the final straight of Ligue 1 is upon us and it should be very exciting indeed. PSG play their game in hand against Dijon on Tuesday, March 12th.

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Controversy in Ligue 1 as Rennes get game delayed

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There has been some controversy in Ligue 1 this past weekend when Rennes were able to get their game against Nimes postponed until a later date. This was only confirmed a few days before the game as the club requested permission from the LFP- which accepted, but why did Rennes want their game postponed?

The reason was that they could prepare and have more time to get ready for their crucial Europa League last 16 match with Premier League team Arsenal. Whilst this has worked out perfectly for the club, it has also caused some problems in the league as well as elsewhere.

Take PSG who constantly are involved in the Champions League- PSG have never had the benefit of having a game postponed, instead the LFP have usually let the club play on a Saturday afternoon if the game is on Wednesday or a Friday night if the game is on Tuesday, but getting a postponement, never. Has the LFP just opened up a can of worms? If they allow one team in Rennes to have their game called off then surely other teams can claim for the same treatment?

Of course from Rennes point of view this is good news and the extra preparation and rest could well be beneficial to them. Take Arsenal their opponents in the Europa League who were not given the same luxury as they had to play at the weekend in a North London derby no less against Tottenham which they drew 1-1. But it was yet another game for Unai Emery’s men who remain competitive in the league where they are chasing a top 4 spot.

No official complaint has come from Arsenal but Rennes will get a massive 8 day rest and Arsenal fans have vented their anger and what looks like a clear disadvantage for the Gunners coming into the game.

Should the buck therefore not stop at the LFP but instead be referred to UEFA? After all if there is a postponement , delay or crowd trouble it is usually UEFA that has final say. With the Europa League being a UEFA competition, wouldn’t they want more clarity and fairness?

It will be interesting to see if Rennes can get past Arsenal, and if so will they require Ligue 1 to stop again for them for the quarter finals? And surely PSG will now look at this and start requesting delays to their games.

What the LFP has done only feels acceptable if other leagues with their top teams allow them the same gesture, as it stands, this simply feels unfair not only to Arsenal but of course to Nimes, whose fans had already bought tickets to travel from the south of France to the North west for this match and now will be turned away.

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Barcelona do and don’t need Ousmane Dembele

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So the story goes like this, Ousmane Dembele Barcelona’s 100m euro signing missed training. He had a stomach bug and needed to rest at home. The problem just like any other normal job is that Dembele did not call his employers to tell them of his absence immediately and with everyone wondering where he was he finally phoned a reported 90 minutes later. Further more when Barcelona sent their doctor over to Dembele’s house he had dramatically recovered from his bug- Dembele had not only been found out he had also shown his grave immaturity.

Dembele who is just 21 has been criticised this season after his big money move from Borussia Dortmund last year. A move that only came about because Antoine Griezmann rejected Barca’s advances and stayed with Atletico Madrid. The criticism of Dembele on the pitch does seem harsh. One has to be reminded that he is only 21, and has had injuries that have stopped him from having frequent games. He has scored some goals- not enough for a forward but his goals have either been important ones or spectacular ones. And anyway it is clear that Dembele won’t be a 25 goal a man goal scorer, he’s a luxury player that will put in more assists than goals.

The finger has been pointed at Dembele because of the money involved in his transfer fee from Dortmund to Barcelona, which was indeed insane. Dembele at that point considering the market value should have been half of what Barcelona paid to the Bundesliga club. But they believed, he was worth it and went ahead.

Dembele on the pitch despite the critics is doing a calm and calculated job, he’s certainly not the finished product but neither was Lionel Messi at 21. If he is given the time in 2-3 years Dembele could be a solid regular in this side. But that’s if he is still at the Catalan giants.

Respect goes a long way at any huge club, because there are millions of kids not in Dembele’s position who would give everything to be there and who would not have missed training without a valid excuse. It’s a real shame this new state of affairs and it has been reported that Dembele has now been given an ultimatum by the club- any more mishaps and he will be sold.

And Barcelona would do that just, the problem of course is that they will lose a lot of  money on the player who actually has a buyout clause of 400 million euros. That would of course be waived and the reality is that Barcelona would be hard pressed to get 50m for him, a massive loss of around 55m in just 18 months.

Hopefully Dembele can see the error of his ways. For now Barcelona are ready to forgive him and put it down to the stress of being at a high profile club for a 21 year old. The media pressure on Dembele can’t be easy, granted. One hopes that he realises the unique position he is in, if he doesn’t then he deserves to be discarded no matter how good he is on the pitch.

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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