• Friday, 6 August 2010

    Ligue 1 round 1 previews

    Nice v Valenciennes
    Sochaux v Arles
    Marseille v Caen
    Rennes v Lille
    Toulouse v Brest
    Lyon v Monaco
    Lens v Nancy
    Auxerre v Lorient
    PSG v St Etienne
    Montpellier v Bordeaux

    After the horror of the World Cup campaign, France returns to league action this weekend. It's like no-one really wants to admit it, so quiet has the off-season been. Clubs spent their money last year while this time around it's been a case of trimming squads and getting rid of super-annuated ageing plodders - by which we mean Marseille have got rid of Fernando Morientes.

    So to week one of the new season and the champions have a gentle opener against Caen, newly promoted. It's a stunningly young squad up in Normandy, but there are a few gems there, notably young defender Thomas Heurtaux. They won't be a match for Marseille though, even if Mamadou Niang gets his wish and exits stage left. Lyon look good to push on for another championship this time around and begin against Monaco at the Gerland. The Monagasques have lost a lot of players, including the influential Nene and look like struggling to make the top half while Lyon have retained the bulk of the squad that got them so far in last season's Champions League. Midfield tyros Miralem Pjanic and Maxime Gonalons are both a year older, wiser and stronger and we fancy them to make a big difference. Auxerre also retain most of their side that did so well last time around, but they'll have to look after exciting young midfielder Kevin Gameiro if they're to see off Lorient on opening day. Last season's surprise package Montpellier have a tough start to the season against Bordeaux, now under Jean Tigana's stewardship. There's no Victor Montano for Montpellier this time - he's at Rennes - so where the goals come from is a mystery. Bordeaux still have plenty of talent, but Tigana has to get it all working for him in a way that Laurent Blanc couldn't once the announcement that he was leaving was made public. We fancy Lille to do well this season, again having retained all the players others were looking at, especially Eden Hazard. They take on Rennes this week in a tricky opener for the northern side.

    Caen will be among the favourites for the drop, but not as iron-clad certainties as the other promoted sides. Arles travel to Sochaux for their opening game and while Sochaux don't look any great shakes themselves, they'll be upset losing this one. Brest have a squad thinner than a dieting supermodel and they're at Toulouse. It's been a cost-cutting exercise for TFC this summer, but they've still a core of capable players and it recent history is anything to go by, they're due a decent year.

    Elsewhere, the ageing legs of PSG - albeit with added Nene and Mathieu Bodmer - take on St Etienne who look too good to go down if not anything more than that. Lens and Nancy face off in what looks like being a mid-table battle while Nice and Valenciennes both look in trouble from the off and either one taking three points here will steal an early march on fellow relegation candidates.

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