Ligue 1 Games and Players to Watch This Weekend

Jonathan Johnson@@Jon_LeGossipFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2013

Ligue 1 Games and Players to Watch This Weekend

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    Ligue 1 was back with us last weekend as the opening round of matches in France produced 24 goals and plenty of talking points.

    Preseason, Olympique Lyonnais looked like they were destined for a difficult campaign following a number of departures. But Remi Garde’s Yoann Gourcuff-inspired side thumped four past OGC Nice Cote d’Azur at the Stade Gerland in the pick of the games.

    Defending champions Paris Saint-Germain were held to a surprising draw in Montpellier, although those familiar with Le Championnat will be aware that the capital club are notoriously slow starters.

    AS Monaco got off to a winning start as they returned to the top flight after a two-year absence in Bordeaux. Les Girondins’ resolute defence was eventually breached by Emmanuel Riviere and Radamel Falcao, both inside the last 10 minutes.

    Olympique de Marseille also kicked off in strong fashion; they raced into a 3-0 lead inside of 15 minutes at newly promoted En Avant Guingamp, eventually winning 3-1. Elie Baup’s side kicked off their anticipated title challenge in impressive style despite some shaky defending.

    The results put Laurent Blanc’s PSG side under immediate pressure going into this weekend. Here are some games and players to watch out for in Ligue 1 this weekend.

FC Sochaux-Montbeliard vs. Lyon (Friday)

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    After an unexpectedly fast start to the season, don’t be surprised to see Lyon come unstuck at the Stade Auguste Bonal on Friday. Les Gones’ thumping 4-0 win over Nice was perhaps deceiving given how many injuries Nice are suffering from at present.

    Meanwhile Sochaux picked up a useful point at Evian Thonon Gaillard FC. The clash with Eric Hely’s strugglers is exactly the sort of game OL can lose, but it is one that you would not necessarily expect them to on paper.

    Sochaux have frustrated Lyon on both of their last two meetings in the Doubs, a 1-1 draw last season and a 2-1 defeat the year before, making the Franche-Comte region an unhappy hunting ground for the seven-time Ligue 1 winners.

     

    Player to watch: Yoann Gourcuff

    After his sensational start to the season, netting a spectacular free kick and providing two assists with a performance that turned the clock back to the Frenchman’s FC Girondins de Bordeaux days, all eyes will be on the 27-year-old to see if he can continue his unlikely revival.

Olympique De Marseille vs. Evian (Saturday)

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    Marseille raced into a 3-0 lead at Guingamp, but a shaky defensive performance allowed their hosts to narrow the scoreline, and it arguably should have finished tighter than 3-1. Going forward, Elie Baup’s side looked excellent, but the defence, a source of great strength last season, did not look as watertight as it has been in the past.

    Given how exceptionally bad Guingamp were in the opening quarter of an hour, making a bid for the worst start to a Ligue 1 season in history, there is a chance that OM have been lured into a false sense of security. The match is set up for Evian to perhaps spring a surprise after an inauspicious start to their campaign with a home draw against Sochaux.

     

    Player to watch: Dimitri Payet

    Picking up where he left off last season, breaking into double figures for goals and assists in a disappointing campaign with Lille, the 26-year-old bagged a double as Marseille raced out of the blocks against Guingamp.

    Already back in the French international setup after receiving his first caps at the end of last season, expect Payet’s rapid development to continue this year as the World Cup looms on the horizon.

Monaco vs. Montpellier Herault SC (Sunday)

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    Newly promoted Monaco will be buoyed by their opening day win at Bordeaux, although the eventual 2-0 scoreline flattered Claudio Ranieri’s side. For large parts of the game, the Principality outfit looked like they had run out of steam, and, despite a well-taken goal, Radamel Falcao’s involvement was minimal.

    ASM were not entirely convincing, and that will give Jean Fernandez’s Montpellier side, who looked impressive in the first half against defending champions PSG, encouragement ahead of the clash at the Stade Louis II. Ranieri has already spoken of his respect for La Paillade this season, suggesting that the Italian does not see it being as straightforward as it sounds.

     

    Player to watch: Falcao

    The Colombian got himself off the mark against Bordeaux after his Monaco side broke down their hosts’ resolute defence. The 27-year-old was not totally convincing though and, despite already opening his account for Les Monegasques this term, struggled to impose himself on his opponents.

    It promises to be an intriguing home debut, now in front of what will likely be a sparse crowd at the Stade Louis II, having originally been scheduled to be played behind closed doors. The encounter will also give the predator a real taste of what life will be like in the Principality despite the vociferous support the team received on the road in Bordeaux.

FC Lorient vs. FC Nantes (Sunday)

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    Football Club de Nantes make the relatively short trip along the western cost of France to face FC Lorient, looking to overcome embarrassment and atone for three potentially lost points following a sloppy administrative error. Meanwhile, their hosts will be looking bounce back from a narrow defeat at Lille Olympique Sporting Club.

    Opening day started well as Les Canaris enjoyed a 2-0 victory over Sporting Club de Bastia, despite the sending off of French youngster Jordan Veretout, but the second-half introduction of midfielder Abdoulaye Traore could prove costly. The Malian was suspended with an accumulation of yellow cards from last season, but the club failed to realise before the match and brought the player on as a substitute.

    Therefore that 2-0 win is likely to be reversed and a 3-0 victory awarded to Bastia instead.

    Lorient, Ligue 1’s answer to Arsenal in terms of style, will be keen to get their ambitious plans for this season back on track, but they were deprived of last season’s top goal scorer Jeremie Aliadiere and star man Alain Traore in Lille.

     

    Player to watch: Jeremie Aliadiere

    If he is fit, Aliadiere is vital to Les Merlus’ chances of taking something from the match. For all of their pretty buildup play and admirable commitment to playing entertaining football, the results are not always forthcoming unless the former Arsenal man is on the pitch.

    The 30-year-old’s 15 league goals last season fired him into contention for a place in Didier Deschamps’ plans for the French national team, and he needs another strong start to this campaign to get himself back into the reckoning.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. AC Ajaccio (Sunday)

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    PSG were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Montpellier last week, meaning a reaction is needed from the defending champions to stave off some early season criticism. Fabrizio Ravanelli’s Ajaccio side were beaten 1-0 by Saint-Etienne in their opening game and travel to the capital possibly facing a Parisian backlash.

    Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani made his eagerly anticipated debut appearance in Montpellier, but the 26-year-old looked short of fitness and only played the final 19 minutes. The match is a good opportunity for coach Laurent Blanc to make a few changes to his side, perhaps experimenting with Javier Pastore’s role after the Argentine struggled to impose himself on either of PSG’s two competitive fixtures this season.

    Curiously, Ajaccio were the only team to not concede a goal to PSG during the French champions' run to a first title in 19 years last term. The Corsicans will be hoping to keep that impressive run going on Sunday despite the talent that will be on display for the home side at the Parc des Princes.

     

    Player to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

    Last season’s top goal scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged a hat-trick for Sweden against Norway in midweek. The 31-year-old looks to be back in form after a far from ideal preseason with PSG in which he failed to find the net, and that can only be good news for Blanc’s side.

    With Cavani not yet fully fit, the pair could still start together on Sunday. However, Ibra has already provided two goals in the defending champions’ two competitive games so far, demonstrating his willingness to continue to provide goal scoring opportunities for his teammates after the arrival of Cavani.

    Blanc might need him to concentrate more on being clinical rather than creative on Sunday should the Swede's new striker partner once again miss out.

Best of the Rest

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    Despite attention being drawn elsewhere by the more obvious attractions this weekend, there is still plenty of other entertainment to be had.

     

    OGC Nice Cote d’Azur vs. Stade Rennais FC

    Claude Puel’s Nice were thumped on opening day, but they played some excellent football last season. If injuries allow them to field a few more players, their clash with Philippe Montanier’s Rennes could be entertaining after the Breton side opened his tenure at the club with a win over Stade de Reims.

     

    SC Bastia vs. Valenciennes FC

    Bastia were beaten on opening day by Nantes, but they look set to be handed a reprieve after their hosts’ administrative nightmare. Valenciennes were surprise 3-1 winners over Toulouse last week, and this match could be unexpectedly good value.

     

    Reims vs. Lille

    Lille started life under Rene Girard with an encouraging 1-0 win over Lorient, while Reims lost at Rennes. Should LOSC be able to string together back-to-back wins, their tails will be up early on, potentially adding another early title challenger to the mix.

     

    AS Saint-Etienne vs. EA Guingamp

    Saint-Etienne edged past Ajaccio in Corsica thanks to Brandao’s winner, but Guingamp embarrassed themselves with a pitiful opening 15 minutes against Marseille. They improved and arguably should have narrowed the 3-1 score line more than they did in the second half, but Les Verts should have far too much for the newcomers at home.

     

    Toulouse FC vs. Girondins de Bordeaux

    While Toulouse were unfortunate at Valenciennes. Suffering for referee Stephane Jochem’s first-half rookie error in red-carding the wrong defender, they eventually went down 3-1. Bordeaux for the most part looked well-organised against Monaco before switching off in the final 10 minutes. The big question is: Where are the goals going to come from for Francis Gillot’s side?