Ligue 1 Matchday 16 Saturday Preview: Wake up call for some teams.

Lloris will need to have a big day against Montpellier for OL to win.

Last week in Ligue 1, we had a number of evenly matched teams playing one another. This week, it is a different story. Instead, we have some really good and stiff competitions. Some team will be able to show if they have what is take to stay at the top of the Ligue 1 table. Some will show if they are really a cinderella story, and have just been messing with us the last 15 weeks.

Arles-Avignon vs. AS Nancy Lorraine – if Brest isn’t going to be in the relegation zone this year, who is? Of course, we already know that Arles-Avignon will be down there. But Nancy makes a good case for demotion as well.

So far this year, Nancy hasn’t had any consistency. They have quality players like Youssouf Hadji, Marama Vahirua and Paul Alo’o Efoulou who haven’t produced. Goalkeeper Gennaro Bracigliano, who suffered a finger injury not too long ago, seems to have been replaced by Damien Gregorini. Again, that isn’t helping the team. Basically, they really don’t have anything going for them.

The only thing they have going for them this week is that they are playing Arles-Avignon, who are even worse than they  are. During the off-season, there was a lot of talk about Arles-Avignon bringing in a lot of new players from around the world. Most of them are average at best in the leagues they came from. And if the team is basically “new”, how can the team create chemistry amongst the players? Arles was a disaster from the start.

Prediction: Nancy wins 3-1.

Lens vs. Auxerre – Both Lens and Auxerre looked like struggling teams. And for the past two years, it seems to be the same story with these two teams. Lens always seems to play worse than they should while Auxerre seems to be playing way over there head. This weekend, hopefully, one of them will be able to show their stuff.

The loss of Ireneusz Jelen and Anthony Le Tallec continues to plague the team AJA. Auxerre’s biggest problem has always been offense, and with their top two playmakers out, it will continue to be a challenge. Currently, Auxerre is relying on Benoit Pedretti and Valter Birsa for their offensive production, which isn’t a good thing. While they can put pressure on a team offensively, which they proved against AC Milan last week, they don’t have the finishers to do the job.

While there are some problems at Auxerre, there are a lot of problems at Lens. It would be a shame to see Lens relegated, but they don’t have any offense. They don’t have any defense. Their best player is Vedran Runje. And with such a poor defense, with the exception of Yohan Demont, Lens look to be in bad shape.

If Lens wants to squeak out a win at home, they really need Toifilou Maoulida to step up. He only has one Ligue 1 goal this season. But with teams targeting him defensively, it has been nearly impossible for him to find any open field. But if Maoulida can produce offensively, they have a good chance.

Prediction: 1-1

Lille vs. Lorient – This should be one of those matches that will separate the men from the boys. Of course, Lille is making a statement for being the best team in Ligue 1. With how they have played so far this season, a Ligue 1 title for Lille, which hasn’t happened since 1954, is a strong possibility. All of their players are in top form right now. Rudy Garcia has them doing all the right things at the right time. Basically, they look as good as they did this time last year. It just might be a matter of time before they start popping four goals per match.

For Lorient, this will be their time to shine. While they are at home and suffered the lost of a few key players in the off-season, Lorient will show if they have what it takes to make a charge for a Champions League position, or are just another midtable team. Offensively, Lorient are set. Kevin Gameiro, Lynel Kitambala and Sigamara Diarra provide Lorient with a good offensive punch. And with Kevin Monnet-Paquet and James Fanchone coming off the bench, they have great offensive substitutes as well.

The key to this match will be Lorient’s defense. Even without their leader Sylvain Marchal, who is now at St. Etienne, Lorient has been able to continue being a decent defensive team. They have not allowed more than two goals in any match this season, even against high-powered offenses like Marseille, Lyon and PSG. If they show up like they did against Lyon back at the start of the season, they will be the key to a Lorient victory.

But I don’t see it. At the start of the season, Lyon was horrible. But Lille right now are just a team possessed. It will take a brick wall to stop them, or an own goal like last week.

Prediction: Lille 2 – 1.

Rennes vs. Monaco – Here is a matchup of two opposites. Rennes is starting to build a team for the future. And with veterans like Jerome Leroy and Stephane Dalmat, they have a perfect mixture of talent and experience.

Monaco, on the other had, are a team that is totally lost. While their defense continues to look strong, as well as the play of Stephane Ruffier (which shouldn’t be a surprise), the offense has been really weak. Chu Young Park continues to play well, but with the absence of Nene, Park is now the target of opposing defenders. In addition, there seems to be more pressure on Daniel Niculae to perform at Nene’s level, which is asking the impossible.

With Brest and Lille having tougher matches, Rennes will be looking at this match to make a charge at Marseille at the top. While not exactly a high-scoring team this season, the players that Rennes has on offensive are solid and can easily be game changers. Their defense, lead by Romain Danze and Rod Fanni, continue to play stellar football. And Nicholas Douchez continues to impress, and should be reconsidered by Laurent Blanc for a recall to the French National Team (even at 30 years old).

If Monaco wants to pull out a victory on the road, they will need to spread their offense. If Park remains the center point of any Monaco attack, this Rennes’ defense will easily close down on him and make him useless. Therefore, it is time for Daniel Niculae to show up. If Niculae can put in a solid performance, then Monaco “might” have a change. But chances are that they don’t.

Prediction: Rennes 2 – Monaco 0

Sochaux vs. Valenciennes – One of the early shocks in the Ligue 1 season has to be the play of Sochaux. After a dismal pre-season, Sochaux looked destined for the drop. But since then, Sochaux has been able to stay at the midtable position and somewhat impress. But before anyone starts saying that this is a team to watch, let’s look at who they have defeated this season: Arles, PSG, Nice, Lens, Lorient and Caen. With the exception of PSG and Lorient, that isn’t exactly the strongest of wins. So, Sochaux, lets come back down to Earth.

Even with wins against weaker opponents, Sochaux has shown that they can actually produce offense, even without American Charlie Davies on the pitch. The impressive play of Marvin Martin, Brown Ideye and Modibo Maiga have shown that Sochaux can put the ball in the back of the net. But Gael Danic and Gregory Pujol have shown for Valenciennes that they can put the ball in the back of the net as well.

Therefore, the key to this match is easy…defense. Valenciennes easily has the better and more physical defense. They can bruise their opponents into submission. Only once this season have they allowed more than two goals. Rudy Mater, Milan Bisevac, Dianbobo Balde and David Ducourtioux can put the hurt on Sochaux. And while Sochaux does have quality players in the back, like David Sauget and Jacques Faty (who is still suffering from and injury and hasn’t played since), they are just not as good as Valenciennes defense.

Prediction – Valenciennes 3-1.

Toulouse vs. Caen – At the start of the season, Caen was expected to be the next Montpellier, a promoted team that was able to make their way to the top. And, at the start of the season, with impressive performances against Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon, it looked like they were on their way. But since those matches, Caen seems to have not just fallen to Earth, but slammed down with brutal force. With losses to Arles and Nancy recently, Caen looks to be destined for the drop.

Toulouse have also fallen with nearly the same force. Starting the season dominating the Ligue 1 opposition and sitting pretty in first place, Toulouse are now in 12th place losing to mixed opposition.

The situation at both of these teams are different. Toulouse still has not found that player that will replace Andre-Pierre Gignac as their offensive threat. And while Daniel Braaten and Etienne Didot are solid offensive players for Alain Casanova’s men, and must always be contributing factors in a Toulouse win, they really need someone to step up. Unfortunately for Toulouse, they don’t have a player like that in their system right now.

Caen, on the other hand, does have a target man. Youssef El-Arabi has ten goals this season. In addition, Caen seems to do a good job offensively by pressuring opposing keepers and distributing the ball in an intelligent manner. Their problem is defense. Caen is 18th in goals allowed. And going into this season, everyone knew this would be a Caen weakness, and now it is being exposed.

Basically, this will be a match-up between Toulouse’s defense against Caen’s offense. Therefore, who are the key players to watch? Yep, Etienne Didot and Daniel Braaten. If these two guys can pressure the Caen defense with a good counter attack (which they showed that they could do last week), then they have a great chance of getting a win at home. In addition Frank Tabanou will be returning to the team after a suspension and Fredrico Santander will be back after suffering an injury last week in Toulouse’s match against Auxerre.

Prediction – Toulouse 3 – 1.

Montpellier vs. Lyon – Thank God that this match was the last Saturday match because, honestly, it is the match of the day. So many questions will be answered in this match. Will Lyon show up? Was last weeks thrashing of Montpellier by Marseille a fluke? Hopefully this match will answer at least those two questions.

It was a little more than a year ago that Lyon and Marseille played an exciting 5-5 draw. Could we see as many goals in this match up as well? Both defenses have to be considered average. There is nothing to really write home about them (even if injuries are plaguing the defense). While both teams have solid defenders, but they just don’t seem to be a factor this season. Will they show up in this match? Who knows really.

Therefore, all of the attention is turned to the offense. Both teams have the personnel to put the ball in the back of the net, though Lyon has been more successful than Montpellier this season. And with the lack of defensive quality for both teams, the offenses could be high-flying in this one.

So who are the keys? Yep, the keepers. With the offenses piling on the pressure, both Hugo Lloris and Geoffrey Jourdren (who has really impressed this season, with the exception of last week) will have to pull off some amazing saves in this one. Both of these keepers have the capability to do this, but Lloris isn’t France’s #1 for nothing.

Prediction: Lyon 3-2

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