2013/14 Ligue 1 Matchday 1 Preview

Today's big question...will Lisandro's departure hurt Lyon?

Today’s big question…will Lisandro’s departure hurt Lyon?

Well, with the long awaited season upon us, it is time to pull out the jerseys, find those internet streams we haven’t used in the last few weeks, fire up the DVRs for the games we want to watch later and crack out the French-English dictionaries because Ligue 1 season is finally here. Gone are all of the preseason games that mean nothing, as well as the hype around only two teams. Now we are at the point where those “mega teams” need to prove themselves.

Of course, the transfer market this summer makes Ligue 1 a much different looking league than we had before. One of the newly promoted teams is vying for a Champions League spot. Some of the smaller teams have brought in really good talent. Other teams have lost a lot of their players in the summer, and questions remain on how they will perform this season.

So, with Matchday 1, what should we expect?

Lyon vs. Nice – For Lyon, questions will be answered today. And the big question that will be asked is if the departure of Lisandro Lopez will impact the team? My prediction is that Lisandro’s departure is a huge blow to Lyon, and they will have trouble in a Lisandro-less team. Since arriving from Porto, Lisandro has been, arguably, the most consistent player in Ligue 1. Year in and year out,  Lisandro produced for Lyon. And, yes I dare to say it, he was more consistent than Juninho when it came to production. Oddly enough, both players left Lyon for Al-Gharafa!

Still, Lisandro had a presence in the center of the pitch that Lyon will not be able to replicate with their current squad. The question then becomes if they will have to push their play wider? Granted, Bafetimbi Gomis has improved his play, as well as his speed, in the last few seasons and is showing himself as an elite player. But was Gomis a better player because of the extra attention given to Lisandro? What will be interesting to watch today is to see if the Nice defense will try to shut down Gomis.

But what will happen if Gomis transfers to Newcastle? This will turn the team over to the younger players, which isn’t a bad thing for Lyon?  Still, with a offense minus Lisandro and Gomis, Lyon would have to push wide. They would lack the center attack that they have run the last few years and work up the flanks. The only way to make the center attact work is by pushing the center midfield forward. Clement Grenier has already proven that he is entirely capable of doing that.

Still, less on the possible future of Lyon and back to this match. With Lisandro out of the picture, Nice’s newly improved defense can possibly shut down Gomis. Oddly enough, Nice’s biggest off-season gift was from rivals AS Monaco. With the money flowing freely in The Principality, Nampalys Mendy was not needed at Monaco. This will help give goalkeeper David Ospina the support that he needs. Last season, the Nice defense was less than impressive. But with the addition of Mendy, there should be immediate improvement.

On the flip side, all eyes will be on Argentinian Dario Cvitanich. After last year’s extremely impressive introduction to Ligue 1, will he be able to replicate his performance this year? Lyon’s Maxime Gonalons, Samuel Umtiti and Milan Bisevac will have their work cut out for them.

This game has the possibility of either being really defensive or explosive. In both cases, there are strong offences matching up against decent defenses. Still, Lyon does have to edge in this match for a few reasons. First, Lyon should be able to dominate the midfield play, which will help them with the transition play. Second, Lyon has the depth to keep fresh legs on the pitch and can easily adjust to any situations. Finally, Lyon has the ability to either work the ball up the middle or work the flanks, which means they can control both the pace and how the game is played.

Overall, this match will tell us a lot about how these teams will play over the next season.

Bordeaux vs. Monaco – Alright, last week’s Trophee Des Champions match is over and Bordeaux have to put that behind them. Still, they have to host Ligue 1’s other mega money team today, Monaco.

One of the big differences between the two teams is the longevity of the team composition. As we know, Monaco is filled with a slew of new players. As for Bordeaux, most of their players have been on the team for a number of years. With this, Bordeaux might have the edge when it comes to actual teamwork.

While Monaco has an explosive offense, they will be paired up against a solid defense. Even though Cedric Carrasso isn’t on the French National Team anymore, he is still one of the top keepers in Ligue 1. Lamine Sané, who does find himself giving up the ball a lot, usually does more good than bad. Today, Sané will be required to play a smart game, as one of his typical slips is not helpful with Falcao and Rodriguez bearing down. Still, Bordeaux’s solid defense means that the game should be close, no matter who wins.

As for Bordeaux, the offense is questionable. Cheick Diabate needs to be the target man for Bordeaux in order for them to more forward offensively. For years, he has been considered of the best up and coming players. Yet, he hasn’t been used to his full potential. Maybe this year will be the season where Diabate will break out. Diabate will also be working with Henri Saivet and Ludovic Obraniak, who are solid players in their own right. But even though they are solid, they aren’t an offensive powerhouse. Luckily for Bordeaux, Monaco has concentrated more on their offense in the summer than their defense. One can say that Monaco’s defense isn’t exactly the best, and players like Ricardo Carvalho are not what they used to be. In addition, Monaco is extremely questionable when it comes to goalkeeping. Danijel Subasic is not even nearly one of the top keepers in Ligue 1. If teams can expose this weakness, then Monaco won’t be the great powerhouse they were hoping for. PSG learned that having a solid team, not just a solid offense, is what brings Ligue 1 championships. It seems as if Monaco hasn’t figured this out.

Speaking of Monaco’s defense, the key player for Monaco’s success this season is not Falcao, Rodriguez or Moutinho, but Jeremy Toulalan. There are three reasons for this. First, he is the player with the best Ligue 1 experience on the team, which will help during league play. Second, because Monaco’s defense is weak, he will have to carry more of the defensive workload. Finally, during his time at Lyon, he was the player that made plays happen. Most successful scoring opportunities by Lyon started with a defensive play by Toulalan, who then was able to transition the play quickly. So, with all of talk of everyone else coming in, Jeremy Toulalan is the key to Monaco’s success.

If Bordeaux can bring offensive pressure to Monaco, they have a good chance of winning this game. Still, if Monaco is smart, they know that if they keep possession, they will be able to control the game. Eventually, Sané will slip up or the defense will get tired and Monaco will score. Therefore, the outcome of this game will be based solely on the performance of Bordeaux’s offense.

Valenciennes FC vs. Toulouse FC –  In the last few seasons, TFC has lost a number of valuable players. Even this week, arguably Toulouse’s top player Etienne Capoue is heading to the EPL. What does this mean for TFC? Well, they are going to have to rely on a lot of untested players in order to have a successful Ligue 1 season.  This will definitely put pressure on the shoulders of Etienne Didot who, along with Cheikh M’Bengue, who are the only two who have remained with the team for a while (and M’Bengue could even be gone soon).

Alain Casanova is changing up things. Unlike the past, where he has been playing a defensive style, Toulouse looks to play a 2-5-3, with most of the midfield being offensive-minded. When Casanova moved to this type of play before, it didn’t bode well. Still, he usually shifted to an offensive style with players who are loaned to the team. With Benn Yedder and Ben Basat being the new, young faces for Toulouse, things might turn around. We will see if this new offensive switch will work.

As for Valenciennes, they are in trouble as well. For years now, Gael Danic has been Gregory Pujol’s “go to” guy, which usually makes Pujol a quiet, but productive forward. But with Danic now at Lyon, we will have to see who will pick up his duties. As of right now, that job looks to be given to Maor Melikson. But wish Danic gone, this means that Daniel Sanchez can now use the other wing as well to open up play of Valenciennes. This could give the team more of an element of surprise.  Still, with Pujol being the lone man up from, more of the workload will be put on him. Still, VAFC still have Anthony Le Tallec if they need to bring in that extra striking capability.

Rennes vs. Reims – Both of these teams struggled a bit last year, but there are some positives. For Reims, they were one of the best defensive teams in Ligue 1 last year.  With the exception of Pape Souare leaving the team, most of the defense is still intact. However, the offense was terrible last year.  Nicolas Fauvergue still hasn’t been able to reproduce that magical year that he had with the struggling Strasbourg club, and has been transferred to Metz. Same could be said for Johann Ramare, who didn’t produce and is off to Lens. Therefore, the newly acquired Gaetan Charbonnier from Montpellier will now have the offensive duties shifted to his shoulders.

As for Rennes, the departure of Victor Montano will have an impact.  With the move, Rennes has become a very strong defensive team. With Costil being one of the most underrated keepers in the league, he is working with Romain Danze, Kevin Theophile-Catherine, Jean-Armel Kana Biyik, Onyekachi Apam and Jean II Makoun, which is quite strong.  Still, the offense does have a chance to break out. While not producing at the rate he did at PSG, Mevlut Erding is still an offensive force. Erding also has Jonathan Pitroipa to help with the offense. Still, the play of Julien Feret will be key. Not only can he score, but he is an essential part in Rennes’ ball distribution. He has been, for years now, one of the more solid players in Ligue 1. If he can continue that play, Rennes might have a surprising team this year, as the balance is there.

Nantes vs. Bastia – After years of waiting, finally, one of France’s most celebrated clubs, Nantes, is back into Ligue 1.  Granted they do not have one of the strong teams in the league, but it is still good to have them there nonetheless. As for the team, it is kind of an unknown at this point, and we will have to see. All of their transfers into the team where from outside of Ligue 1, so they might have a hard time gelling to the more defensive-style system.

As for Bastia, this might be a team to watch out for this year.  This team will look quite different from last year. Last season, their goal was to no be relegated. They did that by loaning players like Jacques Faty and Anthony Modeste, and signing players like Jerome Rothen (yes, he is still playing) and Mickael Landreau. This season, Bastia is trying to build their own team with transfers and not loans. The biggest name coming in is Sebastien Squillaci, and a steal at that, on a free. The question is whether he will fit into Bastia. Certainly he will make an impact. But it is still an unknown. As for other Bastia players, there are way too many to list, but the list is impressive. Still, how will they work as a group is the question.

Lille vs. Lorient – If there are any teams that look different than they did a few years ago, it would have to be both Lille and Lorient. Both of these teams have gone through some major changes. At Lille, gone are most of the key players who brought them the Ligue 1 title. But even with these departures, Lille does have some quality on their side. As for the scoring, Marvin Martin, Nolan Roux, Salomon Kalou and Florian Thauvin do give Lille a bit of a punch. If there is any question, it would have to be in their defense. While they are quality players, and they have added some strength in the center with Simon Kjaer, it isn’t the quality of the past. As far as goalkeeping, Steeve Elana has always been a quality, solid keeper, turning heads during his Ligue 2 time at Brest. Elana does help complete a balanced team, but he is top keeper material?

Still, some big name players have left Lille, and the departures are felt much more than the arrivals. Gone is Benoit Pedretti, Dimitri Payet, Lucas Dinge, Aurelien Chedjou and Laurent Bonnart. With the exception of Dinge and Chedjou, the other players were brought in to deal with the eventual rebuilding that Lille would face from the anticipated departures of Yoham Cabaye, Eden Hazard and others. The club thought that Payet and Pedretti could bring the spark back to Lille, but that didn’t happen. Yes, this Lille team is solid, but are nowhere near the caliber of the 2010-11 team.

As for Lorient, they have the same issue. While they do have some quality players, they are not the same team as they were in the past. With the competition of Ligue 1 increasing, who knows if a team like Lorient can keep up with the pace. Yes, players like Alain Traore, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Kevin Monnet-Paquet and even Mathiue Coutadeur make for a solid team. But is it a team that can compete? With other teams like Toulouse suffering during this transfer season, teams like Lorient might be your mid-table replacement. Overall this should be a well-balanced game, and possibly the most enjoyable match of the week to watch…from a pure football point of view.

Evian vs. Sochaux – Both of these teams aren’t extremely impressive. Yes, there are some quality players that will be taking the pitch, like Brice Dja Djedje, Ryad Boudebouz (who I am still surprised is at Sochaux) and Sebastien Corchia. But overall, these teams do not have a lot of depth. Both teams are young and have a future to build on, but these will more than likely be relegation contenders like last season. So, yes, a very short preview.

 

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