Predictions for Ligue 1 – 19/20

While Ligue 1 doesn’t possess the same competitiveness throughout the league like the Premier League or even the Bundesliga, it is a gold mine in terms of young talent. It’s what makes the French top division so enjoyable, potentially seeing the next generation of talent come through before they earn big money moves. I will focus on a lot of players from Ligue 1 throughout the season, but first, let’s look at my predictions for the 2019/20 season.

Outside Shout – Montpellier 

The 2011/12 Ligue 1 winners are far from that success at the moment, but this season could be a big step to at least fighting for those Champions League places. With Lille weakened after the sales of Mendes and Pepe, and Lyon under new management, this could be the season where Montpellier finally return to European football.

This is surprising considering just how close they were to relegation. In the 16/17 season, Montpellier finished 15th, only 3 points above the relegation zone. Head-coach Frédéric Hantz was sacked midway through the season and replaced by Jean-Louis Gasset. However, he was not given the job permanently. Gasset was only seen as a stop-gap, to steady the ship for the next coach. That coach was Michel Der Zakarian, a manager who spent ten years of his playing career with Montpellier, playing over 200 games for the club. Zakarian was appointed after mutually terminating his contract at Reims. From the outside looking in, this appointment does seem mostly sentimental, something we’re seeing more of when mid-table clubs appoint their next managers.

It is hard to argue that Montpellier haven’t improved since their relegation scare. During Zakarian first season in charge, they finished 10th, a respectable finish. However, it was last season where everything seemed to click. Laborde and Delort were fantastic additions upfront, adding physicality and a real aerial threat for next to nothing. Their signings allowed Zakarian to deploy a direct style. Last season, they averaged less than 50% possession per game but were in the top 3 for aerial duels. Their attacking approach was to get the ball to Delort and Laborde as quick as possible, through goal kicks or the centre-halves. Zakarian is fully aware of the lack of attacking quality in midfield, so instead used the dynamism of the full-backs and the creativity of Morret to drive the attack. Their ugly yet effective brand of football was essential in an impressive 6th place finish.

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La Paillade are fully aware of how to take advantage of the transfer market, selling Mbenza, Lecombe, Aguilar and Skhiri for £36 million, while only spending £18 million and new arrivals. Those arrivals included Teji Savanier, the best midfielder in Ligue 1 last season, Andy Delort on a permanent deal, Jordan Ferri and Arnaud Souquet. Savanier’s signing was a stroke of genius. While on the older side, he will give more creativity from midfield, to ensure those 15 draws from last season drop substantially.

Similar to La Liga preview, I am not expecting Montpellier to challenge for Ligue 1, but a top-four place isn’t being unrealistic. Lyon, Monaco, Marseille and Lille all look weaker compared to last season. Montpellier have improved, and this is their best chance to get into the most desirable position in the league.

Over-achievers – Monaco

It’s insane just how quickly Monaco have fallen from their surprising title win in 2017. The constant sales of their best players and replacing them with young players is hazardous. The club expected Jardim to work with over 10 new arrivals while losing a solid midfield of Fabinho and Moutinho and two forwards in Balde and Lemar. Their output was difficult to replace with young talent.

Looking at their signings from last season, some of them were good. Golovin was wanted by a lot of Europe’s elite after his impressive World Cup performances. Beni Hendrichs was excellent for Bayer Leverkusen, and it was a sensible move for the price. However, some of the new arrivals did make very little sense. They spent over £30 million on Chadli and Geubbels. The former was extremely lacklustre during his last season with West Brom, and the latter hadn’t played for Lyon’s first time yet and only went on to play 7 minutes in Ligue 1. Jardim left near the beginning of the season due to the club’s incompetence, being replaced by Thierry Henry. The Arsenal legend’s time at the club can best be described as out of his depth. The stupidity in Monaco appointing him and the arrogance of Henry in believing he could succeed without any previous experience is laughable. He failed in spectacular fashion, which lead Jardim returning once again and guiding Monaco to safety.

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Monaco admitted they shouldn’t have put Jardim in such an awkward position regarding the signings. They have resolved those issues by bringing in more experienced players in Ben-Yedder, Slimani, Aguilar and Maripan to blend with their younger players. When you add that with Onyekuru and Lecombe, you have clear improvements all over the pitch. Ben-Yedder is such an excellent addition to the side. His lethal finishing made him one of the best forwards last season. Spending £35 million on a 28-year-old is a lot, but his reliance on movement and good shot locations mean he should age better than most forwards.

Do I expect Monaco to be good this season? I doubt it. Their midfield options are weak, and the lack of creativity worries me. You look at that team, and it’s difficult to pinpoint who starts every week. Yet, Jardim is still a good manager, and I trust he should get enough out of the players at his disposal to at least fight for the Champions League spots.

Under-achievers – Nice

Nice’s 16/17 season was peak Favre. Dynamic full-backs experienced central defenders and a reliance on star power upfront to carry the attack. That season, they defied expectations and finished 3rd, ahead of Lyon and Marseille. However, the following season wasn’t nearly as impressive. European football took a significant toll on the squad and only managed to win 4 in their first 14 games. Losing both of their full-backs and the Seri’s drop in form had a massive impact and resulted in a significant decline from that impressive 3rd place finish.

With Favre understandably departing the club to join Borussia Dortmund, Nice decided to make a riskier appointment and brought in Patrick Viera. The former Arsenal midfielder had an auspicious time in the MLS with NYFC, and many clubs seemed to want Viera based on the name alone. However, no one knew how good he would be in a better league.

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Viera’s first season in charge was fortunate to put it politely. They finished in a respectable 7th, but when you look at their issues, it makes you wonder how they even managed to finish that high. They only managed to score 30 goals, the 3rd worst in the division and only better than 2 relegated sides. The loss of Plea was huge, and Balotelli’s form dropped off a cliff, as per usual. Saint-Maximin was their top scorer, a player known for his lack of end product. While they did overperform massively in defence, that attack needed to be addressed if Nice wanted to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table.

They have attempted to resolve their issues through the transfer market, with Dolberg arriving from Ajax. Dolberg, like Nice, hasn’t been at his best since 2016/17 but he’s still only 21. He does lack the technical ability to hold up the ball effectively, but if you can create enough chances, you can get plenty of goals out of him. Nice are currently close to signing Lorient winger Alexis-Claude Maurice. He is extremely young, but what from I’ve heard, he does have the potential to reach the same levels as the likes of Thomas Lemar or Nicolas Pepe.

When adding that to the promising form Cyprien has shown at the start of the season, Nice could really be a threat in the upcoming season.

So why are they, my potential under-achievers? Simply because of that possibility, this might not work out. Nice are relying heavily on two young players to produce now, and there are plenty of examples that simply hasn’t worked out (Monaco being the most obvious). I hope for the sake of their players, they have a good season, but I have my doubts.

Best Transfer – Abdou Diallo

Joachim Andersen, Teji Savanier, Timothy Weah and Idrissa Gueye are all great signings to choose from, but my pick goes to Abdou Diallo. Dortmund’s sale of the Frenchman and the arrival of Hummels was one of the strangest moments of the window. The deal would have made more sense if they actually earned more of a profit than they did. They bought Diallo last season for just under £30 million and sold him for the same amount. However, Dortmund’s loss is Paris’s gain.

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Last season, Lucien Favre had 3 promising centre-backs to choose out of Akanji, Zagadou and Diallo, and the latter is by far the best. Diallo is not only a fantastic centre-back but managed to fit in perfectly at left-back, still amassing huge dribble numbers. He reads the game well for his age and possesses the speed and strength to play in an elite side. His ability in the air isn’t great, arguably one of the reasons Dortmund were willing to let him go. Yet, Diallo is an improvement over who Paris have. With Thiago Silva ageing, they needed to nail this signing, and they have.

Potential Flop – Renato Sanches

Lille have lost a lot this season. Not only did they sell their best player in Nicolas Pepe, but the sales of Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes were massive loses. Mendes was a vital cog in that midfield, adding a lot in terms of defensive work and creativity but selling to a rival made it even worse. Leao made sense considering Milan’s colossal offer, but a potential star has been let go a year too early. It made this summer essential in keeping Lille competitive, with so many areas to fix.

While Yazici was very close to being here, as soon as I saw a fee agreed for Renato Sanches, there was no doubt he would find himself on this list. It was slightly unfair for Sanches to be painted as the next future superstar after his impressive Euro 2016 performances, which earned him a £35 million to Bayern. However, the former Benfica midfielder has had a torrid time since his move to Germany. His game time under Ancelotti was minimal, and after an odd yet disappointing loan move to Swansea, his future at the Bavarians looked extremely daunting.

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After another season of barely appearing for Bayern, Lille decided to take a punt on the young Portuguese midfielder. There is still clearly talent in Sanches, but it’s strange that after 4 years of playing two of the top five leagues, his sample size is still relatively small. Taking away international football and his time at Benfica, he has only played 2230 minutes since joining Bayern Munich, that’s fewer minutes than Nicolas Pepe played last season. He is a young player who has lacked substantial game time in the past 3 years and possibly having attitude problems, as his time at Swansea showed. This is arguably Lille’s most prominent risk of the summer. There is a lot of pressure on Sanches to be half the play he was predicted to be. If he fails to have an impact in another league, I fear his career could be over before it ever had a chance to begin.

Why Mourinho Was Sacked. Top 5 League Talking Points

While this week wasn’t as interesting as the last, there are still plenty to talk about so let’s start with Germany

Bundesliga

Frankfurt Outclass Leverkusen

While Bayern and Leipzig all pick up big wins, let’s look at Frankfurt, who continued their great start to the season with a 2-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen. While Frankfurt have been very good this season, Leverkusen are still a side that can cause any side trouble, with Werder Bremen conceding 6 against them. They also haven’t lost since the 11th of November, so this was a tough task for both sides.

Let’s start with the winners, who won this game, even without their young shot machine Luka Jovic, who started the game on the bench. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. They still had both Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller, who have been very good this season. Rebic has continued on from his World Cup exploits, with the Croatian scoring 5 and assisting 2. His shot numbers are healthy considering he’s played all over the field this season, and he’s creating 1.8 chances a game, showing how much of a well rounded player he is. While he has been good, Haller has been absolutely brilliant. He’s scored 9 goals and is at the top of the assists chart in the Bundesliga, with 8. If you count the Europa League, he’s in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s incredible in the air and while he has been rather fortunate to have this many goal contributions, he has still been arguably the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Against Bayer Leverkusen, he took 4 shots, created 3 chances and won a ridiculous 12 aerial duels. Dragovic and Tah just couldn’t deal with him, with the pair only winning 3 aerial duels. I wouldn’t be surprised if clubs aren’t looking at him, for bids in the summer. He’s only 24, meaning there is still a ceiling to hit. He was only signed for £6.3m from Utrecht. What a brilliant bit of business from a club that seems to keep impressing me.

While Haller was as good as ever, the man of the match was arguably Filip Kostic. The Serbian was great on the day, scoring and assisting to help his side get the 3 points. He also created 2 chances, made 4 tackles and interceptions and 6 clearances. Frankfurt play in a way where their full backs are pushed so far forward, that they are almost like inside forwards. The first goal showed this, with Kostic assisting Da Costa with a beautiful low cross. It gives their side a constant attacking threat in all areas, and it means players like Rebic and Haller can stay more central without worrying about lacking isolation. But their marauding full backs come at a cost. It leaves them so vunarable at the back. Leverkusen were probably unlucky to not get more out of this game. They started it off so well, with Brandt having two great chances, and Bellerabi having a goal disallowed. They exploited the wide areas that are always left so free at times, and if not for better finishing, would have let Frankfurt pay for it. But they didn’t, and Frankfurt continue on this season, looking to get Europa League football.

La Liga

Betis back on track

While November did include a brilliant victory over Barcelona, it wasn’t a great month for Betis. It was their only win last month, with a draw against Celta and a defeat to a poor Villarreal, it left them in a position where they couldn’t seem to put two wins together. Now in December, they haven’t lost a single game yet, with their only points dropped being in the Europa League. Wins and clean sheets against Sociedad and Vallecano, means they are finally showing how good they really are. This side have a solid defense, and a great midfield. This actually transitions very smoothly to talk about Giovanni Lo Celso. The Argentine is one of my favourite players to watch this season, and has been the best midfielder in the league. While he’s only started 9 games, it is because the horrible Europa League campaign they are also playing in. He’s clearly being saved for those games, and it’s understandable why. Lo Celso is a midfielder who can play anywhere in the midfield. His tackle numbers and great dribble numbers make him a very flexible player, similar to Moussa Dembele or Allan. The difference here is goals. Lo Celso is Betis’s top scorer, and while it’s only with 4, it does show how good he at getting in the box. He also ranks third in the squad for shots per game, and xG says he is achieving what he should be, which shows there isn’t much luck or a purple patch here. This is Lo Celso playing his game, which is just frightening. He’s only 22, meaning there are still plenty of years left.

He was the man of the match in this game, taking 4 shots and completing 4 dribbles. Lo Celso is not a creator. Canales takes that role (and is another who has performed very well), while Lo Celso plays as the player who arrives late in the box, but is also an expert at winning the ball back. It does seriously trouble me why Paris let him go out on loan, and are now forced to play Marquinhos to play as a holding midfielder, a position where Lo Celso could definitely fill in. It would would amaze me if Paris actually let him go. He’s a player with massive potential would offer something different in a midfield which will see Rabiot leave by the summer. He is such a good player and is the reason why Betis are such a threat.

Ligue 1

Monaco Misery Continues

It is fair to say Monaco have been the worst side in Europe. They have went from Ligue 1 runners up, to a side hiring a manager with zero experience, and are now suffering for it. They have conceded the 4th most goals in the league, and scored the 3rd least amount of goals in Europe. They have turned from league winners, to a shambles. This game against Lyon just shows their weaknesses in both areas. They are currently suffering with 16 players out in the sidelines. I can definitely sympathise with Henry in that department. He has been forced to play Raggi as a right back, a player who should really not be at the club at this point. Monaco were truly awful in this game. It may become boring just looking at numbers, but they sum up the situation perfectly. The five highest shot takers in this game were all Lyon players, and the most dribbles were all Lyon players. Falcao actually won 3 tackles, more than all of his teammates. A striker should never be doing that. They had a pass accuracy of 77%. That is just awful. You expect a side, with ball players like Monaco to have at least 80%. You expect lower than that from direct managers like Mourinho and Sam Allardyce. While Lyon managed 21 shots, Monaco managed a poultry 4, meaning Aouar and Depay had more shots than their opposition, with 5 each. This all wasn’t helped from Golovin getting sent off. The Russian decided to throw a terrible challenge in, earning a straight and justifiably got his marching orders. They offered nothing in this game, which can’t be highlighted more than Benaglio getting the second highest amount of touches with 45. It was just a nothing performance from a side that has been no where near average this season.

Let’s quickly look at Lyon. They are now looking like the second best team in Ligue 1, which they are. Their best player on the day was Nabil Fekir. It might be an exaggeration, but he is arguably one of the top 20 players on the planet. Not many attackers can boast his creativity, shot numbers, set piece ability, dribbling and versatility. There’s so much to his game that is makes him such a desirable player to every top club. He could get into any team in the world. This game showed his quality. He scored, created 6 chances and completed the most passes out of any forward for Lyon. He was at his unbeatable best in this game, tearing through Monaco as if they were a light piece of paper. It was a great performance from a player who is just too good for this league. Another who stood out is Kenny Tete. He completed the most tackles and created 4 chances, with only Fekir creating more. His cross for the second goal was fantastic, and showed this determination and fight that he clearly has.

With Paris already seemed to have wrapped up the league, Lyon could seriously shock some sides the champions league. Barcelona are arguably the favourites for the competition, but injuries to their defenders and Luis Suarez’s ability to have an incredible off day, means they are definitely beatable. Valverde’s pragmatism is his biggest weakness, and best quality. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just doesn’t work. Losing to Roma, failing to win the league because of his complete team change against Levante, and their terrible performance against Betis only last month. It leaves questions on whether they can actually go the distance. They go against this Lyon side. A side full of attacking quality, and a side that showed a lot of versatility in the past, able to play a 4-4-2, a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. It could be a real challenge, as Manchester City found out.

Premier League

Manchester United outclassed

While this is quite late, let’s look at Mourinho’s last game in charge of Manchester United, arguably his side’s worst showing. I compare every single bad performance from United this season to that game against Brighton, where I saw nothing in attacking sense and complete incompetence in defense. Even the games against, Southampton, Valencia, Juventus, Manchester City, Spurs and Derby, they just weren’t as bad as Brighton, but the against their closest rivals is definitely the worst. Allowing Liverpool to have 36 shots, is a disgrace. United just sat back and allowed Liverpool to attack relentlessly. While Liverpool were quite wasteful, with Fabinho, Lovren and Mane all wasting chances, they still created so many chances and were allowed so because of just how bad United were. While United did get a goal back thanks to an Allison mistake, it was not deserved. Liverpool won the game thanks to goals from Xherdan Shaqiri. I think the line up was the start of things to come for United. No Martial, Pogba or Mata meant a huge lack of creativity and spark in the side. It made United so much more predictable and passive in an attacking sense. They lacked Mata’s ability to drift and find space, Martial’s speed and chance creation and Pogba’s pure arrogance. While I like Herrera, he isn’t going to offer anything in a creative sense, and Matic is just not very good. I like Lingard, but he works better when he’s playing off other attackers. Rashford, while he tried his hardest, did struggle in this game. United are an absolute mess, and it truly doesn’t make sense. This side has some of the best attackers in the league. Lukaku was scoring over 20 goals only 2-3 years ago, Martial was carrying United’s attack, Rashford was ruthless in his first full season, Sanchez was linked to every single top during his final year at Arsenal, Mata is arguably as good as David Silva. How this team isn’t scoring more than Arsenal and Chelsea is mind blowing. Mourinho started his time at United so well. Two trophies, an arrogance and swagger with the signings of Zlatan and Pogba, and huge progress to be made. However it’s just been downhill from there. This is written right after Mourinho was sacked, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed. The Norwegian will hopefully bring back the confidence in this side, and make times at Old Trafford much more enjoyable.

While I still do not think Liverpool are near City in performance and quality, credit needs to be given. They were very good against United. It does help that their opponent was so bad, but they themselves were good. Fabinho was their best player on the day for me. While many have given Shaqiri the man of the match for his effect on the game, I think Fabinho did show exactly why Liverpool have been such a solid side this season. While he started slow, he seems to have finally found his place and purpose in this side. Considering he was playing in defensive midfield, he played more as a number ten. He had 5 shots, created 2 chances and 3 dribbles. He got the assist for the first goal, with an excellent ball that cut the United defense open like cheese. He dominated this game and could be a real important player in a season where Liverpool finally seem ready for a trophy.

Serie A

Roma entertain Genoa

With all the big clubs getting typical wins, let’s look at the most entertaining of those wins, being Roma’s 3-2 victory over Genoa. Roma have been poor this season. I still have massive question marks over Di Francesco, and Monchi just hasn’t had the impact all expected him to have. I do think it is a massive shame that Malcom made the wrong decision in joining Barcelona. If he did sign as he was expected to, they would definitely be more of a threat in front of goal. Roma have scored a very good 29 goals, but an injury to Dzeko has left them with a difficult situation. Schick hasn’t impressed in the slightest since his arrival from Sampdoria last season. Instead, they started Zaniolo. The Italian didn’t manage a shot on target in the game, but having the opportunity will definitely help him grow as a player. For the first time this season, I can say Roma’s midfield were very good. Di Francesco chose to start Bryan Cristante and Steven N’Zonzi in this game. Cristante is a player who isn’t full of talent, but he did show what he’s got against Genoa, scoring and creating 3 chances. His midfield partner was even better. N’Zonzi has not been great since his arrival in the capital. He’s started show his age, and struggling with the pace of some sides in Italy. But in this game he was back to his best. He completed 6 tackles and interceptions, and won 8 aerial duels. He is finally showing why Monchi chose to take another risk on him, at an age where he should start to be fading. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is still a presence in midfield and hopefully he can find a certain place in this side. With Pellegrini in the sidelines, it was important that the pair stepped up, and they did.

Genoa can truly call themselves unlucky. They had a lead in this game, with the shot monster Piatek and Hiljemark both scoring, but Roma clawed back and got the result. xG had this game at 1.88 to Roma and 2.18 to Genoa. This is mainly due to how good Piatek is. The Polish marksman has been on fire this season, and showed it here. He had 5 shots, with every single shot on target. It’s something you don’t usually see from a forward, being able to hit every shot on target in a game against the second best defense last season. There is no doubt that Piatek is over performing, but he is playing for a side that isn’t exactly a top 6 contender. They don’t create a crazy amount of chances, so it’s very impressive. It’ll be hard for Genoa to keep hold of him, if any big clubs would go for him.

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group A

Europe’s elite competition is finally back, so let’s look at how it could shape up, group by group.

Atletico Madrid

After a great summer of signings, with Lemar, Arias, Rodri, Kalinic and more arriving to boost an already strong squad. Having already the best defense in Spain, and now adding the right attacking players to give them more flexibility going forward, it should now be their time to challenge for the league and Champions League right? Well not so far. They have already dropped 5 points out of a possible 9, with a defeat against Celta Viga, and a draw on the opening day against Valencia. The whole team just doesn’t look as sharp as it was at the end of last season. I have a feeling it could carry into the group stages. While eventually they will get their act together, they do not have long to do that however. Their first game of the Champions League is away against Monaco. And while both were incredibly disappointing last season, it will still be a hard game. While I think they will struggle. They will have the players to get out the group’s, so I’m going for a second place finish for Spanish side.

Borussia Dortmund

A side I have been complimenting and criticising. Dortmund go into this tournament with a new manager, and plenty of new signings. Last year, Dortmund started the season under Peter Bosz, they were awful in the champions league, losing both legs to Spurs and Real Madrid. They have a new manager in Lucien Favre. While he doesn’t play the best football, he does solidify the back, and let’s the forward line express themselves. While the signings of Alcacer, Akanji and Diallo are all excellent bits of business, and give upgrades to what they already have, but I labelled Witzel and Delaney as the worst signings of the entire window. I just do not like the additions at all and are spending a lot of money and short term players who are not that talented. However what I will give both of them is that they are disciplined players, and will help make those games where they have less of the ball more difficult for the opposition. A team with the attacking talent of Dortmund. With both Pulisic and Reus being some of the best around, and Sancho looking like the rest deal, it could give them the edge in a difficult group. They will top the group.

Club Brugge

I will not deny that I do not know much about Club Brugge, but after doing some research, I learnt that they won their league by more than 10 points, and went on an impressive 11 game winning run. There is no doubt that they deserve to be there, however there is still a clear difference between their competition. While Wesley and Danjuma have started well, with both contributing to 5 goals in 10 games, they will have to hope that these guys turn up against these very tough opponents. They lost Diaby to Lisbon, who clearly a huge loss with sporting putting a giant release clause on him. It will be a tough campaign for Brugge, so I do not see more than a 4th finish

Monaco

And last but not least, Monaco. The Ligue 1 runner ups have also not had the greatest of starts. They lost two of their midfielders, and lost one of their best creators in Lemar. However they have done well in improving the squad, with Golovin, Pele (not that one), Henrichs, Barreca and Geubbels all adding an already young squad. They have started the new season in pretty bad form, losing to Marseille and Bordeaux, and drawing to Lille. The main reason I’m putting them to finish third is the amount of players they have signed. They are not bad players in the slightest. However the squad is now at an average age of 23.7. That would have beaten Toulouse’s average age of 23.85, making them the youngest squad in Europe. It will be very unlikely to see them get out of the group, because it will be the first time many of these players participate in this competition. They will need the experience first.

Final Table

1. Borussia Dortmund

2. Atletico Madrid

3. Monaco

4. Club Brugge