Ligue 1 Preview

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Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Lille’s Luiz Araujo battle for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lille at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Sunday Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Round five of the Ligue 1 season kicks off on Friday, Sept. 25 at 3 p.m. when LOSC Lille host FC Nantes at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. 

Lille are coming off a 1-1 draw against Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Vélodrome. Despite the fact that splitting points away from home is usually a good thing, Lille gave up a goal in the 87th minute, blowing what should have been a victory.  

Manager Christopher Galtier has kept his starting 11 for the most part consistent, with a couple minor changes. Luiz Araújo and Jonathon Bamba are the joint top goal scorers with two goals, while Xeka, Domagoj Bradaric and Burak Yilmaz all have one assist.  

“Honorable mentions” for players to look out for in the match are Renato Sanches and American Timothy Weah. Sanches will continue to attempt to live up to the world class standards set for him, while Weah will look to get back to the goalscoring form he enjoyed at Paris-Saint Germain and Celtic, respectively.  

Lille sit fifth in the table with eight points, and will look to keep maintaining their form, focusing on quick, attacking-based football.  

Lille’s Reinildo Mandava, left, attempts to control the ball as teammate Boubakary Soumare, right, and Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara, centre, watch during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lille at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Sunday Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Nantes are coming off an impressive 2-2 draw to AS Saint-Étienne, who are joint-first with Stade Rennais. The five players to watch out for are Ludovic Blas, Imran Louza, Andrei Girotto, Moses Simon and Renaud Thierry Emond, who have all scored once in the campaign.  

Manager Christian Gourcuff will look to sit back, take in the pressure and hit Lille on the counterattack. They will not be hesitant to be more aggressive and press if down, but it will not be their first resort.  

Nantes sit 14th with five points and will be desperate not to drop points after a difficult start to the season.  

Saturday, Sept. 26 sees Stade Rennais travel to the Stade Geoffroy Guichard and face ASSE Saint-Étienne at 11 a.m.  

Saint-Étienne manager Claude Paul will play with an extremely high intensity, known to press the opposition in the final third, while looking to build up quickly, either through quick one-two passes or dangerous crosses into the box.  

Saint-Etienne’s Arnaud Nordin, left, clears the ball during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Saint Etienne at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Thursday, Sept.17, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

“Les Verts” traveled to Stade De La Beaujoire Louis Fonteneau their last time out, splitting the points with Nantes.  

Transitioning over to the squad, Stéphane Ruffier’s conflict with the club’s higher-ups led to his expulsion from the club. As a result, Jessy Moulin has taken the reigns in goal. A lifelong backup, Paul and the club hope he will be able to perform at a high level. 

Youngster Adil Aouchiche is already impressing the Saint-Étienne faithful, scoring in the game against Nantes while also demonstrating his creative ability on the pitch. Denis Bouanga’s quick feet and pace will be of concern to Rennais, who will have to make sure he doesn’t get in behind or have too much time on the ball.  

Medhi Camara is the midfield outlet for the club, pushing the ball up to players in more dangerous positions. He is great at opening up spaces for the team and locking up the midfield in defense.  

Stade Rennais beat AS Monaco 2-1 at home in their last match. Eduardo Camavinga is no doubt their best player, with the French superstar becoming more and more of interest to top clubs around the world. Veteran midfielder Steven N’zonzi will control the midfield and make sure everyone is tactically disciplined, something that comes easy to him due to his vast experience. Benjamin Bourigeaud is another solid midfielder and will no doubt link up with Camavinga in attack.  

Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, right, fights for the ball with Saint-Etienne’s Adil Aouchiche during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Saint Etienne at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Thursday, Sept.17, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Adrien Truffert is another young midfielder who will have a big impact. Manager Julien Stéphan has gone on record in the past and said the club would not look for another left-back, solely relying on Truffert. He repaid the manager’s trust against Monaco, sending a cross into the box headed in by Steven N’zonzi for the equalizer and scoring the winner in stoppage time.  

Saint-Étienne and Stade Rennais are both at the top with 10 points.  

Saturday also sees Olympique de Marseille face FC Metz in an empty Stade Vélodrome at 3 p.m. An empty Vélodrome is truly a strange sight, as they are known to have the highest average attendance in all of France.  

André Villas-Boas is truly building something special at Marseille. This was only further evident with their win over bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain at the “Parc des Princes.”  

Veteran Steve Mandanda is in goal for “Les Olympiens,” having played for the club over 300 times in his career. In front of him is Japanese international Hiroki Sakai, who has proven to be an excellent defender this season for the club, solidifying an already solid backline.  

Marseille’s Hiroki Sakai reacts as he is tackled by a Lille defender during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lille at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Sunday Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Moreover, Boubacar Kamara is a center defensive midfielder who frustrates the opposition for the entirety of the match.  

However, the most dangerous part of this squad is the front three, made of veteran attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet, striker Dario Benedetto and winger Florian Thauvin. At 33, Payet is still proving he can play at his best, the former French international drastically raising the level of the team. French international Florian Thauvin can also be dangerous, cutting in and causing havoc or getting in behind the defense.  

Benedetto is usually able to find space, causing havoc in and around the box. Moreover, he is able to effectively hold the ball up and/or be found by Thauvin or Payet in a dangerous area, a situation no defense wants to find itself in.  

Marseille currently sit seventh in the table with seven points.  

FC Metz will have to battle hard this season to avoid relegation, finishing 15th last season with 34 points. Although they still finished 11 points above the relegation zone, one must remember France was the only league to cancel their season prematurely. Without this cancellation, and considering the form Metz had before the pandemic, it may have been an entirely different story.  

PSG’s Colin Dagba, left, heads the ball past Metz’s Habib Diallo during the French League One soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Metz at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Wednesday, Sept.16, 2020. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Vincent Hognon’s man will concede possession and sit back, hoping to counter Marseille. These opportunities to counter will have to revolve around Habib Diallo, whose goals kept the club in France’s premier footballing division.  

Fellow Seneglaese international Ibrahima Niane is currently the top goal scorer for the club this season with two goals. Farid Bouyala and Papa Ndiaga Yade — another Seneglaese international — lead the assists category with one each.  

Metz currently sit 17th with three points.  

Seven fixtures are set to be played on the final day of Round five on Sunday, Sept. 27.  

Patrick Viera’s OGC Nice travel to the Mamut Alantique to face FC Girondins De Bordeaux. Nice are coming off a 3-0 defeat to PSG at home. Despite this, they have performed well this season, with wins over RC Lens and Strasbourg to kick off the season.  

PSG’s Pablo Sarabia, foreground, runs for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Sunday, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Danish international Kasper Dolberg will be one of the most dangerous threats to the Bordeaux defense, coming off an outstanding 2019-2020 season that saw him score 11 goals in 23 appearances. Midfielder Hassane Kamara will provide creativity on the left, while centerback Dante will provide experience in the back.  

Nice sit 10th with six points, while Bordeaux sit 13th with five points.   

Niko Kovač continues to develop his master plan at AS Monaco, with Strasbourg Alsace hosting them at the Stade De La Meinau at 9 a.m. French international Wissam Ben Yedder will be crucial for Monaco’s success, while Benôit Badiashile has two goals for the season and is proving to be a key part of the attack. Alexsandr Golovin and Aurélien Tchouameni will serve as the creative forces in midfield.  

Monaco currently sit sixth with seven points, while Strasbourg sit 18th with three points.  

Angers SCO play at their home ground in the Stade Raymond Kopa against Stade Brestois 29 at 9 a.m. Angers sit 11th with six points, while Brestois sit ninth with six points.  

Lens’ Cheick Doucoure, center, controls the ball during the French League One soccer match between Lens and Bordeaux in Lens, northern France, Saturday Sept. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Moreover, Dijon FCO face Montpellier Hérault SC and Nîmes Olympique face RC Lens, with both games taking place at 9 a.m. Dijon sit 20th, having yet to secure a point, while Montpellier sit third with nine points. Nîmes sit 15th with four points, and Lens sit fourth with nine points.  

The final two games of the season involve the finalist and semi-finalist of the recent Champions League campaign, PSG and Olympique Lyonnais.  

PSG face Stade De Reims at 3 p.m. Neymar is set to return after his two-game suspension for hitting Marseille defender Álvaro González on the back of the head. Ángel Dí María is set to miss this match and the next three after it was announced on Sept. 23 that he would be banned for four games for spitting on González. 

Marquinhos will captain the squad, with new signing Alessandro Florenzi continuing to get used to his new Parisian lifestyle. Verratti and Gueye will most likely make up the midfield, with Pablo Sarabia, Ander Herrera or even Julian Draxler replacing the suspended Dí María. 

PSG sit eighth in the table with six points, while Stade de Reims sit 19th with one point.  

PSG’s Pablo Sarabia, foreground, runs for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Sunday, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Rudi Garcia is in the good graces of Lyon supporters for his role in Lyon’s Champions League run, shocking Juventus and Manchester City before being eliminated by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. However, he will need to continue getting results if he wants this to continue, with Lyon finishing a dismal seventh in the league last season, missing out on any type of European football.  

They are set to lose their top goal scorer to FC Barcelona, so the reports say, while midfielder Houssem Aouar is being heavily linked to Arsenal FC.  

Jason Denayer and Marcelo serve as the excellent center back pairing for the squad, while Maxence Caqueret is an excellent young midfielder who is crucial to their attack. Moussa Dembélé scored twice to eliminate the Premier League giants and will fill in for Depay if the reports are to be true.  

Dembélé is excellent and getting in behind and finding space in the box, relentlessly putting it into the back of the net. He will have to continue having this ruthless spirit if Lyon wish to qualify for European football this season.  

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