Ligue 1 preview: Fatigue becoming a factor

Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara, left, and Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte compete for the ball during the Champions League Group C soccer match between Marseille and Manchester City at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via AP)

Ligue 1 clubs participating in the Champions and Europa League will begin to feel the effects of fatigue resulting from the grueling, non-stop schedule that came about from the late end of last season’s campaign. As a result, clubs who have to focus solely on domestic competition will have the upper-hand in this weekend’s fixtures as we enter Round 9 of France’s premier footballing competition.  

We begin, however, with unfortunate news: Olympique de Marseille were set to host RC Lens at the Stade Vélodrome on Friday, Oct. 30, but due to a heightened number of COVID-19 cases in RC Lens’ squad, the match was called off. If anything, this serves to the benefit of André Villas-Boas and his men, who are coming off a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League. Ultimately, they’ll be glad they can regroup and focus on what needs fixing in defense, and how they can put more pressure on opposing teams in the final third.  

Lens will definitely be annoyed by the cancellation, albeit understanding that it is in the best interest of everyone involved. Although they had come off a 4-0 loss to LOSC Lille two weeks prior, they had fresh legs having not had a match last week, and with the knowledge that this Marseille team was coming in with a low-amount of confidence, having attained zero points in their first two European matches. 

Rennes’ Martin Terrier, right, vies for the ball with Sevilla’s Jules Kounde during the Champions League group E soccer match between Sevilla and Rennes at the Ramon Sanchez Pijuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Angel Fernandez)

Luckily, that is the only COVID-19 outbreak that occurred in the 20-team league. As a result, Saturday, Oct. 31 sees teams return to action, with Stade Rennais hosting Stade Brestois 29 at the Roazhon Park. Rennais are in a similar position to Marseille as it relates to their performances in the Champions League. Wednesday, Oct. 28 saw them fall 1-0 to Sevilla FC away from home. Moreover, they were unable to beat FC Krasnodar at home the week prior.  

 Whereas Marseille performed poorly in Europe, Rennais can go into their contest with more confidence, knowing that they performed to the best of their ability. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in domestic play, with Brestois falling to RC Strasbourg Alsace 3-0, and Rennais failing to beat an eight place Angers SCO side, losing 2-1.  

Despite the fact they sit 19th, Brestois have a deadly press that they use to their advantage in the final third. Sure, the execution is clearly not there due to their low position in the table, but they can wreak havoc for any French club if they are not dealt with early in the match. Conversely, we see a Rennais side led by — you guessed it — center midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, who is the catalyst for the build-up play we see from the “Les Rouge et Noir.” 

Altogether, it will be an entertaining back-and-forth match due to Brestois’ extreme pressing that will leave gaps in their side of the pitch, and Rennais’ possession-based play that will lead to an inevitable loss of possession, and subsequent counterattack.  

Paris Saint-Germain travel to the Stade De La Beaujoire Louis Fonteneau to face FC Nantes in Saturday’s second match of the day. Here, we see how fatigue from the grueling schedule is beginning to affect big teams such as PSG. Attacking midfielder Neymar Jr. sustained an abductor injury in their 2-0 win over Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League on Wednesday, Oct. 28. As a result, he will certainly not be playing this weekend, and may miss the next couple of matches as well, according to manager Thomas Tuchel. 

PSG’s Angel Di Maria dribbles past Basaksehir’s Mehmet Topal during the Champions League group H soccer match between Basaksehir and Paris Saint Germain in Istanbul, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. Paris Saint Germain won the match 2-0. (Ozan Kose/Pool via AP)

Although Nantes may seem to have an advantage over a “Neymar-less” Paris squad, they still have to deal with the French superstar Kylian Mbappé, and a new player who is beginning to turn heads in the footballing world: striker Moise Kean. Of course, he is not a new name; Kean was on track to become the next Italian superstar with Juventus before being shipped off to mid-table Premier League club Everton FC in the Premier League.  

Since then, his wonderboy status has been fading. Sporting director Leonardo Araújo surprised many in the football community when it was announced the former Juventus striker would be joining the French club on loan. However, those who questioned the signing are nowhere to be seen, with the Italian bagging four goals in the three games played since his arrival.  

Nantes will have to keep an eye on Kean in dead ball situations, being known to head it into the back of the net with ease. Furthermore, his ability on the ball exceeds that of striker Mauro Icardi, being able to dribble past defenders and find the open man.  

All things considered, 15th place Nantes will sit back and soak in the pressure, with the hopes of hitting Paris on the counterattack. In spite of this, the first place Parisians will most likely be too much to handle. PSG will definitely want to put in a solid performance, with the club set to travel to Germany on Wednesday, Nov. 4 to face a difficult RB Leipzig squad.  

To end the weekend, we see LOSC Lille host Olympique Lyonnais at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on Sunday, Nov. 1. It will undoubtedly be the match of the day. Although Lyon did not qualify for European competition this season, they have regained much of the form we saw from them last season. Last week, they absolutely molly wopped AS Monaco at home, with forward Memphis Depay, winger Karl Toko Ekambi and midfielder Houssem Aouar all getting on the scoresheet.  

Lyon’s Karl Toko Ekambi, right, challenges for the ball with Monaco’s Chrislain Matsima during the French League One soccer match between Lyon and Monaco at Groupama stadium in Decines, near Lyon, central France, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

These positive performances are beginning to show themselves in the league table, with Lyon quietly climbing up the ladder. They now sit sixth with 13 points and are two points off fourth place, which would secure them European football. Of course, there is a long way to go, but finding yourself at or near these positions can never hurt.  

Whereas Lyon are fully focused on domestic competition, Lille have matters that are being dealt with both at home and abroad. Contrary to popular belief, they have been excellently managing this challenging schedule, something that is not expected of a side who have much less squad depth and financial power than the big clubs.  

Lille currently sit second with 18 points, and the only reason they are behind Paris is due to goal difference. Amazingly, they have yet to lose a game in all competitions this season. Manager Christophe Galtier must be given a large portion of the credit, with his tactics having a clear, positive impact on the squad.  

The attack is what has been able to set teams apart from the rest. Wingers, such as Luiz Araújo and Jonathan Bamba, can make runs behind the defense and run towards goal, with forwards Yusuf Yazici and Jonathan David pouncing on any ball that enters the 18-yard box. Furthermore, depth at midfield has also been a strongpoint for Galtier, with center midfielders Boubakary Soumare, Benjamin André and Renato Sanches all able to serve as effective holding midfielders, moving the ball side to side and disrupting the oppositions attacking rhythm.  

Lille are coming off a hard fought 2-2 draw against Scottish opposition Celtic FC on Thursday, Oct.29, and will hope to maintain that form as they attempt to tame the mighty Lyon.  

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