Monday, 30 July 2018

Ligue 1 Could Be Very Interesting This Season

Ligue 1 promises to be another entertaining league this season. France’s top flight is full of talented players and strong football clubs and fans of the French league will hope for a close title race, battle for European places and a tight relegation battle. Defending champions PSG are changing their footballing style and philosophy but will be overwhelming favourites for the title once again and you’d have to be brave to bet against them but the likes off Monaco, Lyon and Marseille will challenge them hard and you never know a surprise could be around the corner.

As previously discussed, PSG have a new manager in the highly rated Thomas Tuchel. Having taken over from Klopp at Dortmund, Tuchel had some success and now he must put all that into PSG. However, it shouldn’t be too difficult with the quality of players like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti and Gianluigi Buffon at his disposal. The real ambition is to win the Champions League and Tuchel will be under pressure to deliver this immediate desire. However, they will face severe competition both in Champions League and Ligue 1 and Monaco will run them close once again. Leonardo Jardim has been a brilliant appointment by Monaco and once again he is faced with his best players leaving for bigger clubs including Thomas Lemar and Fabinho. These will be hard to replace but as they proved last season, they will still be competitive and Jardim will be determined to keep Monaco’s good momentum and try to win a second title in charge of the club. However, PSG and Monaco will certainly face competition from a rejuvenated Lyon and Marseille. Bruno Genesio has got an exciting Lyon team with Nabil Fekir the pick of their talented crop and they will cause problems, but they did struggle for consistency last season and Genesio will hope they can sustain a title charge. Similarly, like Genesio, Rudi Garica has done an excellent job at Marseille guiding them to 4th place and a Europa League final in his first full season and their aim will be to return to Europe’s top competition however, they like Lyon, will also feel they can challenge for title and they will need consistency if they are to achieve this. It could be a very interesting title race in Ligue 1 with 4 teams expected to battle it out and it could spring a few surprises.
However, below the top 4 sides, there are another crop of teams hoping to get into the Europa League and possibly dream of the Champions League. Nice certainly fit this bracket and they will head into the new season with a new manager in Patrick Vieira and a loss of key stars Alassane Plea and Jean Michael Seri. While they could struggle to replace them, Vieira will make sure Nice are competitive for the new season and Europa League football will surely be their aim after missing out completely last season. Similarly, St Etienne will also be targeting a return to the European stage. The Green and Whites struggled under Oscar Garcia during the first half of the campaign. However, Jean Louis Gasset revitalised the entire football club and they charged up the league table and a return to Europe will certainly be high on their targets this season. However, one side that did reach the Europa League is Rennes who had a magnificent season and finished in 5th place and Sabri Lamouchi will want Rennes to seize their opportunity in Europe and in domestic terms sustain their place in top 6. There will be an air of excitement in Rennes as their will be in Bordeaux. Gus Poyet came into Bordeaux without anybody really expecting much despite the club having a talented, young side but they managed to secure a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds and that is nothing short of excellent. However, the loss of prized asset Malcom will be a huge blow, but the club will stay strong and be looking out attacking reinforcements to sustain their chance in Europa League and charge the top 3 for a place in the Champions League.

Mid table mediocrity is usually very satisfactory for most clubs and Montpellier are the definition of mid table. Michel Der Zakarian has done a good job in his first season in charge of the club and although they took points of the better teams, they struggled against smaller clubs and consequently missed out on the Europa League and hence finished mid table. However, they will have ambition of returning to the Europa League. Similarly, Nantes also fit this argument and like Montpellier they were in the upper echelons of the table and did take points of the bigger sides but struggles against arguably weaker opposition. However, they head into a new era under the stewardship of the highly rated Miguel Cardoso following Claudio Ranieri’s sacking. Cardoso is ambitious as is Nantes’ owner and they will certainly be targeting a place in the Europa League with a top half finish being the minimal requirement for the season. In contrast, Lille have been a constant side in Ligue 1 for several years and following their takeover last year, it looked like things would improve however, with FFP investigations and a transfer embargo, the club struggled against relegation and just about escaped in the final few weeks of the season. The club will be hoping for a much more comfortable, stable season under Christophe Galtier and he has bulked up his squad while losing assets like Ibrahim Amadou and Yves Bissouma. Continuity will be something the Lille fans will want this season as a top half finish will be their expectation and will be praying they avoid the scrap for survival.
In contrast, other clubs like Dijon and Guingamp will be delighted to still be in France’s top flight. Olivier Dall’Oglio has done an excellent job at Dijon and has plenty of talent at his disposal including Chang-Hoon Kwon and they will hope to keep him at the club because he is at the heart of everything good at Dijon. They will be confident of avoiding the relegation battle and a top half finish will be high on their agenda for the new season. Similarly, Antoine Kombouare has brought an exciting style to Guingamp and so far in his two seasons in charge comfortably made Guingamp competitive and mid table finishers and again this will be their minimum requirement for the season, but the fans will hope the club can challenge further and surprise a few teams by pinching a place in Europe next season. They will dare to dream but mid table would represent another excellent season for the club. Angers will hope for the same in the new season. Angers were very inconsistent during the previous season but when they did find form, they were a difficult team to control and they survived relegation once again and under Stephane Moulin have established themselves as Ligue 1 regulars and keeping that status will represent another successful season for the club.

The battle to avoid relegation will be as intense as ever and there will be a crop of teams hoping to avoid the scrap for survival and certainly Amiens and Strasbourg fit this bracket. Both clubs are gearing up for just their 2nd ever Ligue 1 seasons and the jobs done by both Christophe Pellissier and Thierry Laurey is nothing short of magnificent. Both clubs have talented players and the managers will hope second season syndrome doesn’t kick in because their main aim will surely be survival and anything above that is a pure bonus and a delight for fans. Also, the fans of Toulouse must be sick and tired of battling against relegation because for the past 2 seasons, Toulouse have survived through the relegation play offs and surely, they can’t get lucky for a third time. The fans will expect more this season and will Mickael Dubeve delivers a season where the club isn’t fighting against relegation because mid table will surely be their ambition this season. Finally there is Caen, a small football club who are enjoying each season as it goes by and following the departure of Patrice Granade, they have a new manager in the unknown, unproven Fabian Mercadal who will want to make a statement in Ligue 1 and survival would be an excellent season for the club and anything better such as a mid-table or even top half finish would be nothing short of brilliant for the whole football club.

And finally, there is 2 promoted sides in Nimes and Reims. Both clubs had brilliant seasons securing the automatic promotion places with the latter securing the league title. However, the league will get much tougher for the new boys and both Bernard Blaquart and David Guion will feel survival is a successful season for their respective clubs. Both will need to find a winning formula and some luck along the way if they to achieve their ambitions. Survival will be the main expectation for both clubs and they will be desperate to prolong their stays in France’s top flight. 

Wonderful Wolves Want More

What a wonderful time it is to be a supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The club has had a sensational year with a dominating promotion from the Championship and the club are hoping things get even better as they gear up for their return to the Premier League. Wolves stormed to the Championship title ending the season with 100 points blowing all opposition in front of them and the fans will want that momentum to continue as the new season draws closer. Nuno Espirto Santo has done a wonderful job since walking into the club a year ago. The very humble Portuguese coach has always emphasised hard work and team spirit since taking over and you can see this in an abundance with the team he has assembled, and this will be vital during the new season because they will have difficult spells as all teams do. He may have been unknown to many a football fan, but he firmly stamped his style and philosophies into the English game and there is no doubt he is relishing his chance to showcase his style in the Premier League and it isn’t a surprise to see the Wolves fans excited. Nuno has transformed the entire style of the team and installed a winning mentality which no doubt delights the Wolves fans. For any promoted side the main ambition will be to secure Premier League survival, but Wolves will want more than that because they will feel survival will be assured. The real ambition is to press for a top 10 finish and see where things go from there. Wolves will fancy their chances in the new season and they will certainly surprise a few teams.

Wolves’ success in the Championship was built on a solid defensive line with attacks building from the back 3 but eventually becoming a 5 when defending and teams found it extremely difficult to break Wolves down. Wolves kept clean sheets on a regular basis through a solid backline with the likes of Wily Boly, Connor Coady Ryan Bennett, Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas making an instrumental contribution to Wolves’ success last season. The 3 centre halves were magnificent for the club and will go into the new season full of confidence. Connor Coady in particular was sensational due to his conversion from midfield to defence and since then he hasn’t looked back, and he has now become a figure both Nuno and the fans rely on. The captain led by example and formed a brilliant partnership with his new colleagues and they will be difficult once again to break down in the Premier League. However, the real star of this solid Wolves team is Ruben Neves who was arguably the best signing made by any Championship club last season. The Portuguese international sparkled in the midfield with an excellent range of passing and thunderous efforts from outside the penalty area and he will certainly be one to watch in the Premier League if he can continue his scintillating Championship form. Furthermore, the pace in Wolves’ attack will also cause plenty of problems because although Wolves generally dominated most matches, when they were under pressure the pace on the counter was unstoppable and the roles of Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro emphasise this. Both Jota and Cavaleiro led various dangerous attacks on the break adding further problems for many teams. Jota was excellent in his first season in England and its no surprise Wolves have made his move permanent and he will hope to seize his opportunity in the Premier League. The same can certainly be said for Ivan Cavaleiro who once a Wolves record signing struggled in his first season in the Championship but showed how much pace, power and talent he has since Nuno took over and he will want to improve further as he will be tested in a much tougher league. Nuno has built a powerful, quick, enterprising side and he will want to continue the hard work as the new season draws even closer.

Wolves will be active in the transfer window as all promoted teams usually are and the role of Jorge Mendes will be crucial in signing quality players who can withstand the pressure of the Premier League. Wolves’ business so far has included signing all loans except Alfred N’Diaye to permanent deals as well as signing Euro 2016 winners Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho. The two new Portuguese internationals will add plenty of experience, quality and reliability to the Wolves team. Moutinho will certainly link up with Neves in the centre of the park and their partnership will be integral to any success Wolves have this season. In addition, Patricio is an excellent addition in goal and he will want to prove himself in a much more difficult league. However, Wolves’ transfer business is certainly not finished yet as I’m sure Nuno will want to add more attacking players to his side and a winger could be in waiting with the likes of Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa on the books, Nuno may want another for tactical and competition purposes. Furthermore, a striker could also be high on his list because despite the goals of Leo Bonatini, they were all scored during the first half of the season and he suffered a severe goal drought and with Benik Afobe going to Stoke, a new striker with a proven track record of scoring on a regular basis could be just what Wolves need to really become a threat in the new season. On the other hand, Nuno could also be looking for more defence reinforcements because fringe players like Kourtney Hause, Danny Batth and Dominic Iorfa may not be adequate replacements should Wolves have injuries, suspensions or just poor form and I’m sure Nuno would like more competition in his ranks. Despite this, it has been a very good transfer window so far for the only Midlands club in the top flight and I’m sure their transfer business is far from over with incomings and outgoings expected.

There is a real excitement and buzz around the whole football club with genuine belief that Wolves can achieve more than just safety. Nuno and Jorge Mendes have managed to create an exciting, enterprising football team and they will wanting the promotion season’s momentum to be carried into the new season. Survival will be main aim at first but I’m sure they will survive comfortably, and they are ambitious, so they will be targeting the top 10 and maybe even Europa League football but the latter could be a step too far for their first season back. However, if Nuno gets them going and integrates all new signings well, this could be an exciting season for Wolves and the fans will hope the club have achieved more than just survival come May 2019.