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French Ligue 1 Preview and Best Bets

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Auxerre vs Strasbourg

Over 2.5 goals – 10/11 (1.91)

Newly promoted Auxerre got their first win of the season last week when they came from behind to beat Montpellier 2-1. It was an important victory for Jean-Marc Furlan’s men and moved them up to four points in the standings. Auxerre are going to be a very watchable team this year under the guidance of a positive and attack minded coach, but I do have some defensive concerns surrounding this team. The pre-season injury to key centre back Theo Pellenard was a major blow because he was one of their best players in Ligue 2 last year. Now there is worse news for Auxerre that another centre back new signing Julien Jeanvier could miss up to 6 weeks with an ankle injury sustained in last week’s match. AJA already look lightweight in this part of the field, so it is worrying. The home side also have some attackers missing for this fixture. New signings Nuno Da Costa and Mbaye Niang both got sent off vs Montpellier so are suspended. Big target man forward Gaetan Charbonnier has a leg injury which could see him ruled out up to 7-8 weeks.

This could be an ideal chance for Strasbourg to get their first win of the season facing a newly promoted team who are quite depleted. The visitors have drawn two of their first three games and produced some inconsistent performances. They will have been disappointed how they played vs Reims last week, only drawing 1-1 but were outplayed for large periods of that contest. In their one previous road match Les Alsatians picked up another 1-1 draw at Nice but were unlucky that day to run into an inspired Kasper Schmeichel in between the sticks. The big worry for Strasbourg is in defence though where their 6.02 xGA is one of the worst in the entire league for teams yet to face PSG. The loss of key centre back Frederic Guilbert, who returned to Aston Villa after a loan spell has ensured a disorganised defence which is now also without Gerzino Nyamsi who is injured for a couple of weeks. 

I think there is a good chance that Strasbourg will win the match. They have some quality attackers such as Ajorque, Gameiro and Diallo who should be able to feast against what is essentially a Ligue 2 standard defence on paper. However, Strasbourg’s own concerns in defence put me off backing them. Auxerre could contribute towards the scoring here which makes taking over 2.5 quite an attractive proposition at a decent 1.91 price. All of Auxerre’s matches this season have contained over 2.5 goals

Lens vs Rennes

Both teams to score – 4/7 (1.57)

Both teams have started the season quite well, especially Lens. They are unbeaten and have seven points on the board after three games. Last week they travelled to the south coast and beat Monaco 4-1 which was a very impressive performance and result. Manager Franck Haise continues to impress at this club. Despite losing key men such as wing back Jonathan Clauss, Lens have reinforced well in the summer and are playing good football in his known 3-4-3 system. Les Sang et Or have the third highest xG of any team in Ligue 1 so far this season (6.80) and they have rightly converted that into seven goals. In the second round they drew 0-0 away to Ajaccio but that match can almost be treated as an anomaly such is the defensive style of the Corsican outfit who can be difficult to penetrate. That is also the only clean sheet which Lens have obtained, and their style and system will naturally concede chances giving the opposition decent looks at goal.

Rennes won for the first time last week when they beat Ajaccio 2-1 at home. They probably should have scored more goals, but the most important thing was to get three points. The Brittany outfit have had a mixed start to the season but gradually improved each week. Key playmaker Lovro Majer broke his nose and will be out for another 7-10 days, but they have more than enough other attacking ability to cause problems. Fast wingers Jeremy Doku and Kamaldeen Sulemana have both been used as bench weapons so far but could be in line to start some games soon. Probably the biggest concern for Rennes this season has been in defence. The goalkeeping situation is not ideal with Steve Mandanda still nursing an injury and backup Dogan Alemdar currently in goal. He is serviceable but you always feel there is an error in him. The defence has looked unsettled and not quite the same without Nayef Aguerd who was signed by West Ham United for over £30m.

This match is definitely a prime candidate to contain several goals. Both teams play an attacking style of football, and neither is likely to be particularly cautious here. Lens are especially playing with a lot of confidence and I would give them the edge to win. I think the best bet is to take both teams to score at 1.57. This is a slightly shortish price, but I would be surprised if either team kept a clean sheet. Over 2.5 goals could also be a consideration but just in case of a 1-1 draw then this is probably a safer pick.

Troyes vs Angers

Both teams to score – 4/5 (1.80)

Propping up the Ligue 1 standings are Troyes who have no points after three games. It has been a terrible start for Bruno Irles’ men who have conceded a staggering 10 goals in those aforementioned fixtures. There has been continued pressure on the manager dating all the way back to pre-season. Several players went to the president a few weeks ago and stated they wanted a change of coach and don’t enjoy working with Irles. For now, he has been given a vote of confidence by the board and they even announced they would back him by bringing in another 4-5 players before the end of the transfer window. Troyes have signed former Monaco winger Ronny Lopes on loan from Sevilla this week which will boost their attack. Striker Ike Ugbo should be getting more match fit after starting the last match there were some encouraging attacking signs vs Lyon last week. They went on to lose that match 1-4 with defence once again their Achilles heel. New signing at right back Andreas Bruus is ruled out for 2-3 weeks with a knee injury which won’t help the ESTAC cause. Troyes have the worst xGA of any team in Ligue 1 that have not yet faced PSG (7.20).

Angers head into the match also looking for their first win of the season. They have two points on the board at least but have been struggling. They came from 0-2 down to draw 2-2 with Auxerre in round two but last week suffered a poor 1-3 home defeat to Brest. They were outplayed from start to finish although weren’t helped by the sending off new summer signing Halid Sabanovic on the first half. Angers were expected to struggle this season and their start has done nothing to dispel that theory. This is very winnable match though and they will be highly motivated to get a decent result. One positive for Angers is the return to fitness of key attacker Sofiane Boufal. He had no pre-season due to injury but has come off the bench in both of the last two games, netting a goal vs Brest. He must surely be in contention to start this fixture or at least play the entire second half. Angers have looked reasonably decent going forward this season and only an amazing performance from Nantes goalkeeper Albin Lafont prevented them from finding the net in the first match of the season. Their xG of 4.62 from three games is very respectable.

This is a great chance for either side to get their first win of the season and I expect quite an open, end to end type contest where each manager pushes hard for the three points. It feels like a natural over 2.5 sort of game because neither side seems capable of defending right now but they can hit the back of the net.  Both teams scoring at a generous price of 1.80 definitely looks like the best bet. It covers for the 1-1 draw which is always a possibility in a game like this. I just don’t trust either of these two defences to keep a clean sheet so taking BTTS is the standout pick.

Paris Saint-Germain vs Monaco

Paris Saint-Germain -1 Handicap – 1/2 (1.50)

PSG have been on absolute fire at the start of this season. The Christophe Galtier era has begun with a bang, and he has overseen the defending champions win 5-0, 5-2 and 7-1. Last week they scored after just 8 seconds through Kylian Mbappe which was a new Ligue 1 record. It is extremely concerning for other teams just how strong PSG look and their front three of Neymar, Messi and Mbappe all look fired up, hungry and close to their absolute best. All the talk in the build up to last week’s match was how Neymar and Mbappe would handle their supposed ‘fallout’ after the Montpellier fixture. They both looked great together though, suggesting that the penalty incident from round two is all forgotten. PSG have overscored their xG of 11.83 by more than five goals but when you have such clinical and quality finishers in their squad it is to be expected they always overachieve with this metric. At the other end of the field, they did concede twice to Montpellier and a consolation to Lille last week. Their new 3-4-3 system will leave some gaps in behind and perhaps some slight concentration has been lost once they get well ahead in a match. Make no mistake though, this offensive juggernaut looks unstoppable right now.

Monaco appear incapable of keeping things tight here and their only chance will be to lean on their own attack force to remain competitive. It has been a slow and sluggish start for Philippe Clement’s men, and they only have four points after three games played. It already feels like they are suffering from a Champions League qualifying hangover. They got knocked out by PSV a couple of weeks ago and the manner of their defeat would have hurt a lot, especially as a very similar outcome occurred last season. Monaco just don’t appear fully sharp yet and it could take them a few weeks before they are fully settled and regained their confidence. It was very worrying how Lens carved them apart last week during a 1-4 loss at home. Right back Wanderson got sent off in that fixture so will be suspended here. The visitors certainly have goals in them, but they look a defensive disaster right now and that does not bode well travelling to Paris.

PSG should win the match very comfortably. There is very little to suggest Monaco getting near them here and the only question is how many PSG will win by. The obvious selection is to take PSG on a -1 handicap. They should win by at least a two goal margin and dominate the match. There is a temptation to simply take the PSG team total over 2.5, but the -1 handicap does cover for a 2-0 scoreline. Galtier has this team playing some sensational football and the squad harmony appears great again too. It would be a big surprise if PSG don’t pick up another clear and convincing victory.

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