As certain clubs in Europe’s top tiers have amassed staggering wealth in the form of loaded owners and investors, so gulfs emerged separating big spenders from survivors. This gap is no starker than in Ligue 1, where PSG chase their fourth consecutive French title with a 19 point lead at the top of table at the halfway mark. Ligue 1 returns to action this coming weekend with second-placed Monaco closer to the relegation zone than they are to the league leaders.
Although PSG are unbeaten and few would bet against them remaining so, there is a host of value to be found in a league largely unpredictable with the exception of the Parisians.
Friday 8 January
Mighty PSG finished 2015 in high spirits with a 3-0 win over Caen to enter the winter break with a massive lead at the top of the league. This was capped off with a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in a friendly and with PSG set to focus on both a strong showing in Europe as well as a record points total back home - with the added incentive of becoming domestic Invincibles - a tough 2016 awaits. Their aspirations are lofty but not beyond this purpose-built side. They’re unlikely to face much resistance from Bastia, 16th in the league with just six wins, four draws and nine losses from their 19 matches. PSG on the Halftime-Fulltime Double at 4/10 is the bet here.
Saturday 9 January
Troyes AC 13/2
Lyon discarded of Hubert Fournier on Christmas Eve following a poor start to the season for Les Gones. Bruno Genesio, a part of Fournier’s backroom staff, has been given the chance to try and arrest the form slide that saw Lyon finish at the bottom of their Champions League group and lose five of their last six matches before the winter break. Promoted Troyes AC have experienced a torrid return to the top flight, winless in their first 19 matches and certain candidates to return to Ligue 2. Eight draws and eleven losses sees Troyes with only eight points thus far and they are expected to struggle on the road against a revitalised Lyon. The home win at 7/20 is a banker bet for multiples.
Stade Rennais 1/1
Stade Rennais ended a five-match run without a Ligue 1 win with a 2-0 result away from home against Guingamp last time out. Ousmane Dembele opened the scoring shortly after the hour mark and then turned provider for Giovanni Sio, who assisted the first goal. Stade Rennais moved up to seventh with the victory and will be eying out a spot in the top three with four points separating them from Angers. They will first need to rectify their indifferent home form which has seen them without a win in front of their fans in seven matches. Lorient are only a point behind the home side in eighth and have collected six points from their last five matches. They can often spring a surprise away from home and I fancy Lorient on the away Win/Draw Double Chance at 15/20.
Reims began 2016 by crashing out of the Coupe de France with an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to third-division Chambly. Having ended 2015 in similar fashion with a 2-0 loss to Bastia, Reims are currently 17th and enter a must-win fixture with relegation candidates Toulouse. Les Pitchouns are four points below Reims - currently 19th - with only Troyes separating them from rock-bottom. Toulouse have picked up only three wins all season, however, two of them have come within the past month and they’ve only lost one of their last five Ligue 1 matches. This looks too difficult to pick a winner. Instead, opt for Both Teams To Score at 17/20.
Rolland Courbis resigned from his post as manager of Montpellier after two years in charge of the club, with Pascal Baills set to be appointed at the recommendation of Laurent Blanc. A strained relationship with the board led to Courbis’ exit and with Montpellier currently 15th with just six wins, few would argue that change was needed. Montpellier have won two, lost two and drawn one of their last five Ligue 1 outings coming into this match with Bordeaux. The away side have had equally as poor a season, just one point above Montpellier. Playmaker Wahab Khazri is a source of interest in England but Bordeaux will need a “ridiculously high” offer to tempt a sale. With this, another tricky result to call. I’ll be looking towards Both Teams To Score at even money.
Gazelec Ajaccio 13/2
Second-placed Monaco sit a point above Angers despite enduring a frustrating close to the first half of the season. A ten-man Troyes put in a gutsy performance to force a goalless draw after Monaco missed an early penalty. Nevertheless, Monaco remain unbeaten in their last six Ligue 1 matches and welcome mid-table Gazelec Ajaccio to Stade Louis II. Gazelec Ajaccio are in fantastic form and haven’t been defeated in nine league matches with six wins, their total for the season. It has seen the club jump to 12th spot and they will be intent on keeping the momentum going. The away Win/Draw Double Chance is too good to pass up at 31/20 and may just well be the bet of the weekend.
This season’s surprise package has most certainly been Angers. Promoted from Ligue 2, the club had climbed the top flight into second place before a 1-0 loss to St Etienne last time out pegged them back into third. Midfielder Cheikh Ndoye has attracted attention from some of England’s biggest clubs while a resolute defence has seen them concede only 11 goals in 19 matches. Only PSG have conceded less. However, it must be noted that Angers have only scored 17 goals and will likely battle in the second half of the season unless they rectify their form in front of goal. Caen have a similar story to tell. Although not a promoted club, they have never been a big name in French football yet currently occupy fourth spot on the log, just two points behind Monaco. Under 2.5 Goals is the only way to play this one at 9/20.
Sunday 10 January
St Etienne 15/10
Nantes played out a tepid goalless affair with Lorient last time out.. It means that Nantes are locked on 24 points with two other clubs, theirs being the worst goal difference and leaving them in 13th. Nantes have drawn all five of their last Ligue 1 matches, three of them without scoring. St Etienne claimed a slim 1-0 win over Angers in their last outing which pushed them up to sixth with nine wins this season. Following 1-0 losses to PSG and Monaco in strong performances, St Etienne will feel they can get something from their trip to Nantes. I’m tipping St Etienne to claim the three points at 15/10.
Sofiane Boufal grabbed a late equaliser to steal Lille a point against 10-man Toulouse in their match before the winter break. Lille occupy 11th spot and have gone four matches unbeaten, including three wins against good quality opposition. Nice are fifth in Ligue 1 but are coming off a poor run of form that has seen them claim only one win in their last five matches, losing twice. The three points came in their last outing against Montpellier, sealing a 1-0 win. Hatem Ben Arfa has experienced a return to form for Nice after the player was discarded from England largely in disgrace. I fancy the home win here at even money, get on.
Marseille fought their way to a 1-1 draw with Bordeaux before the festive season break which saw them drop to 10th spot. There is interest in goalkeeper Steve Mandanda from Aston Villa as the English club attempt to escape the drop. Mandanda has declined to play down the move which will leave Marseille in a precarious position. Marseille are unbeaten in six matches going into this encounter with Guingamp. Guingamp have been in terrible form, losing their last five Ligue 1 matches. They’re now 18th and slowing sliding into the relegation zone. I can’t see their luck changing here. Back Marseille for the home win at 11/20.