Lens v Clermont
Lens are on a charge this season and are aiming to go into the World Cup break off the back of five successive victories. Against a Clermont side that is likely to be depleted, Franck Haise’s outfit should be expected to continue their fine run of form.
No team has been as secure at home as Lens have this season. They have played seven matches and have won them all. Interestingly, only two of these wins have come by more than a single goal, so don’t expect a blow-out victory in this match. If Lens are not necessarily spectacular, what they are is pragmatic. They have a knack of finding ways to win matches, whether that is by playing in a freewheeling attacking manner or a more conservative defensive style.
In recent weeks, it has been their defensive strength that has been to the fore. In their last eight matches, they have conceded only two goals – one a penalty and a late strike from a corner last week against Angers that was academic in the story of the match. Meanwhile, they are averaging over two-goals-per-game at home.
Clermont, meanwhile, are mid-table but not sparkling right now. They have drawn three of their last four matches, including three games against teams in the bottom six. Indeed, their league position is a little flattering given they have had a relatively easy run of things thus far. When playing teams in the top half of the table, they have lost three and drawn one, scoring two goals.
The visitors are carrying several doubts into this match and after losing 3-1 in Lens last season, there cannot be much confidence that their fortunes will change here.
PSG v Auxerre
The World Cup break is a unique occurrence this season and has the potential to throw up some surprises in the final round of matches before the competition begins in Qatar. In particular, it means that the big teams with plenty of players travelling to the competition are liable to become more vulnerable, with stars eager to protect themselves from injury.
For the past fortnight, there have been reports in France that Lionel Messi will not play a full role against Auxerre for this very reason, with the Argentine left out because of Achilles pain last week. Certainly, no risks will be taken over their top performers and that may cause a depreciation in quality.
PSG have not been winning in recent weeks in any case. After winning five of their first six league games of the season by three goals or more, PSG have won only one of their subsequent eight fixtures by more than a solitary strike.
Auxerre, meanwhile, have not made a habit of getting battered since returning to Ligue 1 – they have only twice lost by more than two goals. Additionally, they look a more secure side since Jean-Marc Furlan was sacked and Christophe Pelissier placed in charge of the team. AJA have earned four points from two matches, although it should be stressed that PSG are in a totally different quality bracket to Ajaccio and Troyes.
In any case, the price on Auxerre with a big handicap looks appealing with PSG liable to take few risks on big players, who will be preserving their energy for Qatar.
Montpellier v Reims
Montpellier’s 14 league matches this season have produced a whopping tally of 51 goals, but Sunday’s fixture against Reims is less likely to be a thrilling affair. The sacking of Michel der Zakarian as head coach has prompted a rather more pragmatic look at things from interim boss Romain Pitau.
Even before Der Zakarian was sacked, Montpellier were starting to slow down offensively. In matches against Monaco and Lens, they carried little threat but did tighten up defensively. Since Pitau took charge a fortnight ago, they have moved into a more defensive 5-3-2 formation, albeit both matches they played were on the road.
Nevertheless, there has been notably less goalmouth action, at least from open play. In last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Clermont, their opponents were limited in the chances they created but did fail twice from the penalty spot. Montpellier’s goal, meanwhile, arrived via a spot kick as they struggled to fashion chances.
Reims, meanwhile, are liable to travel with a defensive mindset under interim boss Will Still. The Champagne club have had three 0-0s and a 1-0 win in their last five league matches, despite aligning their team in an apparently more attacking manner. Even their success against Nantes last weekend was only achieved via a Folarin Balogun penalty.
With Reims’ games almost invariably tight in recent weeks and Montpellier looking more pragmatic under interim management than the freewheeling teams that was deployed earlier this season, odds greater than evens of a low-scoring game look are mouth-watering, especially as this fixture finished 0-0 in April.
Strasbourg v Lorient
Could this be the last chance for Strasbourg head coach Julien Stephan to save his job? Racing have shown hints of a recovery in recent weeks but last weekend’s incredible collapse against Ajaccio has him pinned under pressure, with the defensive solidarity of his team under question.
Strasbourg have conceded 18 goals in their last seven fixtures, which has seen them plunge surprisingly into the relegation zone. On the plus side, though, their attack looks more confident than at any point this season. Indeed, they have scored exactly two goals in four of their last five matches. Kevin Gameiro’s brilliant lobbed finish last weekend to put them 2-0 up on Ajaccio showed the improvement in offensive confidence.
What happened after that goal was embarrassing, though. Racing conceded four times in 15 minutes to the poorest attacking team by a distance in the league.
Lorient will be licking their lips. After a brilliant start to the season, they have fallen away a little in recent weeks but were still highly competitive in a 2-1 loss against PSG last weekend, with Terem Moffi a standout once more.
Given seven of Lorient’s last eight league matches have produced at least three goals and all of Racing’s last seven fixtures have yielded that tally, another entertaining match should be in order.
Last season, this fixture finished 4-0 to Strasbourg, but the outcome of this match is far more in the balance, with Lorient boasting a surprisingly strong away record of four wins from seven games on their travels.
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