Ajaccio v Lens
Lens will seek to continue their strong start to the season on Sunday, when they travel to Corsica to face Ajaccio away from home. Franck Haise’s men overcame Brest 3-2 at home last weekend but should have won more comfortably, having led 3-0 before enduring a late lapse.
There were questions to be answered over their offensive capabilities, but these were emphatically done so by a strong display from Florian Sotoca, who completed the season’s first hat-trick despite missing a penalty in the process. They look strong and dynamic outfit.
In contrast, Ajaccio had a distinctly shaky start to the season. Although they only lost 2-1 in Lyon, they were in disarray until a goalkeeping error from their hosts saw OL reduced to 10 men as they were awarded a penalty. Prior to that moment, they were being cut open with ease, belying the strong defensive record that they posted in Ligue 1 last term. It looked a game that could feasibly have ended up 4 or 5-0.
Ajaccio, it seems, will take a bit of adjusting to life in Ligue 1. They go into this game without one of their most experienced forwards in Romain Hamouma, who was sent off last weekend, further depleting an attacking corps that does not look strong enough for this level in any case.
The hosts are set to play in a grim defensive manner, with a point being a bonus, and on the evidence of last weekend, Lens should be good enough to profit.
Troyes v Toulouse
Troyes and Toulouse have already met this summer, having played out a pre-season friendly that the newly promoted team won 6-1. While that should be little indication of the outcome of Sunday’s match, there is a strong chance it will be a game in which there are plenty of goals.
Toulouse won promotion off the back of their strong offensive play, and that was evident again last weekend as they picked up a 1-1 draw at home against Nice. They played some great stuff going forward, with Thijs Dallinga getting a debut goal to boot. It was the type of display that suggests they will be competitive this season.
Last week’s result also backed up pre-season friendlies that included a 3-3 draw against Osasuna and a 5-4 win over Montpellier. These may just have been training exercises, but they showed that this is a team far more comfortable going forward than defending.
Troyes, meanwhile, are expected to be more open and attractive than they were in the backend of last year. This was played out in a clash against Montpellier last weekend that finished 3-2 against them. It was 2-2 with 18 minutes played. Since then, head coach Bruno Irles has seen his attacking options strengthened with the news that Ike Ugbo will be fit for this match. The Canadian has just returned on a permanent deal having scored five times in the second half of last season.
Traditionally, this has been a low-scoring fixture – there have been only four goals in the last five matches between these clubs – but Toulouse, in particular, are set up to make this an exception.
Nice v Strasbourg
Strasbourg travel south to Nice hoping to at least replicate the positive fightback shown in the second half of the Monaco loss (1-2) where the Alsatians scored a last-minute equaliser that was ruled out for offside. OGC Nice want to kick on after a slow start against Toulouse, even if new-man Aaron Ramsey scoring 60 seconds into his debut in the second half shows a lot of promise for Lucien Favre’s second match.
After a complicated and ultimately disappointing reign under current PSG boss Christophe Galtier last season, Nice have decided to go back to the old with former-boss Lucien Favre and have signed some experienced heads over the summer in Aaron Ramsey and Kasper Schmeichel – mixing in with younger, rawer talent in Alexis Beka Beka and Mattia Viti.
However, Nice’s greatest strength will be their already-established talents. Centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo played imperiously against Toulouse, and his vital contribution to Nice’s strong defensive capabilities will be key to keeping Strasbourg’s giant-of-a-striker Ludovic Ajorque and tricky second striker Habib Diallo at bay. Nice striker Andy Delort didn’t score against Toulouse but was busy combining with winger Calvin Stengs whose ability to cut inside and provide a direct outlet will be key to unlocking Strasbourg’s defence.
Fellow winger Gourri along with Stengs will be important to expose Strasbourg’s back three by acting as an out-ball in the wide areas of the pitch – if Beka Beka and the ever-imperious Thuram can offer support from midfield, then Nice should be able to create chances and have a good chance of winning, in what is usually a tightly contested fixture between the two sides.
Brest v Marseille
Marseille travel to Brest in the last of the second round of fixtures in Ligue 1 boosted by their opening 4-1 win against Reims and with a sense of excitement over the high-profile signing of former Arsenal and Barcelona man Alexis Sánchez – who isn’t yet expected to start for OM but could fight for a place on the bench on Sunday.
Brest were bruised and bullied by Lens during their defeat (3-2) last weekend and face a tough test against the Olympians who have historically enjoyed the trip to Stade Francis-Le Blé – winning on every occasion on Brest’s home turf since 2012.
The dangerous wing-back play of Nuno Tavares and Jonathan Clauss proved vital last week in transitional areas for OM and are set to threaten against a Brest defence which struggled with Lens’ similar high-intensity wing-back game. The Bretons’ centre-back pairing of Hérelle and Chardonnet looked worryingly exposed and stretched in the first half last week and should be an area to target for Marseille on Sunday.
The midfield battle will be key for this fixture, with the Guendouzi-Rongier partnership looking to hold down the centre of the pitch against Brest’s creative outlet in Haris Belkebla. Whilst the likes of Payet and Suarez didn’t start last Sunday, they could have further involvement in this fixture after their positive contribution after coming on in the second half.
If OM bring the levels of intensity that were shown at the Vélodrome, then Igor Tudor’s side should be able to overpower Brest. Whilst it’s not guaranteed away from home against the potential depth of a 4-4-2 side, OM have enough quality to pull through this fixture.
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