The Football Podcast with Wasim Parkar welcomes its first guest as renowned football journalist Philippe Auclair joins Wasim to preview the 2017 Coupe de La Ligue final between Monaco and PSG. Philippe and Wasim also talk about football journalism and the general state of affairs in Ligue 1.
Wasim looks ahead to the round of 16 in the Europa League, where several interesting clashes take place including Lyon vs Roma, Olympiacos vs Besiktas and Schalke 04 vs Borussia Mönchengladbach.
You can listen to the podcast through the player below or subscribe through iTunes here.
Another international break is over and it’s time to get back into the groove of domestic football. On Friday, we see the clash between second and third in the Bundesliga, while four of the top five face off in France.
Toulouse vs Monaco
Fourth hosts second in Ligue 1 as Toulouse welcome Monaco to the Stadium Municipal. While Monaco’s place in the upper reaches in the league is no surprise, this is rarified air for Toulouse. After saving them from relegation last season, Pascal Dupraz has gone from strength to strength, cementing the self-belief in the squad and encouraging his players to express themselves on the pitch. The visitors meanwhile are playing with greater fluency than last season. Rightly renowned for his defensive organization, Leonardo Jardim has found a way to get more goals from his men without compromising the shape of the side. The historic 7-0 win at Metz last time out means Monaco are well clear of anyone else in the goals scored chart. A repeat of that score is highly unlikely on this trip however, as Dupraz will want his men to replicate the form shown in Toulouse’s last home game when they beat champions PSG 3-1. This game has all the ingredients to be a very good match.
Borussia Dortmund vs Hertha Berlin
The match between second and third in Germany, with Dortmund surprisingly a place below the capital side. After losing their last game against Bayer Leverkusen, Thomas Tuchel’s men need to make a statement as the room for error is minimal if they are to seriously challenge Bayern Munich for the title. The challenge facing Tuchel is a mounting injury list. BVB’s squad depth is going to be challenged against Pal Dardai’s well-organized unit. Dortmund will expect to play on the front foot, but they always give their opponents some chances on the break. With the likes of Mitchell Weiser and Genki Haraguchi creating chances for an in form Vedad Ibisevic, an upset can’t be discounted. Expect goals and an intense tactical battle between Tuchel and Dardai.
Nice vs Lyon
There is a different vibe at the Allianz Riviera nowadays. After being in the shadows of rivals Monaco and Marseille for so long, Nice are currently leading the pack not only in Southern France, but ahead of every other club in Ligue 1. Last season saw the rebirth of Hatem Ben Arfa at Les Aiglons, but this season has seen an even more remarkable renaissance in the form of Mario Balotelli. The temperamental Italian’s goals have fired Nice to the top, but credit is also due for new manager Lucien Favre. The Swiss tactician has tightened things at the back and this discipline will be needed against Lyon’s crop of young attackers.
Bruno Genesio will be having a rueful look at the table. Lyon really should be the team to take advantage of PSG’s inconsistent start. In stead Les Gones find themselves seven points adrift of their hosts after some shambolic losses. Injuries have dogged the squad, but there is good news with Alexandre Lacazette’s return to training. Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso have been the shining lights for Lyon, and it is upon this duo that Genesio will pin hopes of getting a point or three in the south of France.
Balotelli, Fekir, Ghezzal, Tolisso, Belhanda, Seri and other mercurial talents will be on display in this top of the table clash. Should be a barnburner!
The result of this game was never in doubt once Thomas Mangani was sent off in the 16th minute. For the first time this season, Lyon have strung two dominant wins in a row. Winning 3-0 against both Bordeaux and Lyon puts Bruno Genesio’s men right back in contention for Champions League qualification.
Such is the seesaw nature of the Ligue 1 chasing pack that these two wins have pushed Lyon up from 10th in the table to just a point behind their vanquished opponents, with Nice and Saint-Étienne only three points ahead. Of course, critics will say that Lyon should really have been comfortable in second or third considering their exploits last season and the quality of their squad. A whole host of issues from injuries to differences within the squad resulted in a depressing first half of the season.
However, there are signs that things are starting to click for last season’s runners up. Mathieu Valbuena is finally showing the form that made him such a star in Ligue 1 when he was at Marseille. While the defence still looks vulnerable, they are now playing with more calmness and authority. Significantly, the young stars who broke out in the last campaign are now recovering their mojo. Corentin Tolisso dominated the game in midfield, orchestrating some beautiful moves and capping his fine display with Lyon’s third goal. Meanwhile Rachid Ghezzal continues to improve with each passing game. The young Algerian is filling the void left by Nabil Fekir’s injury and if he continues his progression then Genesio will have quite the selection dilemma when all his attacking players are fit. With most of their toughest fixtures out of the way, Lyon should now, at the very least capture third spot.
On the other hand, Angers’ fine start to the season is catching up to them. A tough run of fixtures since January has seen three defeats in five matches. Angers entered the new year with only nine goals conceded, but that figure has now ratcheted up to 23. It is a testament to their fine start that they still have the third best defence in the league. However, some indiscipline is costing Stéphane Moulin’s men. Moulin’s organized approach requires all the players to sing from the same hymn sheet, but it is not a system that can work with ten men.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that survival alone would have constituted a successful season for Angers. European qualification always seem fanciful, however there is no reason why Angers shouldn’t finish in the top ten. If Moulin can get his players to regain their composure, this tough spell can be ridden out. There are plenty of points to be won for Angers to finish comfortably in mid table.