As things get underway in the Premier League this weekend, England is not the only place where top-flight football makes its bow for the new season. In Germany, too, the Bundesliga begins a new chapter, while in France, Ligue 1’s clubs prepare for another season figuring out which club will come in second behind the financially-doped and unstoppable Paris St Germain.
If any team is in position to pick up second place – or, in some miraculous circumstance, deny them a seventh title in eight seasons – then Lyon have to be considered among the best contenders. For sure, they’ve seen players leave – full-back Ferland Mendy to Real Madrid and Tanguy Ndombele to Tottenham, while attacking schemer Nabil Fekir’s move to Real Betis seems a confusing and at best sideways step. They’ve also done what Lyon do – sourcing replacements for a fraction of the price who seem set to slot in and keep things rolling.
Tonight, Lyon will begin the latest chapter in their story with a visit to Monaco. Champions in 2017, runners-up the following year and then fortunate to escape relegation in the most recent campaign, the principality club enter the new season under Leonardo Jardim. Sacked as coach last October after a troubled start to the season, Jardim returned barely three months later in the aftermath of the failed experiment that was Thierry Henry’s first managerial reign. Jardim’s job is to return stability to the club, and tonight will give us an initial clue as to how that’s going.
Evolution continues at Lyon
Fulham-Celtic-Lyon is not perhaps the most conventional career path for a French footballer, but it seems to have worked thus far for Moussa Dembele. The forward joined les Gones in a deadline day move last season, and although his initial form raised some questions over the £19million transfer fee, he has since found his feet and settled to his goalscoring brief. This has taken much of the attacking strain off Memphis Depay – always more of a winger – and a full pre-season with the club is likely to pay off in the form of greater consistency.
Further back, the issue will be whether Lyon can find continuity after the departure of Fekir and Ndombele. Brazilian pair Thiago Mendes and Jean Lucas will be the players tasked with keeping things moving in the Lyonnais engine room, and a solid pre-season indicates that they’ve been solid acquisitions. There should be ample opportunity for Dembele to add to his 87 career goals, and 888’s odds of 19/5 on him breaking the deadlock tonight represent impressive value.
A new season, a new Monaco?
Under Jardim, Monaco have won Ligue 1 against the odds, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, and realised colossal profits on players such as Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappe. However, a slow start last season led to his departure, and the fact that he is back at the Stade Louis II raises a few questions. Chief among those would be why he was willing to return to a club who sacked him and then made a risky appointment on his replacement. Nonetheless, this season – like the last – begins with Jardim in the dugout. Have Monaco made the changes that seem necessary to avoid the tribulations of last season?
One of the first things to note is that Jardim has got his wish with regard to Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans. Loaned out to Leicester for the final four months of last season, the player revealed that Jardim didn’t see him as a part of his side. The role of attacking midfielder he occupied will now go to Adama Traore, who impressed at the Africa Cup of Nations with Mali.
However, Monaco begin the season without another key player in Radamel Falcao. Even in an attritional season for his club, Falcao was a reliable scorer and, in his absence, will be reliant on 18-year-old South African Lyle Foster to lead the line. A name for the future he may be, but the weight of expectation is a lot to put on him, and Betway’s 11/10 odds for “No” on Both Teams To Score may be very valuable in what could be a tough game for the Monegasques.
Lyon best placed to take the points
The accepted wisdom is that Monaco were hasty in firing Jardim, a manager who has led them to impressive achievements. They were hastier still in hiring a replacement who had never managed a club before, and it could be argued that his prompt rehiring was simply a correction of the initial error. Nonetheless, the tribulations that the club underwent last season don’t necessarily all go away that easily. With three weeks left in the transfer window, there is still time to balance the squad – but right now it feels underpowered.
For all that Monaco have home advantage in this contest, the rest of the advantages seem to lie with their opponents. They have a stronger squad, a steadier last few seasons and – with the appointment of Sylvinho alongside sporting director and club legend Juninho Pernambucano – a clear plan for the season. As 23/20 favourites with William Hill, Lyon can be the more confident side taking the pitch tonight. They may not push PSG to the finish, but they’ve got enough about them to make a stellar start.