The surprise package of the Ligue 1 season so far, Nantes come into this match sitting pretty in second place. If that sounds a little bit patronising, bear in mind that first place, like a velvet-roped VIP enclosure in an exclusive nightclub, is reserved for the rich boys of PSG, so in effect Nantes are the best of the rest. And speaking of rich boys, tonight Monaco pitch up at the Stade de la Beaujoire to take on les Canaris. After an appalling start to the season, the boys from the tax haven have started to come good in recent weeks, the attacking partnership of Wissam Ben Yedder and Islam Slimani dovetailing very nicely indeed.
There’s no secret as to how the home side have attained their lofty status in the French top flight; they have, under veteran boss Christian Gourcuff, developed an exceptionally stingy defence. Nantes have six wins from nine games this season, and five of them were by a score of 1-0. Their total of nine goals scored is precisely half of what Monaco have managed this season, yet les Monegasques occupy fourteenth spot in the table, twelve places below their opponents tonight. This, then, is a real clash of styles between the immovable object and the – recently, at least – unstoppable force.
A high-scoring game, by Nantes standards
The last Nantes game that didn’t end 1-0 to one side or the other was more than a month ago, when the Breton side travelled to Strasbourg and surprisingly lost by two goals to one. This upset – against a side who currently occupy bottom spot in the French top flight – was all the more surprising given that Gourcuff’s side took the lead in the first half. An entirely unforeseen comeback gave the hosts a rare win, but impressively the visitors bounced back in their next three games, winning each by that narrow margin.
This evening’s match will be the ultimate test (well, outside of a meeting with PSG) of that solidity. Monaco’s summer recruitment was sluggish, and they started the season with an evidently disinterested Radamel Falcao as their main option up front. Since then, Falcao has departed, Ben Yedder and Slimani have arrived, and between them they have scored thirteen goals in fifteen appearances. Monaco do have a habit of leaving themselves open at the back, but their “we’ll-score-more-than-you” approach is proving more successful now they have the strikers to play it. STSBet are offering 5/4 that there will be more than 2.75 goals scored in this game, and it’s a bet worth taking, between Monaco’s fitful defence and their fiery attack.
Bookies taking Gourcuff’s men lightly
With the heavy artillery that Monaco can deploy up front, it’s easy to get carried away with their attacking potential, especially with Cesc Fabregas playing behind the front two, picking out pinpoint through-balls to create openings. Nonetheless, it does have to be remembered that they sit in 14th place for a reason, and though they’re hammering in the goals in home games they seem to struggle more on the road. In their last three at Stade Louis II, they’ve accumulated ten goals. Their last two away games, meanwhile, have been a goalless draw at Reims and a 3-1 defeat against Montpellier.
Which makes it all the more surprising that, in the main, bookies view Monaco as favourites here. There are twelve league places, and seven points, separating them in Nantes’ favour and the game is in Nantes. It’s reasonable to think that the visitors could win this game, but to position them as favourites seems fanciful – and it seems only fair to back Nantes for the win tonight, as 9/5 slight outsiders with Betfred. Gourcuff has been around the block a few times, and he’s faced and beaten tougher opponents than Monaco. Why should that not be the case here?
An absorbing clash is expected
Both teams will go into this game feeling it is one they can win – and both will be somewhat justified in feeling that. Nantes have been excellent in defence so far this season, and the improvement in Monaco’s form has been evident since their coach Leonardo Jardim got the strikeforce he wanted. Indeed, in Jardim and Gourcuff, there is plenty of managerial wisdom on either bench for this match, so it is sure to be an interesting battle – like a game of chess, but actually absorbing for the onlooker.
While we would plump for Nantes to emerge with the win, it’s completely valid to back out of predicting who will win, and merely assume that someone will. At Dafabet, you can get odds of 7/4 on Both Teams To Score And Either To Win, which covers most bases. It does leave you vulnerable to Nantes’ stifling defence keeping another clean sheet, of course, but that’s why it isn’t an odds-on bet.