Sam Langston (@Samlan98) provides us with an in-depth betting preview of the 2019/2020 Ligue 1 season and delivers us his best bets.
2019/2020 Ligue 1 Ante-Post Season Betting Preview & Tips
French football’s top flight has hit the headlines over the summer, following a new deal to re-name Ligue 1 in partnership with food delivery company Uber Eats.
‘Ligue 1 Uber Eats’ – doesn’t quite have the same ring as the Barclays Premier League, does it?
Whilst France is renowned worldwide for its culinary delights, I’m not sure either ‘Ligue 1 Uber Eats’ or ‘Domino’s Ligue 2’ will attract many of football’s fine diners to the Western European country.
After saying that, where else can you see an Uber Eats driver deliver the match ball onto the pitch? Yes, in France, that’s very soon going to be a thing.
Luckily, or unluckily – whichever way you choose to view it, that’s not going to happen until the 2020/21 campaign. Ligue 1 Conforama returns for 2019/20 and there’s plenty of talking points to go through prior to the August 9th start to the season.
The Top 3
No-one will be surprised to see Paris Saint-Germain (1/7) head the outright market – it now seems a formality that the capital club will win Ligue 1. New boss Thomas Tuchel managed to do just that in his debut season, with his side finishing their league campaign 16 points above second-placed Lille.
2018/19 was disappointing for Tuchel, though. The German gaffer will ultimately be judged on whether he can deliver success outside of the French top tier; when it mattered most, Tuchel was unable to provide an instant impact. Last season was the first time since 2013/14 that Les Parisians didn’t win the domestic cup double. The big spenders also flopped on the continental stage once more, being knocked out by Man United in the Champions League Round of 16.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to dispute why Les Rouge et Bleu shouldn’t be such overwhelming favourites. They’ve dominated for almost a decade, winning six of Ligue 1’s last seven editions, whilst competition from their domestic rivals almost looks to be non-existent this term.
A number of their top 3 counterparts in years gone by are entering transitional periods. Last season’s runners-up Lille will be looking to balance their domestic and European duties, but gaffer Christophe Galtier has a huge re-building job to do. Youssouf Koné, Thiago Mendes and Nicolas Pépé have already departed this summer and more of the breakout side to qualify for the Champions League are likely to follow suit. New Marseille boss André Villas-Boas and Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim will also be hoping to steer their respective sides back into European contention. Both clubs suffered disastrous league campaigns last term, so it’s a concern that neither have hit the ground running in the transfer window.
That is in stark contrast to last season’s third-placed side Olympique Lyonnais, who, out of the clubs mentioned, are in the best shape to claim second next to champions elect PSG.
A lot has happened at the Rhône-Alpes club since a toxic end to last season. Supporters had staged large protests urging for the departure of gaffer Bruno Génésio – they’ve got their wish, with Brazil assistant Sylvinho taking up his first managerial stint with OL. In a bid to harmonise the relationship between the fans and the Lyon hierarchy, club legend Juninho Pernambucano has also returned. However, the world’s former set-piece specialist will have nothing to do with improving the quality of Memphis Depay’s free-kicks; instead, the 44-year-old has stepped in as Lyon’s new Director of Football.
Moreover, there’s also been plenty of transfer activity, both incomings and outgoings. Notably, talented full-back Ferland Mendy has left Les Gones for Real Madrid; key midfielder Tanguy Ndombélé has departed for Tottenham; and talismanic skipper Nabil Fekir is now a Real Betis player – yeah, that last move still feels a little bit weird. There’s no denying the aforementioned trio were a significant part of Les Gones’ relative recent success, but the swiftness in which they’ve been replaced, at least in regard to the former pair, means Sylvinho’s side will at least head into the new season well prepared.
Admittedly, Lyon are yet to react in the market to the sale of star man Fekir; however Mendy and Ndombélé have been smartly replaced for a snippet of their transfer fees. Left-back Youssouf Koné and midfielder Thiago Mendes have arrived for a combined £28m from Lille and this has allowed the club to strengthen in areas where they’ve struggled previously.
Lyon’s achilles heel in recent times has been their propensity to concede goals, so the signing of Joachim Andersen from Sampdoria is one which holds particular significance. OL have beaten a number of Europe’s elite clubs to Anderson’s highly sought-after signature, so whilst he should prove to be an improvement on ageing centre-half duo Jérémy Morel and Marcelo, the 23-year-olds’ capture can also be considered a real coup. I feel the Dane will be key to a less offensively reliant Les Gones this season – a stronger defence should relieve the burden on Martin Terrier, Memphis Depay, and Moussa Dembélé to produce at the other end of the pitch.
With PSG and Lyon the likely candidates to fill the top two spaces, this leaves one place in the Champions League up for grabs. The battle to secure European football for 2020/21 is wide open, so there’s scope for attacking some of the bigger prices within the market.
I was surprised to see Rennes place behind as many as nine clubs to finish in the top 3. Les Rouge et Noir are 14/1 (SkyBet) to claim a coveted Champions League berth and that looks too big to ignore – I’d have them nearer half that price. I rate Rennes as a better outfit than sides like Nice and Bordeaux and a similar level to Saint-Étienne and Montpellier, all four of whom place ahead of them in the pecking order. Marseille (9/4), Lille (7/2), and Monaco (4/1) are all just too short to be backing for sides in transitional states.
Rennes have a manager who’s making a name for himself as one of Europe's brightest young bosses. After being appointed successor to Nottingham Forest’s Sabri Lamouchi last December, former Reserves coach Julien Stéphan has done an excellent job as first-team manager.
Stéphan’s side notably overcame all odds against PSG in last season’s Coupe de France final, battling back from 2-0 down to then prevail as winners 6-5 on penalties. The 38-year-old also guided the Brittany club to their first ever European knockout round – they reached the last 16 of the Europa League before losing 4-3 on aggregate to finalists Arsenal.
SRFC managed to secure a respectable 10th placed finish in Ligue 1, however; according to the xPoints metric, they were actually the division’s fourth-best performers. Admittedly, Stéphan has lost two of his main midfielders in skipper Benjamin Andre and Hatem Ben Arfa but there’s still plenty of time to add some depth to the current squad in the transfer window.
Arguably, keeping hold of key creator Benjamin Bourigeaud is more important – he’s younger, has scope for development, and is more versatile than the departing duo. Bourigeaud had to fill in on the right of Rennes’ midfield for much of last season but Andre’s departure may mean he operates in a more central role, which will suit him better. The ex-Lens man, alongside Clement Grenier, and new recruit Flavian Tait, means Rennes possess a core of excellent options in midfield – both centrally and out wide. Up-front, M’Biaye Niang will be a handful and 21-year-old starlet Ismaïla Sarr, at the time of writing, is also still at the club. They’ve got an excellent keeper in Reims’ Eduoard Mendy who’s set to replace the outgoing Tomáš Koubek, too.
Rennes may not be the obvious choice to land a top 3 finish, but they’re certainly worth some interest at the prices. 14/1 is simply too big.
The Battle for Europe
Montpellier were denied a Europa League spot despite finishing in sixth position last season, as Strasbourg and Rennes captured France’s two domestic cups. This was the first time in five years that Ligue 1’s sixth-placed side failed to qualify for Europe, so Michel Der Zakarian’s group can count themselves somewhat unfortunate.
The southern outfit aren’t the most attractive of side’s to watch but they’re organised, efficient, and have a gritty determination about them. Gaffer Der Zakarian has his side set up in an unorthodox 3-5-2 system and it’s incredibly effective – only top two PSG and Lille conceded lower xGA figures in 2018/19.
However, Montpellier aren’t just capable defensive operators, they also possess plenty of quality in forward areas. Up top, Andy Delort and Gaeten Laborde form a strike partnership which is amongst the most coherent in the league. They contributed a collective 25 goals between them last season, adding that clinical edge to what’s a well-balanced side.
La Paillade’s primary downfall is that they sometimes lack creativity. That has been addressed with the signing of Téji Savanier, who starred for rivals Nîmes’ last term. The Frenchman notched 14 assists, a Ligue 1 best, and scored six goals in 32 appearances from central midfield. Unfortunately, he’s been ruled out for the first two months of the season through injury but he could be a key influence in a potential push for Europe on his return.
Montpellier still need a new goalkeeper to replace the reliable Benjamin Lecomte, who’s signed for Monaco, but at 3/1 for a repeat top 6 finish, they certainly look a tad overpriced.
Similar to the European race, up to five, six, or even seven sides could be embroiled in a relegation battle this term. In Ligue 1, the bottom two teams after 38 games go directly down to the second tier – the third enters a relegation play-off – so with up to three clubs dropping to Ligue 2, there’s reason to take on the bigger prices.
I would’ve been keen to back anything around even-money for Bordeaux to finish in the bottom-half but, unfortunately, no such market is available. Instead, I’ll have some small interest on the generous 16/1 for the Garonne side to suffer relegation. Similar to the price on Rennes to finish in the top 3, it just looks far too big.
Les Girondins, who would’ve been hoping to challenge for a European spot at the start of 2018/19, ended up amongst Ligue 1’s worst performers last season.
Former Fiorentina boss Paulo Sousa replaced Ricardo Gomes at the start of March – the latter had taken over following the sacking of Gus Poyet, who’d been having an ongoing internal rift with the club’s board over transfers.
Sousa ended up winning just two of his 11 league games in charge; a run which included six successive defeats going into the final day of the season. xPoints placed Bordeaux as the league’s 18th best performers over the course of the season – they showed little improvement under Sousa, positioning 16th in the same metric.
Having spent next to nothing so far in the transfer window, there’s little there to suggest that a much improved campaign is on the horizon.