Ligue 1 will kick off on Friday evening under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis. The only league of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ to shut down because of the pandemic, it is also the first to get the 2020-21 season underway, albeit the opening weekend will be under rather anti-climactic circumstances.
Bizarrely, the big event of the weekend will come from the 2019-20 campaign, with the Champions League final featuring Paris Saint-Germain. Both Lyon & Paris Saint-Germain have had their respective matches pushed back to mid-September due to their Champions League efforts.
Meanwhile, the fixture card has been further reduced as Marseille’s fixture with Saint-Etienne – what was supposed to be the big curtain-raiser on Friday – has been postponed because four players in the OM squad have tested positive for Covid-19.
Authorities will hope this does not offer a glimpse of what is to come over the coming year, but the reality is that adaptability is set to be vital for teams throughout the season as the campaign begins.
Ligue 1 Match of the Weekend: Lille vs Rennes
Despite the loss of three fixtures, there are plenty of intriguing clashes on the opening weekend, with the duel at Stade Pierre-Mauroy between Lille and Rennes arguably the stand-out clash on Saturday night.
The fixture will pit the side that finished fourth last season against opponents who edged them out for a Champions League spot by a single point.
Both have shown recent vulnerabilities in pre-season. Lille surprisingly lost 2-1 at home against Brest last weekend in a friendly, though marquee arrival Jonathan David did score on debut, while Rennes went down 3-2 against Nice, bamboozled by the full-back play of Youcef Atal, who drew two penalties from Faitout Maoussa.
LOSC have had their issues with coronavirus this summer, however, Jonathan Ikone, Jonathan Bamba and Renato Sanches are now all available.
Rennes, on the other hand, hope to welcome back Edouard Mendy and Hamari Traore after they missed out through injury last weekend.
Rest of the Match Day
Bordeaux’s Derby d’Atlantique with Nantes has been moved forward to Friday to fill the vacant slot, with the hosts yet to play under new head coach Jean-Louis Gasset and the guests having been ravaged by coronavirus issues in the summer.
Meanwhile, Dijon play host to Angers in the early kick-off slot on Saturday.
The majority of matches will now be played Sunday, which is new to the 2020-21 season. Niko Kovac’s Monaco adventure starts at home against Reims on Sunday lunchtime, with the guests having qualified for Europe and looking sharp in pre-season.
Lorient face Strasbourg and Nimes play Brest in the mid-afternoon games, which will be when the multiplex is typically held.
While the matches conclude with Nice, who have had much invested in them this summer, playing host to Lens, who signalled their intention to make a splash on their return to Ligue 1 by signing Seko Fofana from Udinese this week.
Ligue 1 Player to Watch: Nicolas De Preville (Bordeaux, 78p)
While the beginning of the season promises to be awkward for Bordeaux, who only changed their coach a couple of weeks ago, the odds of them starting the campaign on a strong footing have been enhanced by Nantes’ troubles over the summer.
Seven Nantes players have tested positive for Covid-19 over the summer, with captain Abdoulaye Toure the latest to contract the virus last Saturday. He will be missing, and so too could several others, for this derby.
Bordeaux are not ideally poised to take advantage, but if they do, De Preville will likely have a large say in proceedings. The wide attacker was the hub of much of his side’s creativity last season, during which he scored six goals and created four more in 24 outings.
A highly prized signing when he joined the club from Lille in 2017, he started life slowing in Bordeaux but has come back towards his strongest form in recent months and is a player to track – particularly because Friday is a Gold Match Day, clashing with the Europa League final.