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Ligue 1 Matchday 1 review: History made even before Messi's arrival

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10th August, 2021

While fans and pundits were holding their breath for the now official arrival of Lionel Messi in Paris, ten games were played this weekend, with some surprises.

History was made, as we witnessed for the third time only in French top tier football, the absence of any home victory. It happened during the last matchday of 1966/67 and the ninth game of 2004/05 before this weekend. Clermont Foot also put their name in the books: they are the first newly promoted side to win their first game in Ligue 1 since Guingamp in 1995, the first to win away since Roubaix in 1945..

Monaco 1-1 Nantes
The season’s opener at Stade Louis 2 offered us the first surprise of the weekend, with title challenging Monaco unable to see through Nantes, who two months ago were playing a play-off game to avoid relegation.

Niko Kovac had included his three main off-season signings, former Bayern keeper Alexander Nübel, Jean Lucas from Lyon in the midfield and Myron Boadu, freshly arrived from Alkmaar, upfront, in the starting line-up. The changes did not phase the players from the Principality, who dominated the first half, scoring via Gelson Martins at the 14th minute. Nantes happily defended low and waited for their opportunity to respond.

It came on set piece before the break, with Castelleto heading the ball in after a corner kick to equalise. This would be the only shot on target for Les Canaris. Despite Monaco’s outrageous domination in the second half (75per cent ball possession on the 90 minutes), and the entrance of Ben Yedder, Golovine and new recruit Ismael Jakobs to try and change things, the score remained unchanged.

Monaco had not dropped points against Nantes at home since 2012 but was forced to share the proceedings this weekend. Cesc Fabregas’ teammates will try and validate their ticket to the next round of UCL playoffs this Tuesday night against Sparta Prague, after winning 2-0 in Czech Republic last week.

Lyon 1-1 Brest
Both teams were led by a new coach when they entered the OL Groupama on Saturday. Former Montpellier coach Michel Der Zakarian swapped seat with Olivier Dall’Oglio and now sits on the bench at Brest. On the other side, Peter Bosz, mainly know for leading Ajax to the Europa League final in 2017 (lost to Mourinho’s Man Utd) before failing at Dortmund, arrived in the summer to replaced Rudi Garcia.

With these two attack minded coaches facing each other, it promised to be an entertaining 90 minutes. The first half was quite one sided. Lyon gathered 75 per cent of possession but without last season most prolific striker Memphis Depay, gone on a free, Les Gones were unable to get through a dense Brest’s defence and their new Dutch goalkeeper, Marco Bizot.

Instead, Les Bretons took advantage of their speed in counter attack, and thanks to a spectacular strike from range by Ivan Cardonna, went back to the locker room with a one goal advantage. Steve Mounié’s teammates came back for the second act with more offensive intents and Lyon needed Anthony Lopes on his A-game to avoid conceding in front of the former Huddersfield striker and his new teammate, Amadou Onana.


Lyon had to wait for experienced striker Islam Slimani and Copa America finalist Lucas Paqueta to come in to find a way back in the game. The former volleyed the ball in the back of the net after the latter’s cross had found Toko Ekambi in the box, whose header was an offering Slimani would not waste.

The home side suffered in the dying minutes but managed to get a point from their first home game of the season. It is the third time in their last 5 games in Lyon that Brest comes back with a point. Der Zakarian’s campaign started on a more positive note than Bosz’s, but the football offered by both teams promises a few exciting games this season.

Troyes 1-2 PSG
When an Abu Dhabi backed team hosts Qatar backed PSG, you could be forgiven for thinking we are talking about a Champions League semi-final.

Troyes, acquired by the City Football Group last September, won Ligue 2 and was ready to face Messi’s potential future club at the Stade l’Aube. With new signings Renaud Ripart, Youssouf Koné and Issa Kaboré all starting, the home side gave a good account of themselves in front of Kylian Mbappe and co.

All the action happened in the first 20 minutes. Troyes struck first, with their first goal at home against PSG since December 2006, a header from Oualid El-Hajjam after a corner by Dylan Chambost. The club from the capital was quick to react, with former Inter player Achraf Hakimi volleying the ball under the crossbar with too much power for Gauthier Gallon.


Two minutes later, Kylian Mbappe went for the selfless move with a cutback pass to Mauro Icardi, who took his time to control and wrong foot Gallon from close range. It looked like Paris had found their rhythm and would start racking up goals but instead we saw Troyes rebelling and forcing Keylor Navas to a couple of crucial saves to keep the score in his team’s favour.

The second act was a disappointing one for PSG fans who did not see their team doing enough to win this game comfortably. They stayed in reach of Laurent Battles’ side instead, the hosts offering more than just “parking the bus” and bringing the danger in front of Navas several time.

The game ended with a 2-1 win for the visitors, but the questions of a Pochettino’s tactics and real football identity remained. Even without Neymar, Marquinhos, Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti and Paredes, a lot better is expected from the Parisians. Troyes impressed in their first outing and already look like they will be a side to reckon with in 2021/22.


How will Neymar perform alongside Messi? (Photo by Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

Rennes 1-1 Lens
In another game where all the action happened early, Rennes and their new centre back Loic Badé were facing the 21 years old former squad Lens at the Roazhon Park. Bruno Genesio included two other new signings in his starting line-up, former Nimes left back Birger Meling, and Kamaldeen Sulemana, the 19-year-old prodigy from Nordsjælland.

The teenager did not take long to show everyone why Rennes invested on him. 14 minutes in, he inherited a ball from Flavien Tait, run at the Lens defence in the box and pick the opposite side net to put his team upfront. Rennes offered their opponent the equaliser five minutes later, with Nayef Aguerd losing the ball in his own box. Simon Banza found former Udinese midfielder Seko Fofana alone in front of Alfred Gomis and the Ivorian player took his time to wrong foot the keeper.

The duel between two teams who fought last year for a European spot all season could have gone either way, with Banza missing a very dangerous opportunity in the second half, while Rennes complained for long minutes to the referee for a penalty Jeremy Doku thought should have been given after Jonathan Clauss caught his foot in the box. The draw probably was not the result expected by the home side, but Genesio and his troops were happy with the point taken against Frank Haise and his relentless squad.

Nice 0-0 Reims
The only goalless encounter of the weekend was played under a scorching sun and temperatures over 30 degrees. Once again it was a dual of new coaches between Christophe Galtier and Oscar Garcia, each with very different objective for the end of season.


Nice finished last season ninth and the Ineos backed club brought in Galtier to try and compete for European spots on a regular basis, while Reims, after selling their star striker Boulaye Dia, are facing a less optimistic future under a coach who doesn’t have a flattering record in Ligue 1.

Nice’s new players Justin Kluivert, Pablo Rosario and Lucas Da Cunha were all starting, while Mario Lemina and Melvin Bard played some minutes in the second half, but the player that Les Aiglons to see back in their starting line-up was undoubtedly their experience centre back and captain Dante, after a severe injury last season that changed the course of their season.

Reims did not go the Allianz Riviera to get much more than a point, failing to put a shot on target for 90 minutes. Nice did not offer the appealing football we expect from them later this season, and although they almost scored after a mistake by Reims’ keeper Predrag Rajkovic, they could not get better than a draw for their first game of the season.

Bordeaux 0-2 Clermont
The Matmut Atlantique was the theater of a piece of history, since Clermont, a city most known for their rugby team, was playing in top tier football for the first time since the club was created 110 years ago. Unfortunately for Les Girondins, the newly promoted club celebrated their debut with a win away, leaving the home team having to deal with the same issues they faced all last season.

A new owner (Gerard Lopez, ex-Lille), a new coach (Vladimir Petkovic, ex- Switzerland national team), no new recruit on the pitch yet, and the same result as last season: a poor defensive performance, and not much better going forward. Dominated by Clermont (55 per cent ball possession), Bordeaux had the opportunities to score but somewhat always made the wrong choice when reaching Arthur Desmas’ area.

Pascal Gastien’s men played with the confidence of the newcomer, sticking to the football that allowed them to finish second in Ligue 2 last year. As a symbol, the first ever goal in Ligue 1 was scored by Clermont born and bred forward Mohamed Bayo, golden boot last season with 22 units. An aerial volley at the 82nd minute, after having tried to put the ball past Benoit Costil many times, was to reward the visitors.

The home team’s fate was sealed at the 90th minute when Jodel Doussou dribbled Costil and tapped the ball in the empty net. A very disappointing first game for Bordeaux, who did not seem to have the level, nor the attitude required to take part of a Ligue 1 game.

Hopefully the addition of a few summer signings changes the grim horizon in the southwest. Clermont could celebrate their debut, although another strong performance from Bayo might see him changing club before the end of August.


Saint-Etienne 1-1 Lorient
In a Stade Geoffroy-Guichard half full (20 thousand spectators) yet loud as ever, Les Verts could not get more than a point against Lorient. The only duel between two teams whose coach has been in charge for over a year ended in a draw. Saint-Etienne was almost surprised early however, when the visitors’ captain Laurent Abergel stole the ball in the feet of Mahdi Camara at the edge of the box. His shot crashed on Etienne Green’s post, to the goalkeeper’s relief.

Claude Puel’s troops largely dominated the rest of the first half but were never able to really bother Paul Nardi. Back from the locker room, the Chaudron kept getting louder and louder until it was silenced by Vincent Le Goff. At the receiving end of a cross, the left back volleyed the ball powerfully, and saw it land centimetres behind the line after hitting the crossbar and bouncing back out.

VAR confirmed it was indeed a goal the visitors could celebrate. The home team started attacking with more intensity and was rewarded with a penalty minutes later. Wahib Kazhri took care of the spot kick and equalised. five minutes later, Mickael Nadé, the young defender back from a loan spell in third tier football came inches away from giving Saint-Etienne all three points with a header that died on Nardi’s crossbar.

Both teams had an opportunity to score the game winner but failed, and ended up sharing the spoil, the first time since 2013 that Lorient was able to take points in at Geoffroy-Guichard.

Lionel Messi

Messi will add some eyeballs to Ligue 1. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Strasbourg 0-2 Angers
Another game, another new pair of coach, another win away at La Meinau, where Angers and their new coach Gerald Baticle took all three points. The former Strasbourg goal scorer and captain – he scored 34 goals and wore the armband 81 times at La Meinau – did not come bearing any gift to his former club. Julien Stephan, the new coach of the Alsacian club, had left new signing Kevin Gameiro on the bench at kick-off, and lined up his team in a familiar 442 with Ludovic Ajorque and Habib Diallo upfront.

The first half’s main highlights were a denied goal either, both would be worldly by Angelo Fulgini for the visitors and Diallo for the home side. Strasbourg was on a positive series, scoring in their last nine Ligue 1 games, but this was to end this weekend. The first came off the head of Angers captain Ismael Traoré following a cross by Thomas Mangani.

It’s the second season in a row that Traoré scores in the opening day. Last season, if was against Dijon, who ended up being relegated, a bad omen for Strasbourg. Stephane Bahoken sealed the deal with under ten minutes left with a deflected volley from point blank range.


Gameiro and Ajorque combined in the dying seconds and thought they could get a goal back but could not find the target. Inexperienced coach Gerald Baticle is off to a perfect start with his new club, a week before facing the team where he was assistant coach last season under Rudy Garcia, Olympique Lyonnais.

Metz 3-3 Lille
The reigning champions lost two of their pillars in the off-season, coach Christophe Galtier of course but also French international goalkeeper Mike Maignan, off to Milan.

Jocelyn Gourvennec took over in the North, a news that was not only received positively by the Dogues’ fan-base. For their first game they were travelling to Metz to start their crown-defending season, and took the best start against Frederic Antonetti’s troops.

A corner taken by Yusuz Yazici found Sven Botman in the middle of the box, and the Dutch defender’s header left Algerian international goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja no chance. Metz kept their composure and started playing their usual passing football. The reward came soon, sought-after right Fabien Centonze higher than Reinildo following a cross by Thomas Delaine, and able to place his header out of reach for Léo Jardim, the new Lille goalkeeper.

Ten minutes later, another defender, Matthieu Udol, inherited the ball within the LOSC’s box and wrongfooted Jardim with a left footed effort. five minutes after the break, Botman was very unlucky to tackle the ball into Centonze’s legs and see it ending in the back of the nets. two goals down, the road looked impossible for the title holders, but with 35 minutes left to play, they would face a ten-man squad, after Boubacar Kouyaté was given the only red card in this first matchday.

The visitors pushed more and more and thought they had broken the deadlock by Benjamin André but the VAR disallowed it for offside. Jonathan Ikone subbed in at the hour mark would finally bring his team a goal away from Les Grenats, with a right footed strike that wrong-footed Oukidja.

In the dying second of injury time, Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz found a way to equalise despite shooting from a very narrow angle, with the help of Oukidja who ended up pushing the ball in his own nets. Les Dogues keep their series of 15 games undefeated away from the Stade Mauroy. Metz, unlucky to concede at the last second, got only his second point out of their last six encounters against Lille.

Jose Fonte

Jose Fonte (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

Montpellier 2-3 Marseille
The last game of this matchday offered us some great entertainment, with OM able to get all three points in the Derby of the South despite being down two goals at halftime. Montpellier, who got two goals, yet only one shot on target, resisted for more than an hour to the numerous assaults from Marseille forwards.

The first 25 minutes were a one sided display. Despite having six new players in their starting line-up – Saliba, Luan Peres, Guendouzi, De La Fuente, Under, Gerson – the visitors dominated and saw an early goal denied for an offside that was a matter of centimetres. Jorge Sampaoli had his squad playing in an unorthodox 3331, with one of his central midfielder occupying the right back position defensively.

At the half hour mark however, a seemingly danger-less ball in the box by Andy Delort hit Luan Peres leg and ended in Steve Mandanda’s nets. The visitors were stunned, and four minutes later, Gaetan Laborde scored the goal of the weekend, a powerful left strike from the corner of the box that cleaned the cobweb in the top left corner with the help of the post.

Montpellier had executed the perfect heist and could go back to defending low. Knowing Sampaoli and his football ideas, the second half was always going to be exciting. After Dimitry Bertaud saved Dimitri Payet’s free-kick, Elye Wahi had the opportunity to score a third goal that would sealed the deal, but could not catch the target. The warning was well received and OM decided to throw all their forces into attacking. Bertaud delayed the fate of his team once more, but in a quarter of an hour, Marseille was going to turn the game on its head. Konrad De La Fuente, unstoppable on his left side, started the show.

After a long run on his wing that ended in the box, he picked Cengiz Under at the far post, and the former Roma player only had to tap the ball in the empty net. seven minutes later, another free-kick was awarded to the visitors at the edge of the box.

Payet’s strike snuck through a wall guilty of letting the ball through and ended in the bottom right corner, leaving Bertaud furious.

The deed was done with ten minutes to go when Payet, once again, took advantage of his teammates’ runs to dribble all the way to Montpellier’s box, and find the same bottom right corner for the game winner. Benedetto had the fourth goal in his feet but could not catch the target in the last five minutes.

The end of the game was spoiled by home fans throwing bottles at the players and referee. Valentin Rongier was hurt in the process, a projectile hitting him in the mouth.

The referees interrupted the game for several minutes, and the score would not change on the way back. It’s an important success for OM and their new signings. On the other end, Montpellier and their new coach Oliver Dall’ Oglio must be impatient to see new signing Mamadou Sakho helping an inexperienced back line.

Matchday 2 this weekend, don’t miss the official presentation of football legend Lionel Messi at the Parc des Princes.

Ligue 1 is becoming something else! In the meantime, Christophe Galtier will already be back at Stade Mauroy to face his former club. The duel of the promoted teams, Clermont-Troyes, and Marseille-Bordeaux are the other highlights of the weekend.