Montpellier's Giroud celebrates with coach Girard after their victory against Lille during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Mosson Stadium in Montpellier

Shipped from abroad, France: Olivier Giroud is so over Ligue 1’s scoring title

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There’s a surprise name on top of one of Ligue 1’s tables. Paris Saint-Germain’s Nene, with a Sunday hat-trick at Rennes, sits with 21 goals, tied for the French first division’s lead. It’s a stature few would begrudge PSG’s oft-under-appreciated Brazilian, even if the ranking’s caught some1 by surprise.

We had become accustomed to seeing Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud at the top of that list, but as of Sunday, he has to share the perch. The 25-year-old No. 9, in only his second season in France’s top flight, sprinted to the top of the scoring list, scoring eight times in Montpellier’s first 10 league games. At the same time his club, which most picked to battle relegation, staked a claim in a title race that was supposed to be contested between Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and PSG. As MHSC resolutely set France’s blistering pace, it was difficult to decide which was more shocking: Montpellier’s place atop Ligue 1 or Giroud pacing the league’s scorers.

While we reamin a bit bewildered by MHSC’s title persistence, Giroud’s place as France’s most prolific scorer started to make sense. He broke into the French national team. By season’s end, he was being linked with a high profile moves to England and Bayern Munich, having made a name for himself with a list of pushpin performances:

  • Scoring the only goal in Montpellier’s first statement of the season, a 1-0 August win at Lille.
  • An October hat trick against Dijon.
  • Three at Sochaux in November.
  • The only goal in MHSC’s January win over Lyon.
  • A stoppage time winner in a January 1-0 at Nice.
  • An 89th minute winner against Saint-Etienne in March.

Whatever August ideas we had about Giroud2 have been usurped by this doppelganger leading a no-time champion to its first title.

At least, title-bound is where Montpellier stands after their Manchester Citian defeat of Lille on Sunday.3 The defending champions visited MHSC knowing a win would keep their defense alive. As time built and a scoreless draw seeming inevitable, Lille coach Rudi Garcia drove his team forward, knowing one point for this third-place side was as good as none.

The strategy backfired, with Giroud providing for (instead of scoring) the match’s winning goal:

If Nene wins the scoring title, so be it. Ascending where the likes of Javier Pastore have fallen short, it’s a fair result for the brightest on a team of individual talents – a man who can claim to be the best non-Eden Hazard player in France.

Giroud, on the other hand, has been the man who’s led a title charge. The scoring title in exchange for the league? That only seems right.

Elsewhere in France

Sunday’s results
Ajaccio 1-0 Lyon
Bordeaux 1-0 Lorient
Brest 1-0 Valenciennes
Caen 1-3 Sochaux
Dijon 1-1 Toulouse
Marseille 3-0 Auxerre
Montpellier 1-0 Lille
Nancy 3-2 Saint-Etienne
Nice 1-1 Evian
PSG 3-0 Stade Rennes

Races

Champions League: Montpellier (79 points/37 games played), PSG (76/37), Lille (71/37)

Europa League: Lyon 64, Bordeaux 58 (Marseille has already qualified by virtue of winning the Coupe de la Ligue)

Survival (relegation): Valencciennes (40/37), Nice (39/37), Lorient (39/37), Sochaux (39/37), Brest (38/37), Caen (38/37), Ajaccio (38/37), Dijon (37/36) (Auxerre has already confirmed relegation)

Stuff that stuck out:

  • The year’s other breakout goal scorer, Saint-Etienne’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scored again on Sunday. The 22-year-old Gabonese attacker is up to 15 goals (fourth in Ligue 1). Like the rest of us, he’s been linked with Arsenal. If he does move, Les Verts will get a quick return on the $2.9 million they gave Milan in December.
  • Unlike most of its European brethren, France has one weekend to go. As you can see by the relegation battle (right),  most teams will have something to play for.
  • Those teams would include Montpellier and PSG. With a point at Auxerre next Sunday, Montpellier confirm their first title. PSG needs a Montpellier loss and a win at Lorient.
  • Wait – so Bordeaux is good again? Apparently. Francis Gillot’s side has won five in a row, taking advantage of France’s mid-table madness to climb into a Europa League spot. On Sunday, it was Yoan Gouffran’s third goal in two games – a stoppage time penalty kick while down a man – that downed Lorient.
  • In Marseille, Didier Deschamps condescended to play Andre Pierre Gignac for 40 minutes, at the end of which the still 26-year-old striker scored his first goal of the Ligue 1 season. Hopefully APG finds a new home this summer.

Up next: While Montpellier is at Auxerre, PSG will need to win at Lorient on Sunday, with the league’s 10 matches all scheduled for 3 p.m. ET kickoffs. The day’s biggest game? Probably Bordeaux’s visit to Saint-Etienne, where the league’s last Europa League spot will be at stake. Among the league’s remaining games, only Nancy’s visit to Lille is meaningless. The rest have some influence on the relegation battle.

Your takeaway video:

The second of Nene’s three against Rennes. And to think, this is the club that almost signed Becks:


1 – I often refer to myself as ‘some’.
2 – We had no ideas about Olivier Giroud in August.
3 – Montpellier’s Sunday win bared very little resemblance to City’s, but for a little while, I’m going to feel obligated to label any stoppage time-snagged win as Citian.

New St. Louis stadium plan calls for state land contribution

(Photo credit: saintlouisfc.com)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has made it clear he’s opposed to state funding for stadiums, yet a revised proposal for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis calls for the state to contribute land that’s potentially worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a city aldermanic committee delayed a vote Thursday to advance a measure putting the proposal, which also requires city voters to approve $60 million in funding, on the April ballot.

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The investor group SC STL’s proposal calls for a 22,000-seat stadium near Interstate 64 and Union Station, a key component in the group’s effort to lure a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Time is of the essence: The league is expected to award two new expansion teams in the fall, with play starting in 2020.

St. Louis’ project was on life support after Greitens, a Republican who took office this month, said repeatedly that he opposed taxpayer funding for stadiums, calling it “welfare for millionaires.” SC STL had been seeking $40 million in state tax credits.

But a provision of SC STL’s revised financing plan, presented at Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, says the state would contribute the majority of the 24-acre project site, which is currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and perform some site clearing and infrastructure work.

The value is still being appraised, but given its location and the amount of land, it likely is worth several million dollars.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor “remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.” He did not immediately respond to a question about how the potential donation of land doesn’t conflict with Greitens’ hard-line stance.

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The first hint of compromise with the governor came in an email from SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock late Wednesday, when he wrote that a “path forward” had been reached after two weeks of meetings.

“Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share,” the statement said.

The stadium project also requires taxpayer help from the city. The city Ways and Means Committee heard from SC STL officials Thursday, but no vote was taken on whether to ask the full Board of Aldermen to place the issue on the April ballot. The committee is expected to reconsider the measure Monday.

SC STL would be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs going forward.

Bundesliga returns: Will Bayern hold off competition again?

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Germany’s top flight returns to action Friday when Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg in an attempt to keep the pressure on new boys RB Leipzig.

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For those who haven’t paid a ton of attention to the Bundesliga this season or need a bit of a refresher after several weeks away, here’s what to monitor over the next several months.

Really Big surprise Leipzig looks to keep title race going

Formed in 2009, RB Leipzig is a lot of German fans’ least favorite club after cash infusions caused a rapid rise into the top flight.

The new club is looking down at most of the haters, however. League leaders for much of the first half, Leipzig is three points shy of league leading Bayern Munich.

Bayern waxed Leipzig 3-0 before the holiday break, and the two sides won’t meet again until May 13. How long can the new boys keep up the show?

Historic relegation candidates

What does USMNT strikers Bobby Wood and Aron Johannsson share besides a national team? Both are on sides that have been in Germany’s top tier longer than the players have been alive.

Wood’s Hamburg has six national titles and hasn’t seen the second tier in 54 years. That’s the longest stretch in the league, two more seasons than Bayern Munich. Hamburg is a currently third-bottom, which would force them into a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-placed team in 2.Bundesliga.

As for Johannsson, his Werder Bremen side is just three points ahead of Hamburg. Bremen has been in the top flight for 36 seasons.

Chasing the Golden Boot

Robert Lewandowski has scored the most goals in two of the past three seasons, with Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt seizing the honor in 2014-15.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the pack by three goals, but is with Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to help open the door for the rest of the bunch.

Koln’s Anthony Modeste is second with 13, while Lewandowski has 12. Two players, Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) and Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim), have nine.

Can surprise Europe-chasers hold up?

Hertha Berlin was in 2.Bundesliga a few seasons ago, while Eintracht Frankfurt was there a season prior to that. RB Leipzig, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t even a club until 2009.

Eintracht made a Europa League run one year later, but neither was expected to be competing for a spot in Europe this season. As it stands, all three are in the mix.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 16 12 3 1 38 9 29 7-2-0 5-1-1 39
 RB Leipzig 16 11 3 2 31 15 16 6-1-0 5-2-2 36
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 16 8 5 3 22 12 10 5-3-0 3-2-3 29
 1899 Hoffenheim 16 6 10 0 28 17 11 4-5-0 2-5-0 28
 Borussia Dortmund 16 7 6 3 35 19 16 5-3-0 2-3-3 27
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25

Report: El Tri’s Chicharito to LAFC in 2018

Bayer Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, left, and Atletico Mineiro's Mattheus Rolden fight for possession of the ball during the first half of a Florida Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It makes a lot of sense, you know?

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will turn 30 in 2018, not a spring chicken for a striker but still plenty productive if healthy.

His national team, Mexico, will likely be revving its engines for the World Cup, and won’t be upset to have the forward playing a bit less soccer and a lot closer to home.

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And Los Angeles FC will want to make a massive mark as it seeks to butt its head into a market dominated by the LA Galaxy (and, perhaps still then, Mexico national teamer Giovani Dos Santos).

So, tell us more, Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com:

“[LAFC] are going to do everything possible to sign the current Bayer Leverkusen player, whose contract ends in 2018 and could therefore leave for a reduced fee. That’s what AS.com has confirmed with sources close to the project. LAFC hope to announce their new manager this spring and dream, a little later, to do the same with Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito.”

Make it happen. Make. It. Happen. We’re already reserving his spot on our MLS fantasy teams.

Transfer rumor roundup: Jagielka, Begovic, Berahino, Zarate

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Saido Berahino of West Brom challenges for the ball with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on September 13, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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There’s action all over England, from those defending the goal mouth to others striving to conquer it.

[ MORE: More transfer gossip ]

— Bournemouth wants an upgrade on Artur Boruc, according to The Telegraph, and that could come in the form of Chelsea backstop Asmir Begovic.

The Cherries reportedly had a $12.5 million bid turned down by Antonio Conte, who has Thibaut Courtois in the No. 1 seat and Portugal national team backup Eduardo in the ranks (along with three keepers on loan and young goalie Mitchell Beanie).

— Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shut the door on acquiring West Ham wantaway Dimitri Payet according to Sky Sports’ Transfer Centre:

“We have many players offensively who can play in this position. You are interested by the quality of the player but there needs to be a need as well, and we have no need in this domain.”

— Clubs in need of experienced Premier League backs need look no further than Everton, where manager Ronald Koeman has admitted that England international Phil Jagielka could leave Goodison Park. The 34-year-old center back has 40 caps for England and has made 337 appearances for Everton. He could be a massive upgrade for Sunderland if David Moyes is up for a reunion.

— Stoke City chairman Peter Coates says a purchase of Saido Berahino from West Brom is not contingent on a sale of Bojan Krkic. The latter has been linked to Middlesbrough.

— Mauro Zarate may be returning the Premier League. Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has been largely let down by his strike corps as Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have taken steps back this season. Could $4 be enough to bring the ex-West Ham and QPR man from Fiorentina to Vicarage Road? Zarate has four goals in nine matches for La Viola, and has nine goals in 40 Premier League matches.