Lyon, Marseille reclaim spotlight for one week in France


The extent to which Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco dominated this summer’s Ligue 1 headlines meant the circuit’s former titans, Lyon and Marseille, were not only pushed out of the spotlight but off the stage entirely. An especially detailed mainstream account of Ligue 1’s state might allude to the battle for third, the league’s final UEFA Champions League spot, but unless you went to a France-dedicated blog or followed the right people on Twitter, you were unlikely to hear much talk of Lyon or Marseille.

Which, of course, is a shame. Marseille is one of (if not the) largest clubs in France, while Lyon won seven straight titles the last decade. From 2001 to 2011, at least one of the clubs finished in the league’s top two. Though it was Bordeaux that eventually broke Lyon’s title run in 2008-09, it was Marseille that was always considered the most likely usurper – the club with the history, prestige, and resources to make France a two-team league, if they got their act together.

Marseille eventually claimed a title in 2009-10, but fast-forward three years, and France is finally on the verge of becoming that two-horse race. Only now everybody’s focusing on PSG and Monaco, leaving those not so far off days of Lyon dominance and OM potential in another era.

For one weekend, however, OL and Marseille (who finished third and second last year, mind you) turned back the clock, posting convincing victories on Ligue 1’s opening weekend. While the results may not be enough to get people outside of France excited for something other than PSG dominance and Monaco intrigue, there may be no better time to convince potential fans there’s something beyond the league’s big two; particularly after a weekend where the Parisians disappointed and Monaco still looked within reach.

The round started Friday in Montpellier where the two latest champions met at the Stade de la Mosson. An early goal from Remy Cabella left PSG down at halftime, though a second half score from left back Maxwell (starting over big summer acquisition Lucas Digne) allowed the Parisians to salvage Laurent Blanc’s debut.

PSG started slow last year, with draws in their first three matches warning us against reading too much from their August results. (More on Blanc later tonight.)

On Saturday, while Monaco played out a convincing 2-0 win at Bordeaux, it was a former Girondins player that stole the show for Lyon. Yoann Gourcuff, who’s move to OL has seen random flashes dot a three years of bust-worthy performance, was the weekend’s best player. The France international set up two goals and did a Juninho impression on a third, leading Lyon to a 4-0 win over Nice. While the show only fueled speculation he could jump to Lorient to join his father (who coaches the team), it gave Lyon fans one night of joy in during this troublesome Gourcuff era.

On Sunday, Marseille looked set to best Lyon’s act, scoring twice at Guingamp in the first four minutes, three times by the 18th. André-Pierre Gignac, ready to affirm his last year under Didier Deschamps was indeed an aberrational one, scored in the second minute, while former Lille winger Dimitri Payet scored twice on his OM debut. Though Marseille created a couple other clear good chances in the first half, they eventually let off the gas, allowing their hosts a goal before going on to a 3-1 victory.

It’s worth remembering Marseille got off to a blistering start last year, too. Regardless, on Sunday this year’s squad proved as potent in real life as their attack implied on paper, with Payet’s presence balancing a group that already had André Ayew, Mathieu Valabuena, and “APG”. Though their defense looked generous on Mustapha Yatabaré’s  second half goal, Marseille have enough talents to make even the likes of Monaco slightly envious. And with players like Alexandre Lacazette, Clement Grenier, Maxime Gonalons and Gueïda Fofana, the same could be said for Lyon.

That, however, is unlikely to capture many imaginations when the big spenders bring in the likes of Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but until Monaco can show they’ve forged a team from their lavish parts, we may want to hold of ceding second place to the Red-Whites. At least, let’s wait until after Monaco visits Marseille on Sept. 1 before making the Big One (PSG) into a duopoly.

Azpilicueta: Biggest thing is “we haven’t conceded goals” since 3-4-3 switch

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Modou Barrow of Swansea City chase the ball during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has been called a mastermind in the past for his unconventional tactics. Now, it’s those same tactics that are making him look the part of a genius yet again at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Is 2016/17 the closest Premier League title race ever? ]

Since changing his system to a 3-4-3 following Chelsea’s gutting 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last month, the Blues have gone on to win three straight Premier League matches, including a recent 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United on Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge.

As important as the results are for Chelsea at the moment, the even more impressive aspect is the way that the Blues are winning matches. In their three consecutive victories, Conte’s side has failed to concede a goal, which has helped bring Chelsea to within a point at the summit of the PL.

Not only do the supporters appreciate Conte’s willingness to adapt and build a team that plays up to its greatest potential, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the many players that have uttered similar sentiments about the Italian’s tactics.

“I find it good. The most important thing for me is the team and since we changed the system we haven’t conceded goals in the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports.

“I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game. We have different options from the attacking fullbacks now.”

[ MORE Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve” at City ]

Azpilicueta has been one of three key figures for Chelsea at the back since Conte made the switch defensively, joining Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a partnership that looks hard to crack at the moment.

Report: Mexico open to hosting 2026 World Cup despite potential joint bid with U.S., Canada

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 09:  Chicharito #14 of Mexico celebrates after his goal in front of Andre Blake #1 of Jamaica to take a 1-0 lead during Copa America Centenario at the Rose Bowl on June 9, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Despite some talks linking a possible two or even three nation bid for the 2026 World Cup, Mexico has opened the door for El Tri to host the world’s biggest football competition for a record third time.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of latest PST Premier League Power Rankings ]

Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria recently told ESPN that he and his country are prepared to go ahead with a bid for the 2026 edition of the tournament with or without any hypothetically joint bid.

“I don’t know [whether we would pursue a joint bid] but the rules are already open to it,” De Maria said. “What was agreed upon makes the path perfectly clear.

“Mexico will be in the hunt to host the 2026 World Cup.”

In addition to Mexico, the United States has been considered an early favorite to be named hosts in 2026 after losing out to Qatar for the 2022 competition. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have also been linked with a joint bid between the three CONCACAF nations, as the region looks to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 (when the U.S. hosted).

Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and is one of four nations to have held the tournament on home soil more than once.

Report: Barcelona eyeing Nathaniel Clyne to fill right back gap

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool clears the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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When Dani Alves left Barcelona to join Juventus over the summer, the Blaugrana appeared to have the right back vacancy covered.

[ MORE: Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

However, manager Luis Enrique appears to be turning his attention to the Premier League in order to replace the versatile Brazilian defender.

[ MORE: Tony Pulis extends contract with West Brom ]

According to SunSport, Barcelona is prepared to approach Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne during the winter transfer window as the Spanish giants look to lock down the right back position.

The 25-year-old is reportedly seen as a significant upgrade from Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, both of whom have been tabbed as starters this season for Barcelona.

Clyne has appeared in 12 matches this PL season for the Reds, who currently sit tied atop the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal on points.

In addition to Clyne, SunSport reports that Glen Johnson is also a consideration for the Blaugrana, however, the 32-year-old is certainly not a first option for Enrique and Barcelona given his age and drop in form.

MLS Conference Semis preview: Compelling match-ups all around

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with team mate Tim Howard after victory that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
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One of Major League Soccer’s most wide open new rivalries headlines a glorious quartet of first legs when the Conference Semifinals get going on Sunday.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule ]

Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.

TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.

Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Khiry Shelton #19 of New York City FC carries the ball against Marco Delgado #18 and Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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[ MORE: JPW talks with USL commish Edwards ]

The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.

The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).

The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.

Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.

A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.

[ MORE: Spain may recall David Villa ]

Finally we’ve got the hottest team in the West, Seattle Sounders, duking it out with Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner FC Dallas.

The playoffs find Seattle as a minor favorite since FCD star Mauro Diaz went out for the year and Fabian Castillo skipped town for Turkey. But ruling out Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and head coach Oscar Pareja is something you’d do at your own peril.

For Seattle, there’s new star Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Jordan Morris, the latter who is delivering at an unreal level (even for a rookie as hyped as the Stanford man).

All of these matches have the potential for special soccer. Bring on Sunday.