Shipped from Abroad, France: PSG alone won’t solve Ligue 1’s problem

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The first of Europe’s big six leagues1 started today. Defending Ligue 1 champion Montpellier scored early, had a man sent off before halftime, and eventually drew with Toulouse, 1-1. Not a terrible start for a team that lost their best player to Arsenal this summer.

Despite last year’s finish, Montpellier isn’t expected to compete for this year’s title. They weren’t expected to compete for last year’s title, either, so who really knows. At the beginning of last season, they looked like more of a relegation battler than contender, but thanks to new Gunner Olivier Giroud (21 goals, 9 assists), Younés Balhanda (12 and 5) and 23-year-old captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Montpelier were able to spring the biggest surprise of the European season. Defending their title against a challenger engaged in a one team arms race would be less miraculous than last year’s breakthrough.

That doesn’t mean we should expect a race in France. If anything, last season’s failure make 2012-13 success more likely for Paris Saint-Germain. Then, the Parisians finished a disappointing second despite running Summer Spending Spree 1.0. This summer’s version 2.0 is like Mac OS to last year’s Windows. The acquisitions Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Ezequiel Lavezzi caused a minor talent shift from Italy to France and will almost certainly make up the three points that separated PSG from the title.

As Gabriele Marcotti2 noted this week, PSG’s ability to take that talent and lift Ligue 1 may be the season’s most compelling story. At least, we can’t sit here in August, look at the 20 teams competing for this title, and expect there to be drama come May. The Eden Hazard-less, Salomon Kalou and Marvin Martin-featuring Lille (champions before Montpelier) will be very good, and Lyon’s best starting XI is still formidable, but the more interesting tension will be whether PSG can serve as the rabbit that forces the rest of the league’s hounds to chase.

For that to happen, there needs to be an attitude adjustment throughout the entire first division, because the one thing that continues to keep France from climbing UEFA’s pecking order is a lack of intensity in the league’s games. It’s as if the league is infused by too much French existentialism, with most teams spending seasons asking if the minute-by-minute of league play really matters. There isn’t the naive, scrounge for every bit attitude you have in other leagues. Instead, you get efforts like last year’s Coupe de la Ligue final, where the country’s two biggest clubs (Lyon and Marseille) spent 105 minutes asking who am I, what am I doing here, what does it all mean …

… before Brandao gave l’OM a 1-0 win.

While the League Cup final may have been one of the more extreme examples of France’s on field existential crisis, it’s still emblematic. The two biggest clubs in French soccer met for a trophy with a European spot on the line (at the time, it was unclear either would qualify through the standings), and they spent more of the match looking out of the Hotel La Rut wondering where Tony could be – where he is, who he could be with, what he is thinking (is he thinking of them), and whether he’ll return some day.

Didier Deschamps and Remi Garde played a game of passive-aggressive chicken, waiting for the other to blink first. Because of the quality of Marseille and Lyon, the game played to an infuriating stalemate. In regular league play, you’re more likely to see cracks earlier in games, with teams often waiting for that to happen rather than asserting themselves, taking control of the match, and playing in a way that meant the match’s decisive moments are acts of intent rather than happenstance.

This is why Montpellier was so refreshing last year. They took the title. The year before? Rudi Garcia brought a new energy to the league, guiding Lille to the title. But before that, it was years of Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille reinforcing Ligue 1’s existential crisis. Pragmatism, prudence – a measured approach – could win the league. Why try to transcend that? Unfortunately, Paris Saint-Germain could take the same approach this season and still win the title.

There’s an argument to be made that teams’ week-in, week-out efforts say little about a squads’ potential, which may be true in isolation. The problem comes when so much of the season is spent in neutral. Last year, the league slept, allowed Montpelier to grow into their boots, and gave a relegation battler with a little talent and a lot of belief the league title. While that belief grew, Paris Saint-Germain was playing their way out of Europe, Lyon was acquiescing to their own unduly modest place in Ligue 1’s world, and Marseille was preparing for an epic second half collapse. By May, Montpelier was the club league allowed them to become, yet nobody in France has asked “why couldn’t that have been us?” And almost nobody played the type of soccer that made them better teams at year’s end than they were in round one.

Paris Saint-Germain’s ascendence may imply France can move forward. Their play may compel the rest of the league to try. But it’s going to take more than Qatar buying a team and turning it into MegaChelsea for Ligue 1 to wake up.

In any international competition, Ligue 1’s always well represented, so talent isn’t a problem. They have as much access to Europe’s competitions as Italy and Portugal, so opportunity isn’t an issue, either. France is a beautiful place that urbanites and ruralophiles can both embrace. There clubs are affluent by all but the ridiculously highest standards. There are no external pressures keeping France down.

France’s teams have to want to get better. Unfortunately, it’s that simple. Whereas in most leagues we would take aspiration as a given, in France, clubs (even the biggest clubs) seem content to just be. Montpelier, PSG, Lille – these are the exceptions. Lyon and Marseille have become the rules.

If France’s clubs don’t want the league to be better, PSG’s not going to pull them up. As was the case this time last year, France’s problem isn’t talent. It’s ambition.



1 – Portugal passed France in UEFA’s league coefficient, and I don’t want to drop them out of the “big” group. Or keep France in a five when it might not be as good as the six.
2 – You should expect Marcotti to be cited often, now that most of his work has been freed from pay wall hell

Aston Villa – Sheffield United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Aston Villa - Sheffield United
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Aston Villa – Sheffield United: Dean Smith’s new-look Aston Villa begins its Premier League campaign at home to Sheffield United at Villa Park on Monday (Watch live at 1 pm ET, online via Peacock).

Villa has added Bertrand Traore, Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, and Ollie Watkins this summer and have been linked to more talent. Of course, it’s just as critical that the club signed Jack Grealish to a new contract.

STREAM ASTON VILLA – SHEFFIELD UNITED LIVE

Blades lost to Wolves to start the Premier League season before falling to Burnley in penalties at midweek in League Cup action.

Getting points against Villa and Leeds the next two fixtures would be a boon to a club that then sees Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City, and Chelsea in four of five league outings.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Aston Villa – Sheffield United this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Aston Villa – Sheffield United (INJURY REPORT)

Tom Heaton, Wesley, and Bjorn Engels remain out for Villa, while Blades are going to be without Lys Mousset for some time following a foot operation.


What they’re saying

Bertrand Traore on returning to the Premier League with Villa: “I’m very happy to join Aston Villa. I’m happy to be here. I played with JT at Chelsea, I spoke to him. I spoke to the manager, spoke with the sporting director as well and some players I used to play with. I spoke to Nakamba, I talked to him a little bit about the club. Many things made me take the decision to come here. I’m happy.”

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder on competition for places: “You’ve already seen a step up in training and instruction. You have to keep raising the bar and quality of your group. I think there are any shoo-ins to our team. Everybody’s got an opportunity and we talked about that the other night against Burnley. Take the opportunity and don’t waste it. I believe they didn’t.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one’s as close as it gets, as hosts Villa are +165 to win and the visiting Blades are barely off that at +175. Even a draw nets +220. Anything could happen.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Aston Villa – Sheffield United prediction

There are a lot of new pieces with big expectations for Villa, who overcame a slow start to beat Burton Albion well in the League Cup at midweek. Blades haven’t looked right for a few matches now stretching into preseason. It’s tempting to call this one for Villa, 1-0, but 0-0 or 1-1 shouldn’t surprise anyone.


How to watch Aston Villa – Sheffield United stream and start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Wolves – Man City: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Wolves - Man City
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Wolves – Man City: Pep Guardiola and Manchester City hope to find their feet quickly as they kickstart their Premier League campaign with a visit to Wolves at the Molineux Stadium (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET Monday, online via Peacock).

Wolves are coming for a third-straight win in all competitions after beating Sheffield United last weekend in their Premier League opener before beating Stoke City at midweek in the League Cup.

WOLVES – MAN CITY STREAM LIVE

City is ready for its first competitive match since losing 3-1 to Lyon in the UCL quarterfinal.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Wolves – Man City this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Wolves – Man City (INJURY REPORT)

Sergio Aguero is out for a while still, as Guardiola revealed that the Argentine is not back training yet after a summer knee injury cost him the final stage of the Champions League. Aymeric Laporte is not yet ready after a positive COVID-19 test, but Riyad Mahrez is back and ready to play. Bernardo Silva has not been seen at training after being injured on Portugal duty.

For Wolves, Jonny Otto remains out with a knee injury. The club signed Ki-Jana Hoever from Liverpool after selling Diogo Jota to the Anfield set this week.


What they’re saying

Nuno Espirito Santo on Diogo Jota being sold to Liverpool: “Jota is a player who has been with us for three seasons with such high performances.We’re not a stepping stone. Players that join us really want to play and progress with us, not looking for the next move. That is definitely not our idea, definitely not.”

Guardiola is ready for the new season: “The feeling is good as always. I see the team as always in an incredible mood. It’s a joy to work with them. We have good expectations to play good football and get the results this club deserves.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Even playing a first competitive match in ages against a Wolves team which has played twice in the last week, Man City pulls -200 odds to win. Wolves are +525 to win and +340 to draw.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Wolves – Man City prediction

This should be a treat but perhaps absence is making us see more cracks in City’s foundation than exist in reality. City won its last five PL matches of last season by a combined 21-1 score line. Wolves are very good and have done well versus City but we’ll project 2-1 for the visitors.


How to watch Wolves – Man City stream and start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund, Hertha, Hoffenheim win

Bundesliga results
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Day two of the Bundesliga season saw very little drop-off from Friday’s opening day, when champions Bayern Munich hung eight goals on Schalke.

Five of six games saw a winner score three or more goals on Saturday, with a 1-1 draw the lone “low-scoring” affair in Germany.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

The day was headlined by two impressive and dominant showings, one headlined by a 17-year-old American.


Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

The season’s first match-up of top-four contenders saw USMNT teenager Giovanni Reyna score the game’s first goal and draw the penalty that Erling Haaland converted to give BVB breathing room at home.

Reyna’s goal was assisted by English teen Jude Bellingham, and fellow UK export Jado Sancho set up Haaland’s second of the day in the 77th minute as Dortmund took advantage of their chances on a day Gladbach started with Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea on the bench.

Reyna started at attacking midfield underneath Haaland and Sancho. He finished with 100 percent passing over 78 minutes, drawing three fouls, registering a key pass, and winning an atypical 3-of-9 duels.

Here’s Reyna, from BVB.de:

“It was a very good start to the season,” Reyna said. “We have a lot of young players, it’s really enjoyable. We all have so much energy, but we need to keep working, we need to improve even more. We were so happy to see that some of our fans could be there again. That’s very important for us as players.”

Here’s the one goal that didn’t feature Reyna.

Werder Bremen 1-4 Hertha Berlin

Those of us who went out on a limb and said Hertha Berlin could be a surprise team in 2020-21 were validated for a day by the visitors to the Weserstadion.

Dodi Lukebakio and Matheus Cunha both scored, Vladimir Darida had two assists, and Peter Pekarik joined Jhon Cordoba on the score sheet for the away side.

Hertha produced five big chances and conceded little to Bremen, who scored via Davie Selke in the 69th minute.

USMNT forward Josh Sargent played further back from the front line in an advanced midfield or wing role. He had a key pass, two tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He won only four of 10 duels and completed half of his passes on a 33-touch day.

Koln 2-3 Hoffeheim

Leicester City knew what it was doing when it signed Andrej Kramaric in 2015, but the spoils have all been seen in the Bundesliga.

Kramaric gave Hoffenheim 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads on Saturday in Cologne, overcoming home equalizers from Sebastian Andersson and Dominic Drexler.

The 29-year-old Kramaric now has five goals in two outings this season to give him 75 goals and 30 assists in 152 appearances for Hoffenheim.

He’s good.


Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke — Friday
Union Berlin 1-3 Augsburg
Stuttgart 2-3 Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Arminia Bielefeld
RB Leipzig v. Mainz — 9:30 am ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v Bayer Leverkusen — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Augsburg 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Arminia Bielefeld 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Eintracht Frankfurt 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Bayer Leverkusen 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Mainz 05 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 RB Leipzig 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Wolfsburg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 1. FC Köln 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Stuttgart 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Union Berlin 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Werder Bremen 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mönchengladbach 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 1 0 0 1 0 8 -8 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Special Ceballos keys Arsenal win v. West Ham

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Arsenal – West Ham: It takes special moments to beat dedicated, packed-in back lines, and Arsenal found a pair in a 2-1 win over improved West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette scored goals off classy team goals, as Dani Ceballos drove the Gunners to a 2-0 start and sent West Ham to 0-2.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA

Up next for the Gunners: a trip to Liverpool.

West Ham will host Wolves next, buoyed perhaps by the improvement shown from a Week 1 loss to Newcastle.


3 things we learned from Arsenal – West Ham

1. Arteta’s magic touch springs winner: Lacazette got the start and scored but Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was not afraid to take off the goal scorer and replace him with… a goal scorer. Nketiah ran into the heart of the box to be available for Dani Ceballos’ cutback of Bukayo Saka’s through ball and the Gunners fought through the congested 5-4-1 for a 2-1 win.

2. Steely lineup (kinda) works for Moyes: A week after leaving Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Andriy Yarmolenko on the bench against Newcastle — and seeing Haller look strong in the League Cup — David Moyes again opted for a bit more steel and a lot more defending. Moyes’ men were set to counter in a 5-4-1 and they really limited Arsenal’s attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was kept from the danger areas apart from his assist, and it took a real touch of class in possession and movement for the Gunners to find their winner.

That said, Arsenal was a bit open at the back and was forced into playing Sead Kolasinac when Kieran Tierney pulled up with an injury before the game. Might Anderson and Yarmolenko have been able to produce a second goal?

Arsenal - West Ham
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio (right) and Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhaes (Photo by Will Oliver/PA Images via Getty Images)

3. Super Ceballos: His assist came from a great run and the appropriate final ball to Nketiah, but the Real Madrid loanee was exactly what Arteta needed on a day the Gunners were treated much like Man City was when the manager helped Pep Guardiola and Co. find its way through a packed-in group of defenders.

For his stat line, see “Man of the Match” below.

Man of the Match

Ceballos had 119 touches and completed 90-of-98 passes. He won 8-of-12 duels and collected three tackles, three interceptions, three clearances, and two blocked shots. A complete performance.


Arsenal – West Ham recap

Angelo Ogbonna had the first chance of the game but Declan Rice’s headed flick didn’t have enough power for the defender to head past Bernd Leno.

The Gunners soon asserted themselves on the game and Aubameyang put it on a tee for Lacazetteto head home and provide a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

West Ham tied it when Antonio got in front of Rob Holding to tap Ryan Fredericks cross home after great work from Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Arthur Masuaku’s dangerous cross looked set to give West Ham a shock lead early in the second but Antonio couldn’t meet it cleanly and Leno cleaned up the mess.

Arsenal sprung a counter to earn a corner but a foul foiled the Gunners.

Willian was lively but was taken off in the 65th minute for Nicolas Pepe, a nice change for a manager to have in his locker.

Antonio popped a header off the bar in the 67th with West Ham in search of all three points.

Eddie Nketiah replaced Lacazette in the 77th.

The Irons were focused on stifling Arsenal and stayed well-drilled as the game reached its final 10 minutes.