Mark O'Haire: Carefree Crocodiles to impress on return to top-flight

7 min


Lille v Rennes

When Sabri Lamouchi arrived at Rennes in November, few fans expected Les Rouges et Noir would be challenging for European places come May. However, the Brittany boys concluded their campaign in style, suffering a sole reverse in their final 14 games to clinch fifth place and a Europa League berth.

It was a remarkable turnaround in fortunes and should Rennes improve upon their fairly ropey return at their Roazhon Park home, there’s little reason to believe SRFC can’t cut the 19-point deficit to Ligue 1’s fourth-placed team in 2018/19 following another impressive summer.

The only position that was definitely requiring an upgrade was in attack and so the addition of Jordan Siebatcheu after an excellent campaign in Ligue 2 with Reims has excited supporters. Clement Grenier is a potential match-winner, while Damian Da Silva is a capable replacement for out-going Joris Gnagnon.

The signs are certainly strong that Les Rouges et Noir can mount another challenge on the European positions, especially so if they can uphold their outstanding away record. So much so, SRFC should be backed off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line at 2.07 at Lille on Saturday night.

Rennes’ coach Sabri Lamouchi has performed miracles during his tenure at Rennes.

Rennes returned W8-D6-L5 on their travels last term, including big-priced victories at Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux and PSG. The visitors have beaten Lille in each of their last three renewals and are unbeaten in their past six meetings (W0-D3-L3) between the two teams.

Lille will be desperately hoping for an improvement after suffering a dreadful campaign last time out. LOSC finished one point above the drop zone in 17th – their worst finish since 1997 – thanks to tabling three wins in their final four fixtures.

Les Dogues were beaten in 20 Ligue 1 games, their highest tally in a top-flight season since 1976/77 with Marcelo Bielsa’s management a mitigating disaster.

The Argentine was axed in December and Christophe Galtier came in to save the side from the drop. The wily boss remains but many of his key players have been pilfered in the summer as Yves Bissouma, Ibrahim Amadou and Kevin Malcuit have all moved on to pastures new.

Loic Remy, Jose Fonte and Jonathan Bamba are three intriguing arrivals but Lille may take time to adjust with the new-look squad, and having kept only three clean sheets on home soil last season (W6-D6-L7), are easily opposed.

Angers v Nimes

Newly-promoted Nimes are back in France’s top tier after a 25-year absence. The Crocodiles make their long-awaited return to Ligue 1 on Saturday night and should be supported with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start as they head to Angers.

The Occitanie club were a breath of fresh air in Ligue 2 last term; Bernard Blaquart’s carefree, attack-minded style took the division by storm and Nimes racked up 75 league goals with Turkish forward Umut Bozok helping himself to 24 in his first season of professional football at the age of 21.

Bozok remains at the Stade des Costieres and will spearhead the Crocodiles challenge.

Blaquart has already confirmed he’ll not be altering his preferred approach so expect entertainment whenever Nimes are on show – the newcomers scored four or more goals on nine occasions in the second tier.

The underdogs lost just once since February as they secured second spot and automatic promotion, and with only six promoted sides in the last five seasons suffering immediate relegation, hopes are high around the club as they look to cement their place alongside France’s elite.

Anger’s Head Coach Stephane Moulin kept his side in Ligue 1 last season but may find it a tougher prospect this season.

With Nimes’ squad largely intact, and stronger in certain areas following a semi-successful transfer window, the Crocodiles are attractive 1.84 shots with a +0.25 start.

Angers have consolidated in Ligue 1 under Stephane Moulin’s leadership but Les Scoistes could be in for an uncomfortable campaign having lost star striker Karl Toko Ekambi to Villarreal. Ekambi hit 24 goals over the past two seasons and contributed to 23 last term alone, 15 more than any of his teammates.

The club have dropped in league position in each top-flight campaign since promotion and only survived in 2017/18 thanks to a late rally of six wins in their final 13 fixtures. The hosts drew 14 matches – the second-highest figure – and without Ekambi’s contribution, those points could easily turn to defeats.

Defensively, Moulin’s men managed just five shutouts and head into the new campaign having failed to secure a success in any of their seven pre-season matches, scoring just three times. The hosts could be in for a rude awakening.

Recommended Bets

  • Rennes +0 Asian Handicap (2.07)
  • Nimes +0.25 Asian Handicap (1.84)