France in Europe – Group Round-Up
After the international break, this week sees the start of the group stages of the Champions and Europa Leagues. As ever, the draw is the time for fans to start planning tricky mid-week away trips and panicking about squad-depth after the close of the transfer window. Also, as is traditional for the French teams, qualifying saw mixed results as Nice failed to get into the Champions League and dropped down to Europa, and Bordeaux join the list of teams to have dropped out completely.
PSG will obviously be the focus of most attention after their big-spending window, as they attempt to make it past the quarter-final stage, which now seems an absolute must for the team who dropped nine-figure sums on two players this summer. However Monaco still look sprightly, and the Europa teams all have the potential to do well, so there are some very interesting matches in prospect. Check out SBAT football predictions for all the info about the fixtures coming up.
In Champions League qualifying, Nice unsurprisingly did not manage to overturn their 2-0 loss away at Napoli, losing the home tie by the same scoreline. Unlike in the first leg, when they went down to nine men with the expulsion first of Vincent Koziello then Alassane Plea, their ineffectiveness in the second was largely placed at Mario Balotelli’s door.
Lucien Favre, who was so laid-back in his post-match interview in Napoli that he was practically horizontal, was rather more agitated by the second leg, criticising his striker for being off the pitch for Napoli’s first goal for jewellery-related reasons, and saying “I should have taken him off earlier. We found our rhythm once we replaced him with a youngster who nobody knows”. ‘Nobody’ was not really an exaggeration there, as in the absence of the suspended Plea, and with Allan Saint-Maximin already on the pitch, Balotelli was replaced by newly-acquired 18-year-old B-team player Ignatius Knepe Ganago, making his debut for the club.
Nice therefore drop down to the Europa League, neatly replacing Bordeaux, eliminated in the last round by Videoton.
Marseille are also through after following up a slightly underwhelming 1-1 draw away in Slovenia with a comprehensive 3-0 home win over NK Domzale in the second leg, Valere Germain bagging a brace and Florian Thauvin getting the third.
As champions, Monaco were in Pot 1 for the draw, and managed to avoid the scariest of the Pot 2 residents. However, Group G includes Primeira Liga runners-up Porto, as well as Turkish Champions Besiktas and Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig. While most of the focus on Monaco’s transfer window has been on the departures, one key thing was hanging onto first-choice centre-back pairing Kamil Glik and Jemerson, who constitute decent goal threats in their own right.
PSG in Pot 2 fared slightly less well in their opposition as Group B features Bayern Munich, as well as fellow champions Anderlecht and Celtic. Celtic were on the wrong end of Barcelona’s biggest scoreline in the last edition, losing 7-0 at the Nou Camp, and the now bafflingly well-stacked PSG attack may be eyeing them as a good opportunity to rack up the goal difference in their first match, while hoping that Kimpembe and Marquinhos stay fit at the other end.
The Europa League being what it is, there is a feeling of tension for fans around the draw. Do you hope for a group with bigger names in it in the hope of some classic matches, and the possibility of some nice destinations and making a city break of it over the weekend? Or an ostensibly more manageable but less thrilling selection of teams you have to Google to be entirely sure what league they’re in and can only reach in a retooled cargo plane, before seeing your manager gamely saying ‘it’s a good point’ after a goalless draw somewhere in the Caucasus against a team that is actually taking this seriously?
The French teams are mostly edging towards the former.
Group E sees OL take on Everton (7th in Premiership), Atalanta (4th in Serie A), and Cypriot cup-winners Apollon Limassol.
French connection – Limassol’s central defender Valentin Roberge, who scored against Bordeaux in the 2012/13 Europa campaign while playing for Maritimo, before moving to Sunderland, and a brief loan spell at Reims.
OM are in Group I, which is headed by RB Salzburg, knocked out of Champions League qualifying by Rijeka in the third qualifying round, along with Vitoria (4th in Portugal) and Turkish Cup-winners Konyaspor.
French connection – Not a lot to work with in this group. Konyaspor’s Ivorian striker Moryké Fofana was fleetingly glimpsed playing for Lorient, for whom he scored two goals in the Coupe de France in the 2015/16 season. Salzburg was Oscar Garcia’s last managerial gig before joining Saint-Etienne.
Group K is a tricky proposition for Nice as it is headed by Lazio (5th in Serie A), with cup-winners Zulte Waregem (Belgium) and Vitesse (Netherlands).
French connection – Zulte Waregem central defender Yoan Severin, who moved to Belgium in January after a youth career at OL, Evian and Juventus, and appeared in the 2-0 win over New Zealand in the U20 World Cup this summer.
The first round of fixtures:
Tuesday : Celtic v PSG
Wednesday : RB Leipzig v Monaco
Thursday : Apollon Limassol v OL, OM v Konyaspor, Zulte Waregem v Nice
The traditional reminder of how well this has gone for the French teams over recent seasons: