Coupe de la Ligue Quarter Finals
2018 got under way at the weekend with the round of 64 of the Coupe de France, with the Ligue 1 teams joining the fray, more or less successfully. Now with slightly less magic and a different take on what constitutes an upset, the junior cup competition is here as an amuse-bouche before the first round of 2018 Ligue 1 fixtures.
OGC Nice v AS Monaco
Tuesday night sees a repeat of the slightly unexpected 4-0 home win for Nice in the League in September, and a repeat of the 2006 semi-final which Nice won before being beaten by Nancy in the final.
With a doable home tie against Amiens at the weekend and a break before they are back in European action – which of course is not a problem for Monaco – Nice will be looking to put their Coupe de France exit to Toulouse behind them, and crack on with a cup run. They needed penalties to get past Lille in the last round, but that was in the middle of a pressured two-games-a-week schedule between the international break and Christmas that affected all the European teams.
Monaco will be away at Montpellier at the weekend, after seeing off fourth-tier Yzeure in the other cup, but might be slightly concerned that they conceded two in that match as their defence still seems capable of having its moments – mostly in knock-out competitions. They are favourites to go through (indicative 29/50 versus 21/20 for Nice) which is probably fair, but this fixture has gone to the home side over the past four iterations, Nice twice winning 4-0, so nothing is a banker here.
Stade Rennais v Toulouse FC
These two teams met at this stage in 2016, which Toulouse won, before being beaten by eventual winners PSG in the semi-final. That was their furthest point in this competition, unlike Rennes who reached the final in 2013, losing to Saint-Etienne. With Toulouse 17th in Ligue 1 and looking very shaky, their focus will have to be on travelling to les Verts at the weekend, despite a pleasing Coupe de France win against Nice on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Rennes will want to scrub all memory of last weekend from their minds after a full-blown 6-1 hammering by PSG, before they host OM in the league – the team they beat in the last round on penalties in an event-filled match that the referee will probably want to forget. SRFC are favourites to progress (indicative 21/50 v 13/10) but are both consistently inconsistent and currently a bit nervous about who might depart in the transfer window so it probably won’t be a smooth process.
Angers SCO v Montpellier HSC
Continuing their ‘need this fixture like a hole in the head’ run, Angers were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue at the weekend by Ligue 2 side Lorient, although that was not a big shock. More surprising was Montpellier needing penalties to knock out fifth-tier side CA Pontarlier, after it ended 1-1 after extra time and with MHSC down to ten men after Pedro Mendes was sent off in the 74th minute.
With Monaco visiting at the weekend, Michel Der Zakarian may be issuing a stern ‘pull yourselves together’ notice to his players, who have the best defence in Ligue 1 but will need to keep it that way if they are to maintain their position without involving the complication that is scoring goals. Their highest score of the season, ironically, was in the last round of this competition, as they won 4-1 against a Lyon side best described as ‘experimental’.
Angers, meanwhile, might be eyeing their upcoming trip to Lyon as a write-off anyway, and so may decide to go for this to try to spread some cheer. The odds have them fairly level to progress, which seems a little strange (indicative 37/50 for Angers, 4/5 for MHSC) and given that these two teams are the top two for draws in Ligue 1, with nine and eight respectively, it also seems odd that the draw is only 19/10. There might be a reason why this is the match least available on television.
SC Amiens v Paris Saint-Germain
There were goals aplenty in the Coupe de France matches featuring these two, Amiens getting binned 6-0 away at Ligue 2’s Sochaux, which was rather more surprising than PSG winning 6-1 away at Rennes. Amiens lost four in a row in the league going into the winter break, with only their Coupe de la Ligue win over Tours (bottom of Ligue 2 with five points) to break the gloom. The gloom seems unlikely to lift in this match – they are 13/1 to win in regulation time, and 23/4 to progress. PSG are 7/50 and 1/50 and that still looks rather generous under the circumstances.
While this is obviously the competition that PSG really, really (checks notes) really want to win, they will likely do so in the style predicted by our own Rich Allen before the Coupe de France game – “PSG will field a weakened team, won’t play well but will still win”.
This could be an opportunity for PSG to field a team featuring some of their academy players, but the problem is that they haven’t got many ready to hit the ground running – Alec Georgen’s dad is unhappy and apparently seeking a move for his son, ditto Lorenzo Callegari. There’s Presnel Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot bedded into the team, of course, but otherwise Christopher Nkunku has played about an hour, and Stanley N’Soki about half that. With so many big names in the squad, even a ‘second-string’ will likely have near a hundred international caps, putting a dispiriting lid on the chances of young players coming through the ranks.
That underwhelming victory could however be by four or more goals, such is Unai Emery’s chalice, so if that is your thing, tune in. Unless Amiens’ shambolic presentation at the weekend was a massively well-planned long-con, the defending champions don’t look in any danger as they go into this match.
Tuesday 21.00 CET – OGC Nice v AS Monaco (Canal+)
Wednesday 18.45 – Stade Rennais v Toulouse FC (Canal+ Sport)
Wednesday 21.05 – Angers SCO v Montpellier HSC (Foot+), SC Amiens v Paris Saint-Germain (France 3, Canal+)