French season soldiers on as country hunkers down again amid health crisis


Paris (AFP) – France is back in lockdown, for at least a month, amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country, but the Ligue 1 season will this time carry on, unlike earlier this year when the action stopped and never resumed.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the second nationwide shutdown on Wednesday, but the country’s sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, quickly clarified that “professional athletes will be able…to continue to compete since travel for professional reasons is allowed.”

All games will however now be behind closed doors, with the lockdown in place until at least December 1, and there is still the danger that more matches will be postponed because of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Last weekend the match between Lens and Nantes was called off when 11 members of the home squad tested positive, and this Friday’s encounter between Marseille and Lens has gone the same way.

French league (LFP) protocols state that games can go ahead as long as at least 20 players from a pre-determined list of 30 are available for selection.

But clubs are still reeling from the economic impact of the decision to end last season early, with 10 rounds of matches unplayed, at the height of the pandemic’s first wave.

Throw in the added problem of main domestic TV rights holder Mediapro not meeting a scheduled 172 million-euro ($203m) payment due this month, and now trying to renegotiate the record deal it agreed for four seasons starting this year, and these are worrying times for French clubs.

However, it is business as usual in many respects on the field, with reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain moving top of the table after claiming a sixth straight league win last weekend.

On Saturday they head to Nantes where they will be expected to make it seven in a row, after beating Istanbul Basaksehir 2-0 in the Champions League in midweek.

However, Neymar will miss that game after coming off with an adductor injury in Istanbul.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has been forced to defend his team’s record this season despite often underwhelming displays.

“We are top of Ligue 1 and we have won away in the Champions League. It’s not perfect but we can’t be too critical,” Tuchel said after the match in Turkey.

The weekend’s standout fixture, though, is on Sunday, when Lille put their unbeaten start to the campaign on the line at home to a resurgent Lyon.

Player to watch: Burak Yilmaz

Centre-forward Yilmaz is one of four Turks in the Lille squad and is without doubt the biggest star among them. Now 35, the Turkey captain is known as “Kral Burak” (King Burak) back at home, where he has starred for all the country’s leading clubs. After two spells at Besiktas, two at Trabzonspor, a triumphant four years at Galatasaray and a brief stint at Fenerbahce, Yilmaz joined Lille in the summer for his second spell abroad following a season at Beijing Guoan in China. He has scored in each of Lille’s last four league games, quickly becoming a key member of a side who remain unbeaten this season. 

Key stats

4 – Moise Kean has scored four goals in four appearances for PSG since signing on loan from Everton. He scored both goals in their 2-0 win away to Istanbul Basaksehir in midweek.

8 – Lille are unbeaten eight games into the Ligue 1 season. The last time they started a campaign on such a run, in 2010/11, they won the title.

11 – Marseille’s 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City in midweek means they have lost all of their last 11 Champions League matches.

Fixtures (Kick-offs GMT)

Saturday

Rennes v Brest (1600), Nantes v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)

Sunday

Saint-Etienne v Montpellier (1200), Angers v Nice, Dijon v Lorient, Nimes v Metz, Reims v Strasbourg (all 1400), Monaco v Bordeaux (1600), Lille v Lyon (2000)

Postponed

Marseille v Lens 

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