La semaine en France: Week 1

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
A shock home defeat for champions Marseille and a limp goalless draw for fellow title favourites Lyon were the most notable results of the opening weekend in Ligue 1, as France turned its attention back to domestic football after the humiliation of the World Cup.

Promoted Caen produced the sensation of the first match day with an enterprising and fearless 2-1 win over a Marseille side heavy of limb and missing a number of important players. The introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa in the second half sparked OM into life after captain Nicolas Seube’s speculative effort had put the visitors ahead, but despite drawing level through Mamadou Samassa they were undone by a late header from the excellent Youssef El-Arabi (pictured).

Lyon were grateful for the astonishing reflexes of Hugo Lloris, who produced more heart-stopping saves than some goalkeepers manage in an entire career to keep Monaco at bay at Stade Gerland. Stéphane Ruffier, who made his France debut against Norway on Wednesday, was almost equally impressive at the other end.

Mevlut Erding scored the season’s first goal to put Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 up at home to Saint-Etienne. An acrobatic volley from Stéphane Sessegnon (that required a helping hand from Jérémie Janot to cross the line) and an emphatic finish by new recruit Nenê secured a 3-1 win that put PSG top of the fledgling standings, but clashes with police prior to the match at the Parc des Princes saw 249 fans arrested (all but two from the ranks of the home side’s supporters).

The other promoted teams were unable to follow Caen’s lead. Arles-Avignon went down 2-1 at Sochaux and Brest fell 2-0 at Toulouse. Jean Tigana’s first competitive game as Bordeaux coach ended with a 1-0 defeat at Montpellier – the only side from last year’s top 10 to win their opening game.

Ligue 1 table

Marseille’s preparations for the season ahead have been seriously undermined by intertwined transfer sagas involving Ben Arfa and captain Mamadou Niang. Ben Arfa was told he could leave the club in June and was poised to join Newcastle United on a season-long loan until Niang announced last week that he wished to join Fenerbahçe. Loath to lose two key attacking players in one fell swoop, OM swiftly put the kibosh on Ben Arfa’s exit, prompting the player to skip training on Thursday and declare that he will refuse to play at Valenciennes on Saturday. Discussions with Sevilla over the signing of Brazil striker Luís Fabiano were due to continue on Friday, as Marseille try to raise funds to meet both the €18 million transfer fee and his reported wage demands of €4m a year.

Lyon released a statement declaring that Michel Bastos is emphatically not for sale, amid rumoured interest from Internazionale and Juventus. Bordeaux, meanwhile, moved to plug the gap left by Marouane Chamakh’s departure by signing Anthony Modeste from Nice for a reported fee of around €3m plus bonuses. The France Under-21 international spent last season on loan at Ligue 2 Angers, where he scored 20 goals in 37 league games.

Goal of the week: Dimitri Payet (Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 Saint-Etienne; 0:24)

Player of the week:
Youssef El-Arabi (Caen)
A former France Under-21 futsal international, El-Arabi stamped his mark on the opening weekend by leading his side to a memorable victory at Marseille. The 23-year-old academy graduate was Caen’s top scorer with 11 goals as they secured the Ligue 2 title last season and he took the northern club’s return to the top flight in his stride in front of 55,790 fans at Stade Vélodrome on Saturday night. The skilful, rangy forward sowed disorder in the Marseille defence by dropping deep to collect the ball and running at the auxiliary centre-back pairing of Stéphane Mbia and Leyti N’Diaye, and it was his powerful downward header from Sambou Yatabaré’s 86th-minute cross that dealt the knockout blow. Born in Caen, he declared on Tuesday that he hopes to represent Morocco, the country of his parents’ birth.

Quote of the week
“He sullied my name without trying to find out what happened. Lilian thinks he’s the new coach, the president of the federation and the president of the [French] Republic… Walking around with books on slavery in glasses and a hat does not turn you into Malcolm X.”
– Patrice Evra puts the boot into political activist and spectacles enthusiast Lilian Thuram, after the France 1998 stalwart called for him to be banned from the France team for life

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
The last time PSG were top of Ligue 1 was in August 2005.

Top goalscorers
Twenty players on one goal

Top assists
2: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)

Week 2 fixtures
Saturday: Brest v Auxerre, Lorient v Nice, Monaco v Montpellier, Nancy v Rennes, Saint-Etienne v Sochaux, Valenciennes v Marseille, Arles-Avignon v Lens; Sunday: Bordeaux v Toulouse, Caen v Lyon, Lille v PSG

Les Bleus
The Laurent Blanc era began with a 2-1 defeat in Norway but there were plenty of grounds for optimism, most notably in the overall quality of France’s play and the performances of captain Philippe Mexès, 20-year-old holding midfielder Yann M’Vila and second-half substitute Ben Arfa. It was Ben Arfa who netted the first goal of Blanc’s reign, firing sweetly into the bottom-left corner from range, before two moments of defensive hesitancy allowed Erik Huseklepp to claim a brace that turned the game around. “Laurent Blanc told us there was only one bad thing tonight: the defeat,” said the impressive M’Vila. “He said everything else was encouraging.” France begin their Euro 2012 qualification campaign against Belarus in Paris on September 3.

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