Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 18 News List

LFP: Marseille hot favorites as Ligue 1 resumes


Marseille and Argentina defender Gabriel Heize, left, takes part in a training session at the Commanderie training center in Marseille, France, on Thursday.


The French season gets under way this weekend, with champions Bordeaux out to avoid any unseemly slip-up against newly promoted Lens.

Bordeaux ended Lyon’s title monopoly on the final day of last season and the team that pushed them closest, Marseille, are regarded in many quarters as favorites to take the honors this time around.

It’s been a turbulent summer down on the south coast, with Didier Deschamps replacing Eric Gerets as manager, owner, Robert Louis-Dreyfus losing his battle with leukemia and chairman Pape Diouf leaving.

Bolstered by new chief executive Jean-Claude Dassier’s hefty war chest, however, Deschamps has wasted no time in strengthening his squad to mount a viable challenge on a title Marseille haven’t won since 1992.

Top of the 1998 French World Cup winning captain’s new recruits was the record 18 million euros (US$26 million) paid out for Argentine mdifelder Lucho Gonzalez from Porto.

Gonzalez’s fellow countryman, Real Madrid defender Gabriel Heinze, followed with other signings including Senegalese international Souleymane Diawara from Bordeaux, Cameroon midfielder Stephane Mbia from Rennes and Cyril Rool from Nice.

Deschamps also brought in midfielder Edouard Cisse from Turkish champions Besiktas, a player familiar from the coach’s time at Monaco, the highlight of which was the 2004 Champions League final (won by Porto).

Another former acquaintance to turn up at the Velodrome is Valencia’s veteran Spanish striker Fernando Morientes, who also worked with Deschamps at Monaco.

Given this array of fresh talent, Bordeaux’s Brazilian midfielder Fernando had little hesitation in identifying Deschamps’ newlook Marseille as the main contenders for the title.

“Last season, we knew there was one team — Lyon — to beat. We succeeded. This season it’s got to be Marseille, the French ‘Real Madrid,’” Fernando said. “They’ve got enough money to buy anyone, they’ve put together a superb team, they’re the ones to beat.”

Marseille get their title bid up and running against Grenoble.

Lyon, third last term, set out for life without Juninho and star striker Karim Benzema, a 35 million euros sale to Real Madrid.

That cash enabled manager Claude Puel to splash out over 70 million euros on Lille playmaker Michel Bastos, Argentine striker Lopez Lisandro, defender Aly Cissokho and Saint Etienne forward Bafetimbi Gomis.

Puel, though, has a defensive crisis for the curtain-raiser against Le Mans, with three regulars unavailable because of injury or suspension — Jean-Alain Boumsong, John Mensah and Cleber Anderson. He is also without midfielders Kim Kallstrom and Cesar Delgado.

Aside from Bordeaux’s rivals tomorrow Lens, the other first division newcomers are Montpellier, who are set for a baptism of fire hosting a Paris Saint-Germain under fresh management following the departure of Paul Le Guen, and Boulogne, on the road at Rennes.

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