Thonon vs Bordeaux
Nancy vs Brest
Nice vs AC Ajaccio
Paris SG vs Lorient
Rennes vs Lyon
Saint-Etienne vs Lille
Troyes vs Valenciennes
Sochaux vs Bastia
Reims vs Marseille
PARIS - After splashing the cash for the second summer in a row the pressure is on Paris Saint Germain to deliver a first French league title since 1994, admits goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.
PSG, flush with Qatari cash following after their money-no-object benefactors Qatar Sports Investments came on board last year, missed out last season to Montpellier, a provincial outfit who had never before won the top prize.
But PSG, under experienced coach Carlo Ancelotti, are widely expected to go one better this time round as well as punch their weight in the UEFA Champions League after a decade on the European sidelines.
Former Palermo keeper Sirigu, who has been at the club since 2011, says the Parisians, who host Lorient in Saturday’s opener, now must deliver and become one of Europe’s top outfits.
“To be a big shot on the European stage you have to deliver in France - that is why the championship is so important for us. The pressure is on - PSG’s project is so ambitious that each year it will get worse (the pressure),” Sirigu told L’Equipe sports daily.
Contenders for the crown
Sirigu made Montpellier, Lille but also Marseille and Lyon major fellow title contenders as the latter pair do not have the distraction of the Champions League.
Montpellier are determined to stay the course again - even if they have lost top scorer Olivier Giroud to Arsenal.
The southerners also lost their Champions Trophy opener, albeit on penalties, to Lyon - but Rene Girard’s team insist they are ready for battle as they prepare to take on Toulouse in Friday’s season opener at their Mosson stadium.
Toulouse will not be taken lightly as they and PSG are the only teams not to have tasted defeat at the Mosson in the past three seasons.
“Toulouse will give us a rigorous workout - they are a solid side. We may not turn on the style - but we must be effective,” said a cautious Girard.
Chairman Louis Nicollin hopes the team’s title win won’t make them too big for their boots. “We shall have to have to take a few down a peg - I can’t put up with average players who take themselves for big shots,” Nicollin warned in an interview Wednesday with Midi-Libre newspaper.
One element of prevailing uncertainty is the destiny of skipper and defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who is wanted by AC Milan.
Another worry right now is the weekend absence through injury of playmaker Younes Belhanda with ankle trouble.
PSG’s financial muscle is a key element at a time when the Eurozone crisis is elsewhere forcing much belt tightening.
Few observers are betting against PSG after adding Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi to an already impressive squad.
On Wednesday, it also emerged they are set to land Brazilian Lucas Moura in the January transfer window for around €40 million.
Montpellier’s Girard can only dream of making such signings. “It is up to us to make things as hard as possible for PSG,” he says. “When you look at them on paper their possibilities are limitless. They are the big favourites.”
Despite losing player of the year Eden Hazard to Chelsea, 2011 double winners Lille appear the best-equipped to challenge PSG.
The €40 million transfer fee recouped for Hazard has allowed Lille to invest in new players such as Sochaux’s France playmaker Marvin Martin and Ivorian winger Salomon Kalou, whose contract at Chelsea had expired.
Lyon are not the force they once were, and chairman Jean-Michel Aulas says simply: “Our aim is to qualify for Europe.”
These are troubled times at Marseille too, with France’s best-supported club still picking up the pieces following a desperately poor last campaign which saw Didier Deschamps leave to take charge of France, former coach and latter day TV pundit Elie Baup replacing him.