Russell roots for Djoko at Monte Carlo Masters

George Russell took advantage of F1’s current spring break to spend an afternoon at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday, supporting tennis’ world n° 1 Novak Djokovic.

After Djokovic beat Russia’s Ivan Gakhov to access the third round of the tournament, the Serbian and the Mercedes driver met up for a courtside chat in which the two stars discussed some of the hardships of their respective sport.

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“It was good. It’s a solid start, but it could always be better,” Djoko told the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix winner when asked by the latter how his return to action had gone.

“When perfection isn’t on that level, you’re looking to get better, to improve.”

As for the Serbian, the 22-time Grand Slam winner queried Russell on his recent travels and where he heads to next.

“We’ve got Azerbaijan, that’s the next one,” said Russell. “We just came back from Melbourne. Melbourne’s a killer, it’s probably taken a week to come back.

“We were meant to go to China next week. We’ve actually got a couple weeks off, Azerbaijan, and then the season really kicks off. Then Miami.”

Djokovic noted that Formula 1 “does not really keep to the continents”, to which Russell replied that “there are a few conversations about this, we’re left, right and centre.”

Hopefully, F1 boss Stefano Domenicali will have picked up on Djoko’s astute observation.

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OFFICIAL | Jason Denayer joins Shabab Al-Ahli after leaving Lyon

After being linked with multiple clubs over the summer transfer window, Jason Denayer has finally decided on his future, with the former Manchester City man joining United Arab Emirates club Shabab Al-Ahli.

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The Dubai-based club announced the arrival of Denayer on Wednesday. The report suggests that the 27-year-old defender has agreed to a one-year contract with the club that has the ex-Monaco boss, Leonardo Jardim, as their first-team manager.

Denayer left OL as a free agent after his contract with the Ligue 1 side expired in June 2022. In the summer transfer window, the Belgian was linked with moves to Rennes, Beşiktaş, Trabzonspor, Fiorentina, and Valencia. However, none of those European clubs came forward to meet Denayer’s interest.

Denayer joined OL from Man City on a permanent deal in the summer transfer window of 2018. During his time in France, the former Celtic defender made 139 appearances.

He was part of the Lyon team that beat Manchester City to qualify for the Champions League semi-final two years ago. Nevertheless, a 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich appeared to be a stumbling block between the dream of playing the final and the Belgian aspiring to represent his country in the upcoming World Cup.  

Nice interested in Régis Le Bris and Franck Haise

Le10sport are reporting that, following an incredible start to the season, Lorient manager Régis Le Bris is attracting interest from clubs in France and abroad. Nice reportedly are interested in his profile, but should Les Aiglons decide to part ways with Lucien Favre, they would also be interested in Lens’ Franck Haise. 

Lorient are currently third in Ligue 1 with a record of seven wins, one draw and one loss. Prior to this season, Le Bris had never managed a professional side,  but he has made the second-best start to a Ligue 1 campaign of any French coach in the league’s history. 

As a result, he is attracting interest. According to Le10sport, he is being considered by foreign clubs, but also clubs within France. Nice, for example, who recently hired former Lorient man Fabrice Bocquet as CEO, reportedly “admires his characteristics.” 

Favre has endured a difficult return to the Allianz Riviera to the point where it was strongly rumoured that he was set to lose his job during the intentional break. That didn’t come to pass, and his side won in the Europa Conference League on Thursday to move joint-top of their group. 

Le Bris isn’t the only name in contention to replace Favre, should Nice be inclined to make that decision. Lens manager Haise is also in the frame following his brilliant start to the current campaign. Sporting director Florent Ghisolfi has just left Le Sang et Or to take up the same role at Nice. 

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Lens’ Jimmy Cabot suffers ACL injury

Lens have this morning announced that wing-back Jimmy Cabot, who came on as a substitute in the win over Montpellier on Saturday, has suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury which will keep him out of action over an extended period of time.

The 28-year-old will undergo surgery this week. Since making the move from Angers this summer, Cabot has made 11 appearances for Franck Haise’s side, registering one assist.

The Frenchman had also been kept out of action for much of the second half of last season with an ankle injury, putting an early end to a season that had seen him successfully make the transition to the wing-back role and notch six assists for Le SCO.

The Artois side, who currently sit in third place, are due to travel to Marseille next weekend in what will be a decisive showdown among two of Ligue 1’s main contenders for the Champions League spots this season.

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Nice boss Lucien Favre satisfied with 2-1 win over Partizan Belgrade

Nice secured a 2-1 victory over FK Partizan in the UEFA Europa Conference League on Thursday evening as Lucien Favre’s men remain hopeful of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the respective competition.

Speaking after the match, the former Borussia Dortmund manager said that he was pleased with the performance of his boys, opining that his team had played positive football. However, he was also a little concerned about the chances missed by the Nice forwards. As quoted by L’Équipe, Favre said,

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“It was a good match. We played football, much more forward. There were some appeals, some openings and some speed. I’ve been saying that since June… But we were not good for a few minutes and we took a goal. On the other hand, we had a good reaction. We had to win this game. It’s true, we had a few chances that we didn’t convert. That’s the way it is. At least we created them. That’s not bad. And then we didn’t keep going behind, because there was movement and ideas. That’s the basis I want for the future.”

Owing to the victory, Nice currently have as many points as Partizan, who share an encouraging prospect of making the next round of the UEFA Europa Conference League with eight points from five matches. Köln host Nice in a crucial encounter next week.

Paulo Fonseca ‘uncomfortable’ with Portuguese ref selection for Lille-Angers

Speaking ahead of Lille’s home match against Angers on Sunday, Lille manager Paulo Fonseca has expressed his discomfort at a Portuguese referee being appointed for the match, as he is uncomfortable with the prospect of a fellow countryman refereeing the match, with his team having also a strong Portuguese contingent.

“I have to admit I don’t like the situation,” explained the Portuguese head coach in his press conference, speaking French, “I think it is very difficult for a referee who comes from Portugal. Maybe it would be a good situation for another game. But for our game, I don’t like this situation. I’m Portuguese, we have a lot of Portuguese players, I think this is not good.”

Lille currently possess three Portuguese players: André Gomes, Tiago Djalo, and José Fonte. This is the same amount as Brazilians that are on the team with Ismaily, Alexsandro Ribeiro, and Leonardo César Jardim. This evidently makes six total players that can speak the same (or a variation of the) language that the referee speaks.

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Marco Verratti agrees to a new contract with PSG

According to Gianluca Di Marzio, PSG fan favourite and Italian international midfielder Marco Verratti has come to an agreement renew the midfielder’s contract. Verratti’s current deal was set to expire in 2024. However, this extension will allow him to call Paris home until at least 2026.

The PSG veteran arrived in the French capital all the way back in 2012 from the Italian second division. After an incredible start to his senior career with Pescara he helped them earn promotion to Serie A after the 2011 season. From there he chose PSG over some of Italy’s biggest clubs. During his 398 games with the club he has piled up 11 goals and 61 assists, 8 Ligue 1 championships, 6 French Cups and countless key performances to get PSG where they are today. 

The European champion with all of his accolades may still be underrated as one of the world’s best midfielders even despite praise from coaches like Pep Guardiola. Like Mbappé, Verratti likely sees the winning of the Champions League as a “must” to complete the PSG project he started so long ago.

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PROFILE | Kevin Danso: Can Lens keep their diamond of a centre-back a secret?

This is taken from the GFFN 100, our leading 150-page FREE publication ranking the best 100 players in France, see the full list and read every profile right here.

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The development of Kevin Danso since his move to Ligue 1 has been quite remarkable, one that seems synonymous with Lens’ consolidation as a top team in France’s first tier – and consolidation is the word for Danso’s 2022. The former Milton Keynes and Reading academy product was known as a young Bundesliga talent when he joined Lens from Augsburg in 2021, but that raw talent has been refined into something much more robust in the last 12 months.

Danso is perfectly placed at the centre of Franck Haise’s back three. Although it’s a spot often reserved for more conservative of centre-back options, Danso is anything but. During his 1350 minutes of football this season so far, the Austrian has undertaken his defensive duties expertly. His pace and physicality match most tricky Ligue 1 attackers and he possesses a dominating presence in the air, winning, on average, 2.48 aerial duels per 90 minutes. The 24-year old was dominant in tight matches against Marseille and Lyon in the first half of the 2022/23 season, pocketing the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Alexandre Lacazette.

However, his most noteworthy attributes are on the ball, as a centre-back who can step up into midfield areas, create space, and progress the ball to more advanced playmakers such as Séko Fofana, or Lens’ forward playing wing-backs. This is reflected in a pass completion rate of 86.9%, which is impressive considering the elevated level of risk the Austrian takes when stepping into midfield.

His forward movement is allowed by the likes of midfielder Salis Abdul Samed dropping into his defensive positions, which means the Austrian can get on the ball and cause confusion for defending opponents with a level of versatility that is expected from a Franck Haise player. Whilst it’s a shame that he hasn’t had the opportunity to show his capabilities in the World Cup, it might be best for Lens to keep their diamond of a centre-back under wraps for a little while longer.

George Boxall | GFFN

PLAYER RATINGS | Monaco 1-0 Brest: Aleksandr Golovin’s shot sees Monaco begin 2023 with a win

Ligue 1, Round 17, 01//01/23

AS Monaco began the New Year with a narrow victory over relegation-threatened Stade Brestois at the Stade Louis II. Aleksandr Golovin scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory that moves Les Monégasques provisionally up to fourth in the Ligue 1 standings. 

Monaco began 2023 on the front foot. Mohamed Camara struck the post with a long-range volley before Golovin curled narrowly wide from inside the box. Marco Bizot was then called into action twice, both times from Krépin Diatta as Les Monégasques ramped up the pressure towards the end of the first half. Philippe Clement would have been frustrated to not go in ahead after Eliesse Ben Seghir, making his first Ligue 1 start, pulled off a lovely bit of skill within the box, but couldn’t hit the target from just eight yards out. 

Brest came out in the second half with a bit more gumption, however, they soon found themselves behind. On the break, Aleksandr Golovin cut back onto his right foot from just outside the box and blasted a powerful shot past Bizot. 

However, Brest weren’t out of the tie and they tested Alexander Nübel. The Bayern Munich loanee was forced into a smart save from substitute Jérémy Le Douaron, who then later shot wide from a good position. Le Douaron then completed his hat-trick of missed chances when he faced up to Nübel one-on-one, but could only shoot tamely straight at the goalkeeper. 

Steve Mounié then missed a brilliant chance late on to level the score when he could only hit the crossbar with a headed effort. Brest couldn’t find the equaliser and therefore remain in the relegation zone. 

Monaco player ratings

Alexander Nübel – 6 – Had nothing to do in the first half, but was up to the task when he was tested on multiple occasions during the second. 

Caio Henrique – 5

Guillermo Maripán – 5

Axel Disasi – 5

Vanderson – 5

Mohamed Camara – 7 – Vocal, composed and intelligent, Camara once again ran the midfield. He dictates the tempo of the game and knows exactly when to speed up and slow down the game. He could have had a spectacular goal to his name, had his long-range volley not been denied by the inside of the Brest post. He assisted Golovin’s opener, even though in truth, it was a goal almost entirely of the Russian international’s making. 

Youssouf Fofana – 6 – The returning French international made a slow start, but gradually grew into the game. His progressive game is constantly improving, and he displayed some impressive vertical passes to work his teammates into dangerous situations. His defensive positioning was also spot-on, and he knew exactly when to be aggressive in his defending and when to drop off. Given his presence on the international scene, there are increased expectations of Fofana, and he is largely living up to them. 

Aleksandr Golovin – 7 – Arguably Monaco’s player of the season so far, the Russian playmaker made a game-changing contribution yet again. Whilst the teammates around him wasted some great chances, he took his with aplomb. Cutting back just outside the box, he rifled home emphatically. 

Eliesse Ben Seghir – 5 – Once again livewire, as he was on his Ligue 1 debut against Auxerre in midweek. He showed some exciting touches and glimpses of his immense dribbling ability, without necessarily having the same impact on the game. He worked a brilliant goal-scoring opportunity at the end of the first half with a stunning piece of skill, but he couldn’t keep his composure from eight yards out to find the target and open the scoring. Things may not have gone his way, but he showed that he is a special player and certainly one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months. 

Krépin Diatta – 6

Breel Embolo – 4 – One of Embolo’s quietest games in a Monaco shirt. The Swiss striker struggled to get involved in the game and played a largely peripheral role. 

Others: Aguilar (6) – made a crucial intervention at the back-post shortly after coming on for Vanderson, Boadu (N/A), Jakobs (N/A)


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Pau Lopez : “I haven’t seen a better team than Marseille this season.”

Olympique de Marseille’s Spanish goalkeeper Pau Lopez (28) heaped praise on his team, who are currently sitting third in the Ligue 1 standings. During a press conference next to Marseille coach Igor Tudor, the former Tottenham Hotspur shot-stopper stated he has not “seen a better team than us this season,” in a press conference transcribed by Le Phocéen. 

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He added, “Last season, I played games where our opponents were strong, better than us, but this year, I don’t have this feeling anymore. We’ll see if we manage to clinch the second spot for I believe our momentum is good and the group is feeling fine.”

Marseille certainly bounced back after a bad string of results saw them crash out of the Champions League and fall out of the Ligue 1 podium places. Now, Marseille record four Ligue 1 wins on the bounce and are only four points behind second-placed RC Lens. Unlike Rennes (4th) and Monaco (5th), OM won’t waste freshness and energy in European competition this spring, which might prove crucial in allowing them to finish on a high and qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Tudor’s side face relegation-battlers Troyes this Wednesday in Ligue 1 gameweek 18. Newly-signed Ruslan Malinovskyi (29) may be available if he is registered ahead of the deadline.