Ligue 1 preview: Lille looking for continuity

Champions Lille begin their title defence at Nancy when the new Ligue 1 season kicks-off on Saturday.Surprise winners of the league and cup double last term, Rudi Garcia’s men have seen star players Gervinho and Yohan Cabaye depart to Arsenal and Newcastle United respectively.

But their replacements in Dimitri Payet (St Etienne), Laurent Bonnart (Monaco), Benoit Pedretti (Auxerre) and David Rozehnal (Hamburg) look set to ensure Garcia’s side will contend again this season.

Garcia said last season’s playing group had gone out of their way to welcome their new recruits, as they embark on their title defence.

“The new recruits are feeling good, there is good humour and the culture of hard work is as important as ever,” Garcia said.

“I even feel that the new players were a bit surprised by the way the group interacts. They already have many friends.”

“We feel we can find the continuity of last season, the euphoria at least. I think a determined mindset is an important element, it was one of the keys to our success last year.”

Lille have also held on to star attacker Eden Hazard, scorer of the winner against Nancy when the sides last met in May.

Elsewhere, Marseille and Sochaux – two sides involved in European action this term – will face off at Stade Velodrome.

Ligue 2 champions Evian will travel to Brest in their first game in the French top flight, but have got form over top division teams, as they beat Champions League side Marseille 3-1 in the Coupe de France last season.

Ajaccio – runners up in the second division last season – host Toulouse in their opening game at Stade Francois Coty.

Caen survived the drop by two points last campaign, and will begin what is tipped to be another battle for Ligue 1 survival when they host Valenciennes at Stade Michel d’Ornano.

Montpellier and Auxerre will meet at Stade de la Mosson, Nice host Champions League outfit Lyon, while Paris Saint-Germain – playing in the Europa League this campaign – welcome Lorient.

On Sunday, promoted club Dijon – who earned their top-flight status by finishing third on goal difference – will host Stade Rennes at Stade Gaston Gerard.

And Bordeaux take on Saint-Etienne at Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas to complete the first round of fixtures.