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After last season’s unexpected title triumph, Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc has attempted to play down expectations at the club.

By Howard Johnson in Paris
His players had barely begun pre-season training before Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc started the psychological battle. According to Le President, his target for the forthcoming campaign is exactly the same as it was last time out: to finish in the top four.

Pull the other one, Laurent. Having finally broken the Lyon hegemony there’s no way Bordeaux will be happy with anything less than another championship triumph and Blanc’s comments surely have more to do with keeping the pressure off his own side than any genuine targets.

So is it possible Bordeaux could chalk up back-to-back league titles? Possible, yes; probable, maybe not.

Blanc still claims he doesn’t have the financial muscle to compete with Marseille or Lyon, pointing to the fact that he lost linchpin central defender Souleymane Diawara to Marseille in the close season as proof positive that Bordeaux are punching above their weight. Then there is the likely departure of striker Marouane Chamakh to the Premier League to deal with.

However, the fact Blanc’s title-winning squad haven’t been totally decimated suggests they have more teeth than he would have you believe. With Yoann Gourcuff definitively signed, former Monaco man Jaroslav Plasil in the ranks after two difficult years in Spain, and excellent Toulouse keeper Cedric Carrasso also on board, Bordeaux still look capable of giving the competition a serious run for their money – especially with question marks hanging over both Marseille and Lyon.

It’s been chaos as usual at Marseille. Respected coach Eric Gerets packed his bags for the Middle East to be replaced by national icon Didier Deschamps, then omnipresent president Pape Diouf walked the plank after another public spat with owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who died of leukaemia at the age of 63, leaving the club in a state of flux.

The more things change, the more they stay the same at Marseille, who have always been a volatile club and probably always will be. For Deschamps to be able to settle the ship at the first time of asking and land the title – always L’OM’s objective at the start of any campaign, no matter what state they’re in – would be nothing short of miraculous. His new recruits (Diawara from Bordeaux, Edouard Cisse from Besiktas and Argentina’s Lucho Gonzalez from Porto) seem sensible enough, but perhaps not inspired.

Only top-notch Cameroon defender Stephane M’Bia, signed from Rennes, will really excite the Stade Velodrome faithful. There’s talk of Galatasaray’s Servet Cetin arriving to add some steel and speed to the back line, while giant Brazilian striker Brandao will be starting his first full season in France, but the odds are still against Marseille, though they should be there or thereabouts. The cups may offer a more realistic chance of silverware.

Puel criticised
But what of Lyon? We’re still trying to get used to the idea – as, no doubt, is loquacious president Jean-Michel Aulas – of a French season kicking off without them being overwhelming favourites. Last season was a massive disappointment, with the team a mere shadow of the outfit that terrorised Europe’s best a couple of seasons back, and manager Claude Puel was criticised for their dull and unadventurous style.

Aulas has kept faith with the former Lille boss, though, so now he has to deliver. Lyon have lost their two most influential players, Juninho and Karim Benzema, but could that be the jolt they need to re-invent themselves? Juninho was past his best and Benzema sparkled only in fits and starts last season. In their place come Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez from Porto for a club record £20.6million and Lille’s Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos, one of the standout performers in Ligue 1, with the brief of bringing back the glory days.

Make no mistake, the pressure is on. Aulas isn’t known for his patience and he will expect championship glory – nothing else will do.

Promising youngsters
The likelihood is that the title will be fought out by these three clubs, with Toulouse and Paris Saint-Germain somewhere in the mix. Toulouse have lost classy defender Jeremy Mathieu to Valencia, but have a number of promising youngsters who will all be that little bit more experienced this term. PSG have a new coach, Antoine Kombouare, and have signed Sochaux’s highly rated Turkey striker Mevlut Erding and veteran keeper Gregory Coupet, but it remains to be seen if they can mount a serious challenge.

Elsewhere it’s a warm hello again to Lens, one of the country’s biggest clubs, who bounced back at the first time of asking after relegation. They are joined by Montpellier and the minnows of Boulogne at the expense of relegated Caen, Le Havre and Nantes. And it’s also a fond farewell to much-loved striker Steve Savidan, who was just about to leave Caen for Monaco when a heart condition discovered during his medical forced him to quit the game at the age of 31.

France fixtures 2009-10

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