Lyon, Bordeaux chase resurgent Marseille

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PARIS, August 6 – Their national side may have wallowed in humiliation at a disastrous World Cup but French fans can look forward to an intriguing domestic season as Lyon and Bordeaux look to knock Marseille off their Ligue 1 perch.Marseille landed their first title success since 1992 last term with outgoing champions Bordeaux failing to qualify for Europe at all after falling away badly to finish sixth.

But ahead of this weekend’s opening round of action Marseille coach Didier Deschamps is battling to keep his squad together as predators circle around some of his side’s top assets.

On Thursday, the 1998 French World Cup-winning skipper had to underline his desire to hang on to striker Mamadou Niang, who is a target for Turkey’s Fenerbahce, while English Premier League side Newcastle are still out to buy playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa after having a loan bid rejected.

Niang told La Provence newspaper that "I will not go back on my decision (to leave)" the club.

But Deschamps countered by saying: "The club has to be stronger than the players. When the door is not open to a player (allowing him to leave) then the door is not open, full stop."

Marseille’s problem is that, even if they have captured Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta from Osasuna for a fee rising to 9.5 million euros for the top transfer of the summer, the French league continues not to have the financial pulling power of the likes of England, Spain or Italy.

The southerners and Lyon are the closest thing the Ligue has to financial big-hitters.

Yet with annual revenue of around 140 million euros that leaves them both languishing outside the top ten in the Deloitte Football Money League, led by Real Madrid with some 400 million with Barcelona snapping at their heels.

Marseille remain the only French side to have lifted the European Cup – in 1993 – though disgrace followed in the shape of enforced relegation for match-fixing.

But where the Champions League is concerned it is Lyon who have, thanks to 11 straight years of participation, managed to use the tournament as a means of strengthening their financial profile.

Having won the title by six points last May, Marseille start off with what should be a home banker against Caen on Saturday while Lyon host Monaco before Bordeaux travel to Montpellier on Sunday.

Auxerre, third last term to earn a spot in the Champions League qualifiers, should also put three early points on their scorecard with a win at home to Lorient.

Fans in the capital will meanwhile likely have to keep on waiting for Paris St Germain, who host fellow former giants St Etienne, to emerge from their slumbers.

PSG did at least lift the French Cup but have made no impact in recent years on the title race, indeed they flirted with relegation in three of the last four seasons.

Bordeaux, having lost coach Laurent Blanc, who led them to the championship in 2009, to the France top job, will under Jean Tigana have to make do without European revenues this season.

"That means we will be concentrating everything on the league and we will have to give it everything we have got," said Brazilian midfielder Fernando.

"We can’t miss out a second time – another year without European competition would be really tough," compatriot and striker Wendel concurred.

The loss of striker Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal will not help the Girondins’ cause.

Fixtures:

Saturday

Auxerre v Lorient, Lens v Nancy, Lyon v Monaco, Marseille v Caen, Nice v Valenciennes, Paris SG v St Etienne, Rennes v Lille, Sochaux v Arles, Toulouse v Brest

Sunday

Montpellier v Bordeaux

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