Nasri signing bolsters Hammers

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini is hopeful that attacking midfielder Samir Nasri will make a positive impact for the Hammers in the second half of the season.

The 31-year-old France international has been training with the Premier League club for some time in a bid to earn a contract, having been forced to take time away from the game due to off-field issues.

And his efforts have paid off, with Pellegrini happy to work with Nasri again, having previously been in charge of the player at Manchester City.

The Chilean told his club's official website: "He is a player I obviously know well from our time together at Manchester City.

"He has been working very hard here in recent weeks to build up his fitness and condition after a long period without playing and he is now very determined to return to his best.

"Samir will give us another dimension in our attacking play. He already has very good experience of the Premier League and we hope that he will have a positive impact on the team between now and the end of the season."

Nasri started his career with Marseille, before enjoying spells with Arsenal and the Citizens, while he has also featured for Sevilla and Antalyspor.

He has won 41 caps for his country, while in his time in Manchester he helped City to two Premier League titles and a League Cup success.

West Ham can be backed at 4/6 to finish in the top half of the Premier League table this season and are 40/1 to claim a top-six finish.

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Areola extends PSG stay

France international Alphonse Areola hopes he can pursue his ambitions with Paris Saint-Germain after signing a new contract the with the Ligue 1 champions.

The 25-year-old goalkeeper's new deal with Thomas Tuchel's team is not due to expire until 2023.

Areola has started nine Ligue 1 matches for PSG this term despite the arrival of the veteran Italian shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon, who has started three Champions League matches and seven games in the league so far this season.

"It was very important for me to continue my career and my progress at Paris Saint-Germain," said Areola.

"This club is not only my trainer, it is also the club of my heart. I grew up here and I discovered the very high level.

"My club gives me this chance to pursue very high ambitions, alongside outstanding team-mates. With the continued support of our supporters, we still have wonderful story pages to write together. I believe very strongly in my club and the opportunity to live unforgettable moments."

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said of the goalkeeper: "Alphonse is one of the most beautiful symbols of the excellence of our training centre.

"His extension is a strong signal of the trust we place and will continue to place in the players we train."

PSG are 7/1 to win the Champions League this season and 1/1 to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in February.

Griezmann: Not at my best

Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann has admitted that he is still not quite at his best, as he is still overcoming the effects of his efforts last season.

The 27-year-old France international helped his club to Europa League glory at the end of last season, before playing a major role as Les Bleus went all the way to lift the World Cup in Russia.

And the talented frontman is aware that he is still not up to full speed at the moment, although he has still scored four goals in his last five games, including two in a 3-2 victory at Valladolid on Sunday.

Griezmann told reporters: "I'm not quite yet at my best, it's been a long year with many games. I'm maybe just lacking a bit of speed, but I keep going.

"I can still improve, but I'm very happy to be able to help the team.

"It's a very long year, we have a game and then a little rest and there are games when it is difficult to be loose and fast. Today was a day like that, but I was able to score two goals."

Ahead of the La Liga action on Sunday, Atleti are in second place in the table, having only lost one of their first 16 league games of the season, although they have drawn seven.

Los Rojiblancos are priced at 8/1 to win La Liga this season, with Barcelona available at 2/7 and Real Madrid 5/1.

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International Friendly: Au Revoir 2018!

France 1-0 Uruguay

So international football draws to a close in 2018 and what a year it’s been for France!

World champions for a second time and on top of planet football, it really gets no better than this for anyone of a French persuasion.

As international friendly goes, this was a low-key affair. However, it didn’t matter.

It was time for an end-of-year party in Paris, and the Stade de France was in good voice even if the early loss of its mercurial young talent put a slight dampener on proceedings.

Highlights of the game

France and Uruguay during the international friendly in Paris

France’s Ferland Mendy in action with Uruguay’s Matias Suarez during their International Friendly match in Paris

If there was any disappointment at missing out on a place in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals 24 hours earlier, it certainly didn’t show.

us fans would have been delighted as manager Didier Deschamps named a strong side against a somewhat understrength Uruguay (weakened particularly in defence) which ensured the international friendly 2018 betting odds were strongly in favour of the hosts.

Once again, Antoine Griezmann showed his admiration for the visitors, just as he did this summer, by wearing a special pair of boots displaying both flags in honour of both nations.

His fondness for Uruguay can be traced back to his very first days as a professional and that affinity with Celeste remains.

Griezmann has been pictured in Uruguay shirts, regularly drinks the national drink and supports Penarol, one of the two biggest teams in the country.

Griezmann also met his club teammates Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez at Madrid airport last year, wearing Uruguay’s jersey when they flew back after clinching World Cup qualification.

He has even said his close relationship with the duo has made him feel ‘part Uruguayan,’ a statement which irritated frontman Luis Suarez who claimed otherwise.

Once the niceties were out of the way—Griezmann giving a warm welcome to Gimenez (Godin was missing)—chances arrived from the start, particularly for the home side.

Olivier Giroud slid the ball wide after Kylian Mbappe and debutant Ferland Mendy teamed up inside three minutes.

Hugo Lloris was then called into action to keep out a Matias Vecino header. Mbappe was played through by Griezmann after that, but he saw his chip bounce the wrong side of the post.

A Blaise Matuidi shot was blocked before Vecino tested Lloris once again.

The downside for the hosts was an injury to Mbappe who went down clutching his shoulder following a collision with Martin Campana on the half-hour.

The starlet tried to run it off but to no avail and ultimately trudged off the pitch looking despondent.

Worryingly for Paris Saint-Germain fans, Neymar also left the pitch early tonight through injury during Brazil’s friendly with Cameroon.

Into the second half and, after Griezmann saw a shot blocked illegally, the deadlock was broken six minutes after the restart.

It was Martin Caceres who handballed in the penalty area, paving the way for Giroud to coolly convert the spot-kick from 12 yards.

Mbappe’s replacement, one-time Newcastle winger Florian Thauvin, called Campana into action as Les Bleus remained on the foot front.

Only one goal behind, Uruguay tried to up the tempo but the match had all the air of an end-of-year friendly. It was evident by the fact it took until 11 minutes from time for a challenge deemed serious enough to warrant a yellow card, with Uruguay’s Rodrigo Bentancur the recipient.

A superb ball from the quiet Edinson Cavani put Jonathan Rodriguez in on goal, but he could not capitalise on abject home marking. A late rally from the South Americans, including a late Vecino effort, proved futile.

It scarcely mattered. The world champions were largely cruising as they said au revoir to a year they will never forget.

Key statistics

The international friendly 2018 results haven’t been kind to Uruguay, with the defeat marking their fourth straight loss.

Giroud’s goal moves him up to fourth in the all-time scoring charts for France. This was his 32nd international goal, one ahead of arguably the best player the nation has ever produced, Zinedine Zidane.

When Giroud left the field, he was replaced by debutant Alassane Plea of Lille.

These two countries have quite a history. In fact, this was a re-run of the quarter-final in July in which France triumphed 2-0, courtesy of goals from Raphael Varane and Griezmann.

Perhaps surprisingly, this was only the ninth ever meeting between these nations (seven of those have come this century). Four of the eight meetings have been draws with two wins for either side.

Top of Form

What’s next?

That’s it now for both nations this calendar year.

France will eagerly await the draw for Euro 2020 in Dublin next month after which their fixtures will be confirmed.

Uruguay will have warm-up matches next spring for the 2019 Copa America which starts in June.

The draw for that takes place in January in Brazil who will host the competition.

 

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Giroud vows to stay and fight

Olivier Giroud is adamant that he has no plans to leave Chelsea even though he is struggling to cement his place in Maurizio Sarri's starting line-up.

The former Arsenal striker was an unused substitute as the Blues drew 0-0 with Everton in their last Premier League fixture when Sarri opted to start with the much-maligned Alvaro Morata in his team.

Giroud had scored his first goal of the campaign in Chelsea's previous game – a 1-0 Europa League win against BATE Borisov in Belarus.

He played for 65 minutes of France's recent 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands and insists he is happy at Stamford Bridge despite his lack of first-team opportunities.

"I came back late from the World Cup and Morata played," Giroud said. "With the national team in September, a goal against the Netherlands did me good. After that, when I came back to Chelsea, I played several matches as a starter.

"Today, the coach has introduced healthy competition. Morata started again, he played well.

"It is true that we were having issues in the effectiveness department, he scored and things are going better. Today I am calm, happy with this World Cup title. I don't need to put myself under more pressure than that.

"I am going to fight and, for the moment, it is not a question about seeking a departure. I am going to stick in there and do not expect me to give up."

Chelsea are 6/4 to beat Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday evening and 11/4 to keep a clean sheet at Wembley.

International Friendly: Les Bleus Must Remember the France of World Cup!

France vs Uruguay

Didier Deschamps and his French team defeated Uruguay in the World Cup 2018 quarter-final, but they know they can’t expect the same result when they play again. Not after their recent performance anyway.

France may be the world champions, but it appears they are not their usual selves after losing to the Netherlands in their recent game. The overall outlook doesn’t seem good as well, with the Frenchmen winning just twice in their last five.

Their meeting with Uruguay is just an international friendly, but Les Bleus could really use a win right now and end their final game of 2018 with a bang.

Talking Points

While France haven’t been at their best—as proven by their goalless draw with Germany in the UEFA Nations League opener and friendly stalemate with Iceland—it became more evident when they lost to the Netherlands 2-0.

Les Bleus were not only defeated, but they were also outclassed and were always in the back foot against a far superior and more clinical Holland team.

Most fans will blame the injuries to key players for the champions’ latest misfortune. Defenders Samuel Umtiti (knee), Lucas Hernandez (knock) and Benjamin Mendy (knee) were all unavailable due to injuries, while midfielder Paul Pogba also missed the game due to a thigh issue.

Missing three key defenders was already a blow to the team, and the absence of Pogba made it worst as they sorely missed his creativity and spark in the midfield.

However, as Deschamps said, the team cannot take “refuge behind the absences.” They simply failed to meet the requirements in playing “high level” football.

Indeed, Deschamps and Co. failed to step up when it mattered most. Both Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann were non-impactful, with the former even isolated and neutralised in the game. The team also lacked aggressiveness and was seemingly satisfied taking the back seat—something you won’t expect from a championship team.

If there is one positive that France can take from the game, it’s Hugo Lloris who showed no signs of slowing down. The Netherlands could have won by more, but the Tottenham Hotspur skipper made nine saves to prevent further embarrassment for France.

It remains to be seen how Deschamps will adjust his lineup after the loss. His game calling has been put under the microscope, so while international friendly 2018 results won’t matter that much, it might be different for the 50-year-old manager this time.

Uruguay haven’t had a good run as well, losing three straight games against South Korea, Japan and Brazil. Nevertheless, they will be more than willing to take advantage of France’s struggles to get their revenge.

International Friendly: Luis Suarez and company suffer a 1-0 defeat to Brazil

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez in action with Brazil’s Renato Augusto

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are both available for the South American side, and there’s no better time and place for them to score than in this game. Who wouldn’t want the glory and bragging rights that come with taking down the champs?

History

Fixtures between these two nations have a history of being exciting and tight.

France did win against Uruguay 0-2 in the World Cup (behind goals from Raphael Varane and  Griezmann), but that was the team’s biggest winning margin against the South American side in their history.

In fact, prior to World Cup 2018, four of their last five meetings ended up in a goalless stalemate. In the 2002 World Cup, France’s only point in the group stage came against the Uruguayans. On the other hand, in the 2010 instalment of the quadrennial affair, La Celeste only dropped points against the European powerhouse.

Overall, the two teams have two wins each and four draws. Uruguay last won against France in a friendly in 2013, thanks to a 50th-minute Luis Suarez goal.

One interesting tidbit about their head-to-head record: France have never won in an international friendly against Uruguay.

Betting Tip

??
France vs Uruguay 1X2 Draw @ 3.60
November 21, 04:00 (GMT+8)

Well, Uruguay’s losing skid doesn’t help their chances in this game. The International Friendly 2018 odds have France as the easy favourite, with Asian Handicap betting at us giving Uruguay a huge plus handicap just to even the playing field.

However, I beg to differ on this one. While Uruguay’s recent performances and results aren’t encouraging, their display against Brazil showed they are slowly regaining their form. They played with plenty of passion, and that should count for something here.

Home-court advantage will give France some edge, but there are still plenty of question marks that only the game can answer.

I think the two teams will score, but I predict it will finish in a draw—perhaps 1-1.

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Rapid progress surprises Koeman

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said he was surprised by how far his side had come in a short space of time following their 2-0 Nations League victory against France.

The Dutch failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup but have been revitalised by former Everton and Southampton boss Koeman.

They stunned the 2018 World Cup winners and will advance to next June's Nations League finals if they draw in Gelsenkirchen against Germany on Monday.

Koeman's team are 14/5 to draw with Germany, who have been relegated as a result of the Netherlands' victory against Les Bleus, and 3/1 to beat the 2014 World Cup winners, who were knocked out at the group stage in Russia this summer.

"We have shown we have broken the slump but I did not expect that we would be so much better through 90 minutes," said Koeman after the win in Rotterdam.

"I also did not expect that this team would be as far in their reading of a match. We have shown on such a night that we have made enormous steps. From the beginning to the end we played really well."

Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring just before half time and Memphis Depay added a late penalty to put the seal on the Netherlands' triumph.

Koeman's team beat Germany 3-0 last month in the Nations League and are 10/1 to win the competition outright, while England can be backed at 7/1 and Spain at 10/1.

UEFA Nations League: Holland Get Their Swagger Back!

Netherlands 2-0 France

That’s what they call Double Dutch!

This UEFA Nations League result will do wonders for Oranje who played with a swagger and style comparable to many of the Dutch greats of yesteryear.

They have endured four years of misery since Louis van Gaal guided them to a third-place finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But this morale-boosting scoreline against the world champions, fresh on the back of an emphatic win over the 2014 world champions, has put the country on a high again.

It also surprised many us fans that went against many UEFA Nations League 2018 betting odds, not to mention my pre-match betting tip.

Highlights of the game

Few inside the De Kuip in Rotterdam could begrudge the Dutch national team this victory.

In fact, if not for French skipper Hugo Lloris, the winning margin would have been wider.

And there can few better times to score than when Holland did find a way past Lloris.

Firstly, a minute before half-time, after he parried a Ryan Babel effort, Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum pounced from close range on the rebound.

Then, deep into stoppage time at the end of the contest, Moussa Sissoko’s poor touch let in Frenkie de Jong who the Spurs man then fouled in the penalty area — and up stepped a rejuvenated Memphis Depay to seal the points.

Wijnaldum and Depay had gone closest from the outset. Although the French, missing the injured Paul Pogba but backed by a vociferous away support, had their own moments.

Jasper Cillessen denied Antoine Griezmann early on during a rare French foray and Babel, sporting a bright red hairstyle, headed a Blaise Matuidi snapshot off the line.

Matuidi and Steven Nzonzi both saw efforts blocked but Holland had the clear edge. Moments after Babel had been denied, Wijnaldum broke the deadlock.

After the restart Babel (again), Virgil van Dijk and Denzel Dumfries came closest to adding a second. Lloris was the only reason Didier Deschamp’s men kept in touch.

For a brief time, it did look like his heroics and some late French pressure may force an equaliser, but Holland held firm.

In the closing stages, a Lloris fingertip save kept out de Jong. The young Ajax starlet was stopped unfairly moments later as Depay nonchalantly dinked the ball over Lloris from the resulting spot-kick – one of the UEFA Nations League 2018 highlights so far.

It was just rewarding for Ronaldo Koeman’s men who had come out of the blocks with greater energy from the start and were rewarded with a result which further increases home belief in the national side.

It was also another display from Depay, which showed why van Gaal signed the promising young talent after he left Holland for Manchester United.

It remains a mystery to many why it did not quite work out for the now 24 year-old at Old Trafford. Indeed it was the right move at the wrong time for a player who is now shining for Lyon in Lique 1.

He is certainly flying now.

So are Holland.

The future is bright. Perhaps it’s Oranje!

Dutch fans are more than happy to get the UEFA Nations League win against France

Dutch fans excitedly waiting for the Netherlands’ match against France

Key statistics

This result ended France’s 15 match unbeaten run. It also relegated Germany from the group (Group A1), although it is hardly critical as far as Euro 2020 qualifying is concerned.

Holland are the first side to have beaten Les Bleus since they were crowned world champions in July.

This was Wijnaldum’s 10th international goal.

It also means he has scored for Holland in successive games for the first time in 20 games.

This was Depay’s 23rd goal (combined for club and country) in the calendar year.

In total, he has been directly involved in 41 goals in 52 matches for club and country in 2018, which includes 23 goals and 18 assists.

Top of Form

What’s next?

Holland now travel to arch rivals, and what could be a wound-up Germany, in Gelsenkirchen where a draw would see them win the group.

That would take Koeman’s side into next June’s Nations League finals – at the expense of France, who had only needed a point here to seal top spot.

The winners of each group are also guaranteed a Euro 2020 play-off place if they fail to progress from qualification next year.

France are back in action in an international friendly at home to Uruguay.

Those games round off 2018 for both nations.

Their 2019 fixtures will be announced in due course.

 

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UEFA Nations League: Koeman Plans to Lift the Oranje Nation

Netherlands vs France

The world champions are virtually home and hosed as far as the UEFA Nations League is concerned.

Very few us fans or tipsters would predict them finishing in anything but the top spot in Group A1.

Nonetheless, should the Netherlands manage to upset France in Rotterdam, it would provide one of the UEFA Nations League 2018 news stories to date.

Talking Points

The Netherlands have already shown they can beat the best on home soil. While a closer game than the scoreline suggested, last month’s 3-0 victory over Germany was proof of that.

Now, they need to win again to maintain their hopes of winning the group.

France are keen to maintain their dominant form when they head to UEFA Nations League

France players lift the trophy after their 4-2 win against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup

France only need a draw to progress and, in theory, would then have a more straightforward passage to Euro 2020.

The atmosphere inside the Stade De Kuip on Friday night will certainly be lively as the favourite son of Dutch football, Ronald Koeman, tries to restore the good days and return his nation to the top table of international football.

It’s easy to forget that Koeman has more pedigree than many realise.

He was coached by the legendary Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Guus Hiddink. Furthermore, he remains the only person to have not only played for but also managed the Dutch ‘Big Three’ of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord.

Yet, his own management career has been little more than mediocre, so his job is about strengthening his reputation as much as reinvigorating the poor performances of the national team.

He has placed his faith mainly on youth so far, with the likes of Memphis Depay, Justin Kluivert, Quincy Promes, Denzel Dumfries, Frenkie de Jong and Steven Bergwijn all getting game time as Koeman builds momentum.

Momentum that is much needed after four years of misery since Louis van Gaal guided them to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Then there are the more experienced men shining such as Liverpool duo Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Dutch football has long been tied up with issues of style and identity.

Indeed, the Total Football revolution of the early 1970s under Michels still defines Dutch football, and memories of that continue to shape perceptions of what football ought to be.

However, the grim post-Van Gaal years of failing to qualify for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup have led to much soul-searching. Koeman seems to be lifting spirits again, slowly but surely.

This is a key barometer.

Back to France briefly.

It is this observers’ belief that, while France won a superb World Cup, they did so by being the best of a number of nations where the quality had dropped from the tournament four years previously.

That is not the fault of Didier Deschamps, of course, but does this French team really live up to some of the world champions of the past?

It’s good to talk!

History

Their most recent meeting two months ago went the way of the world champions on their triumphant return to Paris.

Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud netted in a 2-1 win to spark a mini-run which has put them on the brink of sealing top spot in the group.

Of the 27 meetings between these nations, Les Bleus have the edge with 14 wins to Holland’s10 successes and three draws.

Two of those victories came in qualifying for this summer’s World Cup—a tournament the French memorably triumphed while the Oranje were at home watching the action.

Funnily enough, though, the Dutch have not been beaten in their most recent competitive meetings.

In Euro 2000, a tournament the French went on to win, the Netherlands ran out 3-2 winners in the group stage. Fans of a certain vintage will nostalgically remember the goalscorers that night: Patrick Kluivert, Frank de Boer and Bolo Zenden.

Holland also romped to a 4-1 success at Euro 2008, but they were knocked out by Russia in the quarter-finals.

Betting Tip

??
Netherlands vs France 1X2 Draw @ 3.15
November 17, 03:45 (GMT+8)

UEFA Nations League 2018 betting odds give France the edge as expected. The1X2 market has Les Bleus winning at 2.31, with the Dutch backed at 3.00 and the draw at 3.15.

However, I think a draw is a more likely result. Sure enough, there is a certain appeal with Asian Handicap betting for the Netherlands Draw No Bet @ 2.25—whereas France are priced -0.25 @ 2.06.

Over 2.75 goals will also get you odds of 2.08. A low-scoring affair is unlikely given that Total Goal 0-1 is priced at 3.45.

Moreover, a repeat of France’s 2-1 win with correct score will pay out at 8.25.

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Les Bleus without United duo

France boss Didier Deschamps will be without Manchester United duo Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial for the games against Netherlands and Uruguay.

Pogba missed United's 3-1 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday with a thigh injury, while Martial is struggling with a groin problem.

Deschamps has added Tottenham midfielder Moussa Sissoko and Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette to his squad.

France are 13/10 to win their Nations League match against the Dutch in Amsterdam on Friday before taking on Uruguay in a friendly in Paris four days later.

Meanwhile, Ander Herrera has pinpointed United's next two games against Crystal Palace and Southampton as must-win affairs.

Jose Mourinho's team have slipped to eighth in the Premier League table after losing the Manchester derby and are 7/2 to finish in the top four this season.

"I think, until the first goal, they were better. Then, after, we had some good moments, but I think the second goal killed us," Herrera said.

"There are things we will take from this game and things we need to improve, but there is no time to cry. We're already thinking about Crystal Palace.

"I have already been checking the next few weeks – we have Palace at home and Southampton away, and there are some games between the top-six teams. If we want to be in the top four soon, we have to win the next games."

United are 4/11 to beat Crystal Palace on 24th November.