Lille OSC v FC Nantes – Stade Pierre-Mauroy at 14:00 Live at BT Sport

Sleeping giants Lille have been turning heads over the past six months following the takeover of billionaire investor and Lotus F1 Team owner, Gerard Lopez. With the stated desire of winning with stylish football, Marcelo Bielsa was courted and agreed to take charge of the club for 2017/18 way back in February.

Having finished in the top-eight in each Ligue 1 season since 2008, the 2010/11 champions dropped to 11th last term and for much of the first half of the campaign were languishing in the relegation places, often boring Ligue 1 fans silly with a tedious and laborious approach.

But Les Nordistes have undergone the biggest spending spree in their history, forking out £55 million – almost £30m on three young Brazilian players and another £9 million on a couple of promising Portuguese starlets – as the club invested heavily in youth, ambition, and energy.

Lille investing in excitement

Santos midfielder Thiago Maia is arguably the standout arrival and should excel in Bielsa’s more dynamic and enterprising system. The past few years have seen Lille struggled for goals – the last term only six clubs scored fewer than Les Dogues – but we should expect a vast improvement this time around.

Bielsa’s previous spell in Ligue 1 with Marseille saw matches average more than three goals per-game and many supporters are hoping the Argentine can follow a similar path when Les Nordistes get their campaign underway on Sunday afternoon.

Although Lille only posted the 18th best home record in 2016/17, a significant improvement is expected across the board, even if consistency could be an issue with such a young and inexperienced group. Even so, backing Lille with a -0.5 Asian Handicap hurdle at 2.31 looks well worth a play when Nantes arrives.

Nantes likely to regress

The Canaries suffered a 3-0 reverse to Lille on the final day of last season but still managed to conclude their campaign in a very impressive seventh spot. Having sat in the relegation zone during December, head coach Rene Girard was removed and Sergio Conceicao turned their season around.

But Nantes’ dramatic uplift caught the attention of the continent and Conceicao was tempted away to Porto in the summer. Premier League winning boss Claudio Ranieri was the surprise choice to take the reigns and the club’s limited transfer activity suggests a season of struggle could follow.

The Canaries were one of the most effective away sides last term and returned W6-D3-L1 from their trips to bottom-half sides but a lack of firepower could prove their undoing as they undergo another transformation. Eleven of Nantes’ 15 losses in 2016/17 came ‘to nil’ and the visitors might not pack the punch required to go toe-to-toe with Lille this weekend.

With Nantes managing just two points from their trips to the top-11 last season, arriving with a relatively unchanged squad, a new head coach that doesn’t fit the previous regime’s strategy and having failed to score in their last three pre-season games, I’m happy to oppose the Canaries here.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Lille -0.5 at 2.31

By @MarkOHaire

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