Ligue 1, Week 1 Preview And Fixtures: The Return Of Real Football!

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Zlatan Ibrahimovic #18 of Paris Saint-Germain FC warms up before a game against D.C. United during the World Football Challenge 2012 at RFK Stadium on July 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Top-level club football returns Friday with the kickoff of the Ligue 1 season.

Real football has stunningly come back to us. The first of Europe's big five European leagues to kick off their league season is France's Ligue 1, which gets things started with an entertaining clash on Friday. Defending champions Montpellier open their season against fellow European contenders Toulouse on Friday evening, leading into a loaded Saturday slate.

Montpellier vs. Toulouse

Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. CET

Last year's champions have sold star striker Olivier Giroud and both Younes Belhanda and Marco Estrada are injured. They're probably not even favorites at home against a solid Toulouse side, but betting against Montpellier is never advised. Their title run last year didn't make sense at all, and no one thought they'd recover after selling Tino Costa to Valencia three years ago. Gaetan Charbonnier and Emanuel Herrera attempt to fill the void Giroud has left, but much of the team is still intact because of the promise of Champions League football.

Montpellier are also without Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who is with the France team. Etienne Capoue is out for Toulouse for the same reason. The biggest battle in this game should still be in the center of the park, even in Capoue's absence, with Moussa Sissoko and Joris Marveaux doing battle. Expect these teams to cancel each other out for the most part.

Pick: 1-1 draw

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lorient

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CET

Lorient, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, purchased Alain Traore and Ludovic Giuly to strengthen their team in the summer. Congratulations, Lorient! Paris Saint-Germain bought Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This is in addition to the bajillion awesome players they bought in the previous two transfer windows.

Sadly, Christophe Jallet, Mamadou Sakho and Blaise Matuidi are all off on France duty. That will hurt their chances of cracking PSG's first team more than it will actually hurt PSG. They should probably roll over Lorient.

Pick: 3-0 PSG

St-Etienne vs. Lille

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CET

Some divine power hates Lille. Eden Hazard has left for Chelsea, while all of Mathueu Debuchy, Marvin Martin, Rio Mavuba and Dimitri Payet are away on France duty. Joe Cole has returned from his loan spell as well. They're probably going to have another solid season, but they're in trouble on the road against a solid St-Etienne team that held onto their stars while bringing in some solid reinforcements as well.

Pick: 2-1 St-Etienne

Stade Rennes vs. Olympique Lyonnais

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CET

Even though Lyon were very disappointing last season, they haven't made any changes. Remi Garde is still in charge and no major transfers have been executed, in or out. They're banking on Lille and Montpellier taking a backwards step, and they're probably right to do so. Lyon is the second-best team in Ligue 1 and can probably secure a Champions League place without spending.

Rennes are a solid top-half team that have still managed to keep a hold of Yann M'Vila against all odds. He's one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and, at the Ligue 1 level, he's enough to keep his team in games they have no business being in. Because Lyon is missing four players, including central midfielder Maxime Gonalons due to France duty, this should be one of those games.

Pick: 1-1 draw

Stade de Reims vs. Olympique Marseille

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CET

Marseille replaced Didier Deschamps with Elie Baup in the offseason, and he has the tough task of executing a turnaround for Marseille after a disaster season. The veteran manager captured the Ligue 1 title once with Bordeaux in the late '90s, but has not seen recent success and hasn't actually managed since 2009. Figure out that hire.

L'OM still has a squad full of talent, but a number of their top players are expected to leave before the end of the transfer window. For now, he still has players like Cesar Azpilicueta, Loic Remy, Mathieu Valbuena and the Ayew brothers at his disposal. They'll take the pitch and probably do enough to beat recently promoted side Stade de Reims.

Pick: 1-0 Marseille

Other matches (all Saturday, 3 p.m. ET)

Nancy vs. Brest
Evian vs. Bordeaux
Nice vs. Ajaccio
Sochaux vs. Bastia
Troyes vs. Valenciennes

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