Dante's peak - Veteran Brazilian steals the show in Ligue 1 curtain raiser

Dante - Nice
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Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria also made star turns as the French top flight returned this past weekend

After finishing seventh in Ligue 1 last season, the expectation is that Patrick Vieira’s Nice will struggle to match that achievement this time around.

In the midst of a takeover, the club’s summer transfer business has ground to a standstill, preventing them from signing the replacement for Mario Balotelli that they have been seeking since the Italian left them in January.

But if Vieira does not have a superstar centre-forward he can rely on, he does have the gigantic defensive figure of Dante to lean towards as he learned once more when Les Aiglons got off to a winning start thanks to a dramatic 2-1 home win over Amiens.

At 35, the former Bayern Munich centre-back is playing some of the best football of his career at the Allianz Riviera, illustrated by the club’s frugal defensive record last season.

There might have been evidence of pre-season rust as Dante dallied on the ball in the build up to the visitors’ equaliser on Saturday, but when it really mattered the 13-time capped Brazil star came to the fore.

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Nice had the onus on them to attack throughout this match, but particularly after Amiens were reduced to 10 men early as Eddy Gnahore was sent off. Such scenarios have not typically been in the wheelhouse of a team that specialises in defensive work, but Christophe Herelle had scrambled them into the lead before Chadrac Akolo coolly levelled in the second half.

With the hosts fumbling for a winner, Dante rose highest to convert a corner five minutes into second-half stoppage time to propel his side to a win that gets their campaign off to the best start possible.

Celebrating the goal, he ripped his top over his head in jubilation – an act that he admits showed how much the moment meant to him and his team-mates after a summer in which they were questioned following embarrassing friendly defeats to Burnley and Wolfsburg.

“I want to apologise for the yellow card, I have to lead by example but there was an explosion in my head,” he said.

If Nice sneaked over the line by a short head, there was an altogether more comfortable success for champions Paris Saint-Germain, who eased to a 3-0 win over Nimes on Sunday, with Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria all on target.

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Similarly, Lyon had got the season off to an impressive start on Friday thanks to a thumping 3-0 away win in Monaco, in which Lucas Tousart rounded off the scoring to achieve an Opta Performance Index score of 91.4 – the third strongest in the whole division. Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay were also on target.

In between times, there were numerous impressive performances, though perhaps the best came from Angers. Not a side necessarily renowned for their slick football, they produced a blistering 12-minute spell in the first half against Bordeaux to secure a 3-1 win, with debutant Mathias Pereira Lage the first player since Neymar in 2017 to both score and assist on their Ligue 1 bow. Unsurprisingly, he was the top performer on the Performance Index with 97.2.

Just below him was Lille new boy Victor Osimhen, who arrived in northern France as a replacement for Rafael Leao. The young Nigerian showed immense promise on debut as he scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over Nantes.

Undoubtedly the biggest opening-weekend shock, however, arrived at Stade Velodrome, where Andre Villas Boas’ Marseille were stunned 2-0 by Reims. Top performer for the visitors was centre forward Boulaye Dia, who got a goal and assist in an impressive display from the Champagne side.

Goalkeeping performance of the weekend, meanwhile, was reserved for Rennes’ Romain Salin, who was expected to become their second-choice goalkeeper after the signing of Edouard Mendy from Reims. After saving a penalty from Montpellier’s Andy Delort and turning a fizzing strike from Keagan Dolly onto the bar in a 1-0 win, he may be difficult to displace.

Fellow European clubs Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg also made satisfactory starts to the domestic season, beating Dijon 2-1 and drawing with Metz 1-1 respectively, while new boys Brest picked up a 1-1 draw with Toulouse.