Champions League Analysis: James Eastham rates the Ligue 1 challenge

France and Marseille winger Dimitri Payet
France winger Dimitri Payet will be key to Marseille's chances of doing well

France have three representatives in this season's competition and James Eastham says the smart bet may not be the team that you think...

"In Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin Marseille have two experienced match-winners that are determined to star in this competition after years of operating on the fringes of the highest level of the club game."

Best Bet: Back Marseille to qualify from Group C @ 7/42.76

PSG sailing in troubled waters

PSG are Ligue 1's flagship side and as 2019-20 Champions League finalists you might expect them to make it out of Group H ahead of Manchester United, Red Bull Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir while barely breaking sweat.

Paris are not short of problems on the eve of the start of the group phase, however: manager Thomas Tuchel and Leonardo have been involved in a high-public and very public spat over PSG's summer transfer policy, star player Neymar (pictured below) has already been sent off and faced a domestic disciplinary hearing while PSG have dropped more points (six) than they would normally expect to have done by this stage of the Ligue 1 season.

Compared to last season PSG look weaker, too

Thiago Silva has departed, left-back Juan Bernat has been ruled out for several months by serious injury, and it remains to be seen whether the deadline-day - shall we call them panicky? - buys of Rafinha and Moise Kean bear fruit.

It's not worth opposing PSG to make it out of the group phase: over the six matches they should still have enough qualify to reach the knockout rounds, and the price of 5/71.7 on PSG to win Group H looks fair. But all's not well in the French capital, meaning there could be some dropped points along the way.

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Marseille the smart bet

Last year's Ligue 1 runners-up Marseille have a small squad and that could be an issue as they look to combine a reasonable challenge near the top of the Ligue 1 table with a Champions League campaign during what will be a busy autumn schedule. But behind Group C runaway favourites Manchester City, are they really the rank outsiders the market suggests in relation to FC Porto in what's likely to be the race for second place?

FC Porto are 4/51.83 in the 'To Qualify' market whereas Marseille are 9/52.78. It's easy to see Porto as the more experienced European campaigners of the two yet it's worth recalling that Porto failed to make it through the qualifying rounds last season and then reached only the Round of 32 of the Europa League while Marseille were in the Europa League final just a couple of seasons ago with a side containing several players still on their books.

Marseille's squad lacks depth but they have little to envy of Porto when you compare the two clubs' ideal starting line-ups. In Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin Marseille have two experienced match-winners determined to make their mark in this competition after years of operating on the fringes of the highest level in the club game. Marseille look one of the canniest selections in the group phase.

Rennes to provide thrills and spills

France's third representatives, Rennes, are rank outsiders in Group E and frankly the Bretons deserve that status. This is Rennes' first-ever appearance in the competition and their chances of causing a shock by sneaking into one of the top two positions ahead of either Chelsea or Sevilla appear slim.

Rennes ought to provide plenty of entertainment along the way, though: £24 million deadline-day signing Jeremy Doku is a star-in-waiting, and it was a remarkable coup for Rennes to snap up the 18-year-old winger in the face of considerable interest from more illustrious parties. Centre-forward Sehrou Guirassy has joined from Amiens for £14 million from Amiens and has the quality to be a handful at this level.

Defensively, Rennes look less than secure: goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has moved to Chelsea, and it remains to be seen whether ex-Juventus man Daniele Rugani and Nayef Aguerd, both of whom joined the club during the most recent transfer window, will form a solid centre-back partnership.

Under hardly any pressure given their rank outsiders status and with several players looking to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage of all, however, Rennes should be fun to watch. Expect plenty of action at both ends of the field when they play, with high goals the potential route to profit on their games.

UEFA Champions League: UEFA Champions League Group C (To Qualify)

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Sunday 1 November, 11.12pm

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