PARIS: Marcelo Bielsa inflicted a punishing blow on Claudio Ranieri in the battle of big-name coaches as Lille opened their Ligue 1 campaign with a 3-0 win over Nantes on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Second-half goals from Paraguayan Junior Alonso, Nicolas de Preville and Dutch-Moroccan Anwar El Ghazi earned Bielsa a winning return to France two years after walking out of Marseille following the opening game of the 2015/16 season.
“We played with a lot of dynamism, our tempo was very, very high, we made very few mistakes and our goalkeeper was pivotal,” said Argentine Bielsa, 62.
“We’ve been working together for two months and we were desperate to play the first official match.
“It’s far too early to make conclusions about our game, whether that’s the positives or the negatives.”
Ranieri was appointed Nantes coach in June, four months after his sacking by Leicester City, the club he guided to a fairytale Premier League title in 2015/2016.
This was the Italian’s first game in Ligue 1 after he left Monaco in 2014, despite leading them to a second-placed finish behind Paris Saint-Germain.
“I wasn’t surprised by Lille’s performance, they’re a very good team with some very good young players,” said the 65-year-old.
“I think they will have an important say in the title race. They were more motivated than us and that’s no good.
“I want my players to be more motivated. We can lose but we cannot lack motivation or aggression.”
Lille, champions of France in 2011, dominated throughout but proved ineffective in front of goal during the first period.
But that all changed after the break and from the moment Alonso opened the scoring three minutes into the second period with a crisp shot from outside the area, Lille never looked back.
De Preville doubled the advantage midway through the half from the penalty spot after Nicolas Pallois felled Kevin Malcuit in the box.
El-Ghazi put the game to bed just three minutes later, converting a cross from Rominigue Kouame before making an emotional tribute to stricken Dutch compatriot Abdelhak Nouri, who suffered brain damage after collapsing during a pre-season friendly for Ajax.
The victory moved Lille up to second behind Lyon, 4-0 winners over newly promoted Strasbourg on Saturday, in the early table.
Bielsa’s old club Marseille matched his opening result with a comfortable 3-0 win over minnows Dijon, as Cameroon striker Clinton Nj’ie bagged a brace.
Florian Thauvin notched the other goal as three goals in 18 second half minutes settled the affair.
N’jie’s first was a scrappy goal as he stooped to head home Valere Germain’s right-wing cross, only to see the ball come off his shoulder and thigh.
Germain also set up Thauvin to fire home from the center of the box before N’jie lashed home from outside the area on 72 minutes.
In the day’s other match, a Baptiste Guillaume equalizer two minutes from time earned Angers a 2-2 draw at home to Bordeaux.
PSG unveiled world record signing Neymar before their 2-0 win over Amiens at their Parc des Princes home on Saturday in a festive atmosphere.
Champions Monaco got the season underway on Friday night with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Toulouse.