French Ligue 1 season preview
Published: 08.08.12 / Written by: David Gold
Ligue 1 kicks off its 80th season this weekend and it promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in the league´s history.
There have been five different teams winning the championship in the last five years. There is likely to be a sixth different team walking away with the title this time around, but there will be no prizes for guessing who - Paris St Germain.
Last year many thought the Parisians, armed with Qatari cash, would run away with it. They had just embarked on the biggest spending spree in Europe, whilst their rivals barely invested. Yet Montpellier, with the 13th largest budget in the league, won to everyone's surprise - not least their own. This year, they will hope for a repeat, but it seems as unlikely as it was last year that they could even challenge Paris St Germain. They have lost Olivier Giroud for a start, their top scorer, and Emmanuel Herrera has replaced him. They have kept Younes Belhanda but it may be a surprise if Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is still there. The star defender is being chased by AC Milan.
Paris St Germain and Carlo Ancelotti, by contrast, have signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Silva. Last year Ancelotti played without a recognised striker much of the time, preferring an attacking trident of Jeremy Menez, Nene and Javier Pastore. It would be a surprise if he stuck to that this season, with Lavezzi possibly edging ahead of Nene in the queue and Ibrahimovic set to lead the line.
At the back their leaky defence should be shored up to some extent by Silva, who will hope to forge a useful partnership at the back alongside compatriot Alex. It is difficult to see anyone managing to beat Paris St Germain this year. Particularly as many of their rivals have not strengthened significantly.
Lille, the 2011 champions, have lost star man Eden Hazard. They replaced him with Marvin Martin, who could be a useful addition from Sochaux, but has huge shoes to fill. Salomon Kalou adds useful experience and a goal threat. They will hope to forge a good relationship with Nolan Roux and Dmitri Payet, in what is a completely different attack from the one which won the league over a year ago. Djibril Sidibe and Steve Elana are useful signings further back, and Lille look the strongest bet to challenge PSG.
Lyon have had another summer of austerity, clearing out names and bringing in none of note once more for Remi Garde. But Lyon were prolific going forward last season and have a host of talented youngsters, not least Anthony Lacazette, Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons. Their big question mark is in defence, where they have been leaky in recent times. Garde's team should mount a challenge, but will struggle without improvements to the back line.
The champions, Montpellier, will surely be up there, but whether they can win the league again this year is doubtful. It would arguably be a bigger shock if they do so for a second time. Whilst Marseille are looking to bounce back from a tumultuous campaign. They finished last year in mid table after enduring a miserable run of form mid-season. A Coupe de la Ligue triumph at least meant they qualified for Europe, but Didier Deschamps has now left, to be replaced by Elie Baup, and he will find he has a talented squad of players with whom he can forge a good team from. If he can do that, Marseille could again be contenders.
Further down, St Etienne hope their youthful, talented squad coached by Cristophe Galtier, one of the best young managers in Europe, can push for Europe after missing out last season, and Bordeaux will aim to continue where they left off last time around, having qualified for Europe following a good run of late season form.
Always intriguing is the Ligue 1 relegation battle. There are usually a host of teams dragged into this annual late season procession and scramble for safety. This year is likely to be no different. Evian will hope to steer clear of the drop after a superb first year in Ligue 1 last time. Reims and Bastia, both promoted, should have the quality to stay clear of relegation but fellow promoted side Troyes will have more difficulty keeping their heads above water. AJ Ajaccio did well to survive last term but may not be so lucky this time, whilst Brest hope that a change of manager will help them avoid the last day battle for survival. Nice could be threatened by the drop again, despite bringing in Claude Puel, whilst Valenciennes may also struggle. Lorient should have enough quality to survive, whilst Nancy have the know how to stay clear of the dreaded drop into Ligue 2.
It all adds up to a fascinating season in Europe's most competitive league. Just a shame that the title race will be a near certain formality.