LIGUE 1 SEASON PREVIEW: Mauricio Pochettino’s all-star PSG side are once again the favourites but Lille and Monaco can push them all the way again… and keep an eye out for Marseille and Nice this season
- The new Ligue 1 season begins on Friday with Lille the reigning champions
- Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG have built an all-star squad for the new season
- Lyon and Monaco pushed Lille close last term and can do so again this term
- Marseille and Nice could well be the surprise packages at the top of the table
The French top-flight is often branded as a ‘farmers league’ due to its lack of competitiveness – but this year promises to be a season like no other.
For only the second time in the last nine years, the Ligue 1 season begins with Paris Saint-Germain not coming into the campaign as reigning champions.
A slow start under Thomas Tuchel was punished by early leaders Lille, who managed to hold off the perennial title winners by the time Mauricio Pochettino had settled in at PSG.
But the off-field drama has almost eclipsed the surprise title win by Les Dogues last season. The battle for the division’s TV rights involving Canal+, BeIN Sport and Amazon Prime has left clubs in the dark over the extent of their finances in a coronavirus-affected world.
The French Ligue 1 season begins on Friday with Lille the current reigning champions
Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG will need to be at their best if they want to regain their title back
High-profile player sales and bank balancing is expected in France’s top-flight to cover costs – which should give mega-rich PSG an advantage like they’ve never experienced before.
Yet PSG’s shock 1-0 loss to Lille in the French Super Cup proves Pochettino’s pursuit of a first ever league title in management may not be as straightforward as he would hope. So where do we stand ahead of Friday’s opening day of the season?
Despite Lille having both hands on the title and determined to continue their rise up the table, PSG are still the heavy favourites to regain their crown – partly due to their incredible summer business.
Lille claimed the first big win of the season by beating PSG in the French Super Cup last week
Pochettino’s men have snapped up multiple Champions League winner Sergio Ramos, Euro 2020 player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma and ex-Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum – all on free transfers.
Along with the £60million signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi, the very core of the PSG squad has been revamped ahead of the new season with serious winners – and the summer spending could well continue.
PSG are widely expected to bid £43m for Manchester United and World Cup-winning midfielder Paul Pogba with the 28-year-old arguably the closest he’s ever been to leaving Old Trafford since he rejoined the club five years ago.
Lionel Messi could be another free transfer signing after his departure from Barcelona this week, but it is set be a long and drawn-out process this summer.
But likes of Sergio Ramos (left) and Gianluigi Donnarumma (right) have joined PSG this year
Achraf Hakimi is another major signing by Pochettino’s PSG this summer for a £60m price tag
The task of keeping hold of their current players has also been largely successful since the end of last season. Brazilian star Neymar committed to a new contract in May, while Mauro Icardi is set to remain at the club despite interest from Roma.
There are still doubts over the future of Kylian Mbappe, who has only one year left on his contract, but the current expectation is that PSG will hold on to their star man this summer and attempt to convince the 22-year-old to commit to a new deal during the season.
PSG’s transfer activity has been completely different to Lille’s – who have suffered a mass exodus of players and staff since their title win was confirmed.
The most shocking of which was the departure of head coach Christophe Galtier, who declared his ‘time was up’ at the French champions and has since joined rivals Nice.
Champions Lille have a new coach in former Guingamp coachJ ocelyn Gourvennec (left)
Former Guingamp boss Jocelyn Gourvennec, who led his former side to a shock 2014 Coupe de France title before relegating them five years later, was named as Galtier’s surprise replacement and already has the French Super Cup title to his name in Lille colours.
On the playing side of things, Boubakary Soumare has joined Leicester while goalkeeper Mike Maignan moved to AC Milan to replace Donnarumma.
The key core of the Lille side has taken a major hit – with no replacements coming in as of yet.
Yet there is still reason to be positive from a Lille point of view. Despite constant reports linking them with moves away, Les Dogues have, at present, managed to keep hold of star striker Jonathan David, midfielder Renato Sanches and defender Sven Botman.
Lille have managed to keep hold of striker Burak Yilmaz (left) and Renato Sanches (right)
The experience of Jose Fonte and Burak Yilmaz at both ends of the pitch will be important – both were key in driving Lille to the title and there’s no reason why they cannot do so again.
But could another top French side act as additional competition to the all-star PSG side?
Lyon looked promising at one stage last season and snapped up former Dortmund coach Peter Bosz in a smart appointment, but the loss of star striker Memphis Depay to Barcelona on a free transfer is a nightmare move.
The Dutchman scored 20 goals and added 12 assists last season and was the talisman and captain up front for OL and while Moussa Dembele is back from his Atletico Madrid loan, there is a clear loss of creativity up front.
Peter Bosz is the new manager of Lyon who are looking to replace Memphis Depay’s goals
Moussa Dembele is at Lyon after his Atletico Madrid loan while Houssem Aouar is still there
Outgoings have been regular at Lyon this summer with zero new faces so far, which hints at financial trouble behind the scenes.
Joachim Andersen, albeit on loan at Fulham, has moved to Crystal Palace for £15m to raise funds and Houssem Aouar could join him out the exit door this summer for a cut-down price.
The opposite could be said for Monaco, who have been very busy in the transfer window to add to their attacking talent at the club.
Young winger Ismail Jakobs, 21, is a smart signing from German side Cologne and could add to the hefty goal tallies that Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland notched up this season.
Monaco are hoping Kevin Volland (middle) and Wissam Ben Yedder can fire in the goals again
After shipping a great number of goals in previous seasons, Niko Kovac’s side finally have a goalkeeper they can rely on.
Alexander Nubel is widely expected to be Manuel Neuer’s long-term replacement at Bayern Munich and his loan move to the south of France could be the first signs of things to come.
Marseille, meanwhile, have also been busy in the transfer market. Ahead of his first full season in charge, Jorge Sampaoli has been smart in the transfer window and has brought in several youngsters to create a potential exciting squad this term.
Arsenal duo William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi are clever loan signings and both have something to prove, as does former Leicester winger Cengiz Under – who has also moved on a temporary deal.
Marseille have been very busy in the window with several young arrivals this summer
Nice have also been busy in the market with Justin Kluivert one of Christope Galtier’s arrivals
Brazilian midfielder Gerson is the high-profile permanent arrival from Flamengo in a £22million deal, while Arkadiusz Milik and Dimitri Payet are the key men up front.
Keep an eye out for Galtier’s Nice too, who are trying to replicate Lille’s success from last season with clever young signings.
Jean-Clair Todibo, Justin Kluivert, Mario Lemina and exciting Dutch winger Calvin Stengs have all moved this summer, and will encircle 21-year-old striker Amine Gouiri who ended last season with 16 goals.
Anyone thinking PSG will simply stroll to the Ligue 1 title this season? Think again.
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