Early Ligue 1 Power Rankings

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Early Ligue 1 Power Rankings

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    We are now less than three weeks away from the start of the 2014/15 Ligue 1 season and it is shaping up to be an absolute firecracker of a campaign. Morale is high after France’s excellent showing at the World Cup in Brazil. Teams are rebuilding, and we have some big-name clubs back in the league…well sort of.

    All the buzz so far has surrounded the players that Paris Saint-Germain have brought in, and the many rumours regarding who they might bring in, and down in the French Riviera, the focus has been on the players that challengers Monaco might lose.

    Elsewhere there is the constant confusion over which 20 teams will actually start the new campaign in Ligue 1 or Ligue 2. RC Lens are appealing against the DNCG’s decision to stop their promotion due to failure to provide assurances over their funding for the new season, and the doubts over where they will play their home games during the reconstruction of the Stade Felix Bollaert.

    FC Sochaux waits in the wings to hear what division they will play in after finishing 18th in last season’s Le Championnat.

    It is likely to be a fast-paced two-week build-up to the new season. Here are our early power rankings for Ligue 1 as it stands.

20. SM Caen

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    The side from Normandy won promotion on the last day of the Ligue 2 season, and will be pinning their hopes on top scorer Mathieu Duhamel to try and fire them to safety this season.

    Duhamel is 30 years old and has never played in Ligue 1, but he did score 24 goals last season as Caen finished third.

    Coach Patrice Garande has added some experience to balance up what is a young and exciting squad. Julien Feret joins from Rennes, and veteran goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre will be a good addition to the squad.

    They have also signed Florian Raspentino from Marseille. The 25-year-old scored five goals on loan at Bastia last season, and the midfielder/attacker will need to finally deliver on the big stage if Caen have any chance of survival.

    Watch out for the talents of young Dennis Appiah and France U-20 winger Lenny Nangis.

19. Evian Thonon Gaillard

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    The team from Annecy saved themselves last season with a final-day win over FC Sochaux. It had looked like Pascal Dupraz's side were set for the drop until they came up with two wins in the last two games, and it is likely they will have to find that fighting spirit again this season.

    Evian’s signings so far have lacked inspiration, and they will once again be fighting at the bottom of Ligue 1 again this year.

    Fabian Camus, who performed well for Troyes two seasons ago, has joined from Genk in Belgium, but he doesn’t quite make up for the losses of Kevin Berigaud and Modou Sougou.

    Evian are going to struggle for goals this season, with no real recognised strikers in their squad, it could be a long season at the Parc des Sports.

18. EA Guingamp

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    With the relegation fight in Ligue 1 usually going all the way to the wire it’s hard to see the Coupe de France winners successfully juggling European and domestic commitments and staying far enough away from a battle at the bottom.

    Last season, their defence was their biggest success story and they have strengthened in that area again with the signings of Maxime Baca from Lorient and Benjamin Angoua from Valenciennes.

    Their midfield is solid but unspectacular, and the problem for Jocelyn Gourvennec will again be finding someone to consistently put the ball in the back of the net.

    Last season, Mustapha Yatabare was EAG’s top scorer with 11 goals, and as reported by Marie Blanchard of Goal.com (in French), he could be on his way to Qatar before the start of the season.

    Without a 10-goals-a-season forward in the lineup, Guingamp will struggle.

17. RC Lens

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    It’s hard to rank a team when you don’t even know if they will be playing in the division this season.

    The body that monitors and controls the finances of French football (DNCG) rejected Lens' most recent appeal to play in Ligue 1. The problems stem from their inability to prove that they have sufficient funds to cover their €38 million budget for the season.

    They are now going to the CNSOF (Le Comite national olympique et sportif français) to appeal the decision.

    If they are given the green light, they will have significant pulling power to attract some decent names to the club, it just might be too late to keep them out of a relegation battle.

    The current squad has some talent, but reinforcements will be sorely needed. Lens splattered and spluttered over the Ligue 2 finishing line, too often they were unspectacular but efficient, and that won’t cut it in the top division.

16. FC Nantes

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    After a wonderful start to last season, Nantes, in the end, were happy to stay in the division come the end of the season. Despite their 13th-place finish, they were only six points clear of the relegation zone in the end.

    This summer, and for the next two windows, Les Canaris are banned from signing any new players and with the loss of top scorer Filip Djordjevic, the pressure is on the current players to step up and show their worth.

    Michel der Zakarian has a squad full of talented youngsters, the likes of Jordan Veretout, Birama Toure and Francisco Aristeguieta, will need to improve on last season.

    They should have enough to survive another season in Ligue 1, but the lack of new signings could be the crucial factor.

15. FC Metz

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    The club from the Lorraine region are currently one of the most exciting young teams in France. Led by Albert Cartier, in two seasons they have won back-to-back promotions and jumped back up to France’s top table.

    It is a mixture of young vibrant attacking talent and experienced old heads at the back that have got them this far, and it looks like Cartier is going to continue that winning combination in Ligue 1.

    Exciting young midfielder Cheick Doukoure has joined from Lorient, plus the addition of two relatively unknown South Americans in attacker Juan Manuel Falcon and defender Jose Luis Palomino make them an interesting prospect.

    Metz's most exciting feature is the young talent the club already has in place, players that started this journey in the Championnat National and now get a chance to impress in Ligue 1.

    Diafra Sakho, Yeni Ngbakoto, Romain Metanire and Benjamin Cornet are just a few names to watch out for.

    They might still struggle to stay in the division, but they are going to be an exciting watch while doing it.

14. FC Lorient

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    The best news for FC Lorient this summer has been that top-scorer Vincent Aboubakar is still at the club. Les Merlus are known for selling their best players for a good price, but so far the Cameroonian forward stays, and that gives them every chance this season.

    If they can avoid selling any more of their starters before the new campaign, they have every chance at a mid-table finish. Captain Bruno Ecuele-Manga, young Raphael Guerreiro at left-back, the exciting Alain Traore and veteran striker Jeremie Aliadiere will be crucial to Lorient’s success.

    If all four, plus Aboubakar stay at the club beyond the end of the transfer window, added to the signing of young forward Benjamin Jeannot, and it could be a decent season for new boss Sylvain Ripoll.

13. OGC Nice

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    This is such an important season for Nice and coach Claude Puel. After an amazing first season that saw them finish fifth in the league, the last campaign wasn’t as memorable despite the opening of their new Allianz Riviera stadium.

    Les Aiglons only finished two points from the drop, and if Puel wants to continue with his project, he needs results.

    The talent is there. Defensively they are a little weak, with the loss of Nemanja Pejcinovic to Lokomotiv Moscow, but with talented players like Eric Bautheac, Valentin Eysseric, Neal Maupay and Alexy Bosetti, Nice should finish much higher than last season’s 17th place.

    If Puel can add a couple of experienced defenders to the current squad, it could be a very good season.

12. SC Bastia

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    It’s all change again in Corsica this summer, nine players that had an impact on the first team have already left the club, along with legendary coach Frederic Hantz.

    Former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain player Claude Makelele has taken over the hot seat and will embark on his coaching debut while trying to bed in a whole host of new signings.

    Floyd Ayite and Mathieu Peybernes come in with Ligue 1 experience. Young strike Junior Tallo scored seven goals while on loan at AC Ajaccio last season and Makelele will hope for the same this season.

    Bastia’s season is extremely hard to judge until we get a look at how the new boss will put together his new-look squad. However, SCB are always a tough side to beat on the island of Corsica, and this will go a long way towards their mid-table finish.

11. Montpellier HSC

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    Only a handful of players remain from the side that won the 2011/12 French league title. The departure of Remy Cabella to Newcastle United signals the end of the attacking talent that was mostly responsible for their first-ever title.

    Those heady heights now seem like a lifetime away and Montpellier are slowly trying to rebuild. Cabella’s 14 goals have been replaced by striker Kevin Berigaud who got 10 for Evian last season.

    Paul Lasne adds some steel and versatility to the midfield and Roland Courbis will hope Bryan Dabo’s experiences at Blackburn will have made him a better player.

    Now is the time for Anthony Mounier, Morgan Sanson and Karim Ait-Fana to step up as the new leaders of this team.

10. Stade de Reims

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    Last season was very impressive from Hubert Fournier and his Stade de Reims side. So impressive that Fournier has moved on to Lyon and their best performers have all attracted attention from other clubs.

    Young centre-back Antoine Conte has joined from Paris Saint-Germain, winger Benjamin Moukandjo from Nancy and experienced centre-back Gregory Bourillon comes in from Lorient.

    It leaves new boss Jean-Luc Vasseur with a varied and fairly decent squad. More will be expected from young forward Nicolas de Preville after he enjoyed a great second half of last season.

    Reims have a good group of players all aged around 24-25 years old, the pick of the bunch is Prince Oniangue, who scored 10 goals from midfield last season.

    The continual improvement from Oniangue, plus an impressive team ethic should leave them in a good position this season.

9. Toulouse FC

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    Toulouse are one of the most frustrating sides in Ligue 1. You never know what you are going to get from Le Tefece. Something similar to last season’s ninth-place finish would be a great achievement.

    The future of Serge Aurier is still up in the air, although a move to PSG looks inevitable, reports Joe Krishnan of The Independent. His departure would be a big blow to coach Alain Casanova, but he is not irreplaceable.

    Upfront, there will be pressure on the duo of Wissam Ben Yedder and Martin Braithwaite; they combined for 23 league goals last season, anything above that would definitely help the club this year.

    They also still have the talents of Colombian midfielder Abel Aguilar, Serbian defender Uros Spajic and Guinean left-back Issiaga Sylla. The form and continued development of this trio will define the season that Toulouse might enjoy.

8. Girondins de Bordeaux

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    Now begins a new chapter at one of France’s biggest and most prestigious clubs. World Cup-winner Willy Sagnol has taken over at the club after Francis Gillot left the position.

    It is an exciting time and a new experience for everyone at the club. Sagnol has already put his stamp on the team with the signing of talented midfielder Wahbi Khazri from Bastia.

    He has also brought back Emiliano Sala and Hadi Sacko from loan moves. The two forwards impressed in Ligue 2 for Niort and Le Havre respectively, and now Sagnol will possibly give them the chance to impress and blossom in Ligue 1.

    It could be a tough year for Les Girondins, but they hope that Sagnol can use his experience as a player and as coach of the Under-21 national team, to lead Bordeaux to a successful season.

7. Olympique Lyonnais

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    It seems like a lot of sides are starting new eras in Ligue 1 this season. With Remi Garde leaving the club, the impressive Hubert Fournier comes in, his mission is to help Lyon’s group of talented youngsters progress and impress.

    His toughest first test is to try and keep Alexandre Lacazette, Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons at the club. With that talented trio at the club, it gives Lyon a solid base for the season.

    Lindsay Rose from Valenciennes is a great young signing, but with Lyon continuing to struggle financially, they need to hope a couple of their young prospects are able to make the grade over the next 12 months.

    Lyon should be good enough to finish in the top five, but they need everyone to play at their very top level.

6. Saint-Etienne

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    Things have been a little quiet at the Stade Geoffrey Guichard this summer. The departure of Kurt Zouma to Chelsea was agreed back in January, so that hasn’t been a huge blow, although no replacement has come in so far.

    The only major signing has been Lorient’s Kevin Monnet-Paquet, the exciting winger is another talented addition to the Les Verts squad, but it leaves them light in a couple of important positions.

    Upfront they are still relatively light. Without a huge amount of money available to bring in a striker, Christophe Galtier will rely on his midfield to provide the support and goals again this season.

    This could be Saint-Etienne’s downfall. They still haven’t replaced the goals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from two seasons ago, and the gap is becoming more and more noticeable.

    If they had another 15-goals striker in the squad, they would be pushing for a spot in the top three. Right now top five would be a great return.

5. Stade Rennes

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    Philippe Montanier is preparing Rennes for his second season in charge, and he has been extremely busy this summer.

    Six players have joined the first-team squad, four players have returned from loan deals and eight players have left. That sort of turnaround makes it hard to predict at this stage, what sort of side we are going to see from Rennes.

    Players like Paul-Georges Ntep, Ola Toivonen, Kamil Grosicki and Abdoulaye Doucoure remain in what is a young and very talented side, and if the new players settle in well, they could be serious contenders in the push for places in the Europa League.

4. Lille OSC

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    After finishing third in Ligue 1 last season, Lille will be hoping to build upon that success this campaign. Coach Rene Girard will have to hope that his defence plays just as well as they did last year, but to record more than 21 clean sheets would be phenomenal if not impossible.

    Upfront is where the big question marks are. Lille could start the season without top scorers Salomon Kalou and Divock Origi if transfer rumours come to fruition, per Vaishali Bhardwaj of The Metro and Sky Sports respectively.

    If Lille can hold on to Origi, they have the tools to do well this season, but without someone who can score more than 10 goals, the defence will become even more important than ever.

3. Olympique de Marseille

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    The arrival of Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa is the cause from some great excitement in Ligue 1 this summer and not just for Marseille fans.

    The legendary coach is set to transform the current Marseille side and mould it in his vision. He has already made a couple of key signings, including Romain Alessandrini from Rennes and Michy Batshuayi from Standard Liege.

    New faces, a new attitude and a brand new stadium make Marseille a very exciting prospect this season. If Bielsa can get the best out of this squad, they could go all the way back to the Champions League.

    France needs a strong Marseille challenge. They are the biggest supported club in the country and it would be great to see them back towards the top of the table.

2. AS Monaco

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    Monaco may have to start the season without two of their three major signings from last season. James Rodriguez looks to be close to moving to Real Madrid, per Tom Sheen in The Independent.

    The rumours over Radamel Falcao’s future also refuse to go away, reports Simon Jones for the Daily Mail.

    It would be a huge blow in Monaco’s attempts to try and challenge PSG for the title this season, and they will be looking over their shoulders rather than chasing the champions.

    Money from the sale of one or both of their Colombian stars should allow Monaco to strengthen, but with only two weeks to go, new boss Leandro Jardim still doesn’t have any new faces to work with, and that creates the biggest doubt over Monaco’s ability to push for a Ligue 1 title.

1. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Nothing but a small miracle will stop Paris Saint-Germain from picking up a third consecutive Ligue 1 title this season.

    The signing of David Luiz, despite his collapse of form during the World Cup, will strengthen the PSG defence in the league. People may have their doubts over his ability, but he is more than capable to dominate in domestic games.

    PSG’s rivals aren’t strong enough to make a significant challenge to their throne, and only coach Laurent Blanc and his players can possibly beat themselves.

    Pressure is on for them to perform in the Champions League, but they have enough quality around the squad to compete on multiple fronts.