Strengths and Weaknesses of Paris St. Germain's Ligue 1 Title Rivals
There are only 10 days to go until Paris Saint-Germain start the defence of their Ligue 1 crown at the Stade Auguste Delaune against Stade de Reims. All expectations will be for Laurent Blanc’s side to kick off the season with a win, and with the other 18 teams not playing their first games until the Saturday, any side looking to push the champions for the title could be playing catch-up from the very first start.
Monaco were PSG’s main title rival last season and they’ve had a tough summer. There is more pressure on them to repeat a second place finish than there is on PSG to make it three consecutive titles.
It is hard to see from where else a challenge could come from this season. The league is full of some very excellent teams but none of them look to have the tools to realistically challenge for the title.
However, this is what makes Ligue 1 so special. No one predicted Montpellier would finish in the top five for the 2011/12 season, and they went on to beat PSG and pick up their first-ever French title.
Here are the strength and weaknesses of Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 title rivals.
Last summer the Monaco project looked alive and well. The signings of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho lifted Claudio Ranieri’s side up into a position to challenge PSG.
Ranieri and James have gone. Joao Moutinho’s first season flattered to deceive and Falcao’s injury in January stopped him from really settling into his new club in his first year.
Now there are doubts over Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev’s desire to push Monaco further and recruitments have been kept to a minimum this summer.
All eyes will be on Falcao and if he can spark a partnership with Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, but for Monaco to challenge, they will need to rely on a very exciting defensive unit.
Aymen Abdennour comes in on a permanent move from Toulouse. He has a couple of years’ experience in France and will be looking forward to learning beside Portuguese veteran Ricardo Carvalho.
On the left, Layvin Kurzawa will be looking to build on his wonderful season last campaign. He is hoping to break into the France national side and only a great year for Monaco will give him that chance.
With Jeremy Toulalan, Mounir Obbadi and James Rodriguez in the centre of the pitch, the Monaco midfield had the ideal blend of experience, creativity and excitement.
Two out of those three are now gone and new boss Leandro Jardim will have to rely on the youth of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Tiemoue Bakayoko beside the experience of Toulalan and Joao Moutinho.
There are so many tough midfield battles ahead for ASM, with the players they have at the moment they could find it difficult to compete in the middle of the park.
Forwards like Falcao and Berbatov need service and if they lose the midfield battle, the forwards could be starved of opportunities.
Lille missed out on playing in Europe last season, but they used this disappointment to push on in the league campaign.
Under the guidance of former Montpellier coach, Rene Girard, they exceeded all expectations to finish in third place. Champions back in 2010/11, it would take a minor miracle for Les Dogues to repeat this feat, but the northerners will never stop believing.
Once again, Lille’s ability to gain points will come from their defensive stubbornness. It would be amazing if they could keep 21 clean sheets again, but anything close to that number would be deemed a success.
The back four of last season is still intact, plus Girard has added former French under-21 captain Sebastien Corchia to the squad. He can play at right-back or slightly further forward and adds versatility to the right flank.
If as a team, you scored fewer goals than Lille last season, there’s a good chance you were in the relegation battle. No one in the top half of the table scored fewer times than Lille and that doesn’t look like changing this season.
Salomon Kalou was lucky to score 16 goals, he generally had a poor season, and his contributions to the team and the attack were nothing more than sub-par.
Divock Origi, although he has signed for Liverpool, via BBC Sport, comes back to Lille on loan. He will want to have a huge season before moving to England. With Kalou and Nolan Roux mis-firing, he should get plenty of chances.
Olympique de Marseille
As the other contenders fighting for scraps at the PSG table have failed to improve, murmurings around the Stade Velodrome are fairly positive at the moment.
Well, apart from the fact that Marseille won’t play their first home game in the new stadium after a dispute with the local council.
Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa has come in to the club and he is looking to change the whole fabric of France’s most supported club.
There is no way OM can play as bad as last season, Bielsa won’t allow it and there is a chance they could push into the top three again this season.
Under both Elie Baup and Jose Anigo, the Marseille attack failed to click last season, but the talent is there.
With Romain Alessandrini and Michy Batshuayi added to Andre-Pierre Gignac, Florian Thauvin, Andre Ayew and Dimitri Payet, the options are there for Bielsa to create a very free-flowing and wonderfully dangerous front line.
If the former Chile boss can get these six working together, both on and off the pitch, he has the chance at creating a devastating attack.
Defensively Marseille could struggle. Last season, doubts crept in over the ability of both Steve Mandanda in goal and centre-back Nicolas N’Koulou.
Both were expected to move on, but their poor seasons have left Bielsa with no choice but to keep them at the club. The defence is definitely not as strong as the attack, and it will take a lot of organisation from Bielsa, plus the protection of a young, vibrant but inexperienced midfield to stop the back line from being exposed.
More to Play for Than Just the Title
The unfortunate state of Ligue 1 at the moment means that Paris Saint-Germain doesn’t actually have any genuine title rivals at the moment. They will likely stroll to the championship at a canter and the only hope for the chasing pack is that they get caught up in the glory of pursuing success in the Champions League.
It’s not just because PSG are so strong, which they are, it is also down to the quality of the opposition. Outside of PSG and perhaps still Monaco, the gap between the other 18 clubs isn’t that wide.
Ligue 1 is still a division where on their day, anyone can beat anyone, but that unfortunately means that teams struggle for the consistency needed to fight at the very top of the table.
Below PSG in first place there is so much to play for in the league. The two other Champions League places are up for grabs, with possibly five teams fighting it out.
The relegation battle is always a huge scrap involving seven or eight teams, and with legendary Ligue 1 sides like Caen and Lens back in the fold, it is as hard to call as ever.
You may not get the excitement of a great title race, but there is much more to play for outside of first-place.