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6 Big Storylines to Follow in Ligue 1 This Season

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2014

6 Big Storylines to Follow in Ligue 1 This Season

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    The new Ligue 1 season gets underway on Friday when defending champions Paris Saint-Germain travel to Stade de Reims for the opening clash. Once again, Le Championnat is not short of talking points as the big kick-off approaches, and this campaign is more difficult to predict than ever.

    With the addition of the likes of FC Metz, RC Lens and SM Caen, this season’s selection of teams has a traditional feel to it. Les Grenats and Les Sang et Or, in particular, are historically top-flight sides, but all three newly promoted outfits will add colour to this new edition of Ligue 1.

    PSG are, of course, once again the team to beat, and it remains to be seen whether or not anybody can stop them from marching to a third consecutive French title.

    AS Monaco, Olympique de Marseille, Lille OSC, AS Saint-Etienne and Olympique Lyonnais are all expected to finish in and around the UEFA Champions League qualification positions, but which team will emerge to challenge the capital giants?

    Here are six big Ligue 1 storylines to follow this coming season.

6. The Battle to Beat the Drop

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    The battle to avoid relegation is not the most attractive of storylines ahead of the new Ligue 1 season, but it never fails to entertain. Each campaign, there are a handful of teams scrapping frantically, often until the final day, to decide the three unlucky teams to drop into the second tier.

    Sometimes, the battle involves as many as eight or nine teams—essentially the entire bottom half of the top-flight table—and there are always plenty of twists and turns.

    This season promises to be no different.

    In fact, there are a large number of teams that could feasibly get relegated, and the high volume of coaching changes could also see one or two shock names thrown into the mix. FC Nantes and Lens are limited by their inability to move on the transfer market, while Evian TG FC, SM Caen, EA Guingamp are all also expected to dwell in the basement area.

    Although it will not truly get going until after Christmas, the battle to avoid the drop is another Ligue 1 storyline to watch out for this season.

5. Can Willy Sagnol Reinvigorate Bordeaux?

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    Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

    Marseille were not the only club in need of a restart after last season. Girondins de Bordeaux had gone as far as they could under Francis Gillot’s leadership, and they, too, opted for a change.

    Former French international Willy Sagnol, who had been coaching Les Bleus’ under-21 squad for the past year, replaced Gillot in the Stade Chaban-Delmas hot seat, and Les Girondins will be the former Saint-Etienne, Monaco and Bayern Munich man’s first club coaching role.

    After two consecutive seventh place finishes and one in fifth before that, the 2008-09 champions are in need of reinvigorating in order to return to the upper echelons of the Ligue 1 table.

    For that to happen, a change of coach was necessary, and Sagnol is the type of hungry candidate that is capable and prepared to work within Bordeaux’s current constraints which undermined Gillot. If Sagnol is successful, the six-time French champions could go on to develop into one of Le Championnat’s strongest sides.

4. The Bielsa Effect at Marseille

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Of the seven coaching changes made in Ligue 1 ahead of the coming season, Marseille’s decision to appoint cult hero Marcelo Bielsa as their new tactician is arguably the most intriguing. The Argentine inherited a stagnating group from interim coach Jose Anigo, who failed to salvage Les Phoceens’ campaign after Elie Baup was sacked midway through last term.

    Bielsa is famed for his ability to completely revamp clubs, often with explosive effect, and El Loco (the crazy one) has already started to stamp his authority on OM.

    The likes of Frenchman Romain Alessandrini and Belgian sensation Michy Batshuayi have arrived from Stade Rennais and Standard Liege, respectively. However, fan favourites Mathieu Valbuena and Souleymane Diawara are among the departures.

    Discovering whether or not Bielsa can breathe new life into the fallen giants of French football will definitely be one storyline worth following.

3. Lens’ Survival Bid

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    Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

    Ligue 1’s most intriguing storylines are not limited solely to the top half of the table though. One of the most interesting stories over the summer was the legal wrangle at Lens, which nearly prohibited the popular northern club from competing in Le Championnat this season.

    With that issue now finally settled and coach Antoine Kombouare back to work, after initially refusing until the club’s Ligue 1 status had been guaranteed, as per RMC Radio (h/t ESPN FC’s Ian Holyman), Les Sang et Or have been preparing for the coming campaign.

    However, Kombouare and the club are now faced with the task of surviving in the top flight with a threadbare squad, not to mention severe budgetary and transfer restrictions, as per Holyman.

    No new players have arrived over the summer and the club lost loanees Alphonse Areola from PSG and Marcel Tisserand from Monaco when it became clear that their Ligue 1 status might be compromised.

    Lens’ battle to survive in Le Championnat, with a weaker group than the one that won them promotion from Ligue 2 last season, promises to be one of the most interesting French football stories of the coming campaign.

2. Can Monaco Even Compete?

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Having seen coach Claudio Ranieri leave, James Rodriguez depart for Real Madrid and captain Eric Abidal jump ship to join Olympiacos, Monaco come into the new season weaker than they were last season. Only Tiemoue Bakayoko has come in to strengthen the squad.

    There are no guarantees that the exodus of talent will not increase before the end of the transfer window.

    New coach Leonardo Jardim enjoys a growing reputation, but he possesses nowhere near the same credentials as his predecessor Ranieri. His relative lack of experience in Champions League football could also be a hindrance, but as far as Ligue 1 goes, it will take time for the Portuguese to adapt to the league. That period could cost Les Monegasques their chance to gain any kind of advantage over PSG.

    With the project at Stade Louis II looking as if it is stalling, the current champions could better last season’s winning margin of nine considerably.

1. Will PSG Be More Dominant Than Ever?

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    Victor Fraile/Getty Images

    French champions last season, finishing nine points clear of Monaco, PSG were run closer by Ranieri’s men than they were the season before when the final gap between them and bitter rivals Marseille was 12. However, Les Monegasques opted to replace the experienced Italian with the relatively untested Jardim coming into the new season.

    On top of that, the principality outfit have been shedding talent this summer, and it is unclear as to whether they will be stronger under their new Portuguese tactician’s leadership. All signs currently point toward them actually being weaker challengers, and no other sides have strengthened enough to fill the void.

    PSG, on the other hand, are stronger than they were last season.

    Even if David Luiz’s summer transfer has been scrutinised heavily, the arrivals of the Brazilian and the Ivory Coast FIFA World Cup star Serge Aurier have strengthened Les Parisiens both in terms of their starting XI and their squad depth.

    Everything is in place for PSG’s domestic hegemony to continue, it seems.

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