Ligue 1 Preview

The Trophee des Champions kicked off the season this past weekend.  This is the French Supercup.  It is a preseason showdown that featured the Coupe de France champions, Paris Saint-Germain, and the runners-up of the Ligue 1, Lyon.  Since PSG won a domestic treble last season, Lyon were asked to take part in the game.  PSG opened the 2015-16 season with a 2-0 win over Lyon.  The game was held in Montreal, Quebec.  For the last seven years, the game has taken place outside of France.

Title Contenders

PSG are the obvious favorites to win the title.  They have won the title for the last three years.  Last season they were pushed for a while by Marseille and Lyon, but eventually pulled themselves well clear and won the title by 8 points.  They have added a new goalkeeper in Kevin Trapp and a new midfielder to replace Yohan Cabaye in Benjamin Stambouli.  More importantly, Angel di Maria looks even more likely to join PSG.  The question now is, who can push them this year and that gives us a couple options.  Monaco and Lyon have been the two teams that have pushed PSG during the past 2 seasons.  Monaco has done some good business this summer, but they have lost a lot of players and will need time to gel.  They have brought in many quality attacking players like Stephan El Shaaraway, Ivan Cavaleiro, and Fares Bahouli.  Lyon is another option to challenge PSG.  Lyon have last season’s top goal scorer in Alexandre Lacazette and brought in Claudio Beauvue, who scored 27 goals last season.  They will have to deal with some injuries to start the season but might be able to put in a good run.

Promoted Sides

Troyes – Troyes were the champions of Ligue 2.  Troyes has taken an interesting ride over the last five seasons.  They spent 09/10 in the third tier of French football.  Then they came in 16th in Ligue 2 and then 3rd to return to the top flight.  However, they went right back down and then came back after two seasons in Ligue 2.  Their manager is Jean-Marc Furlan.   This is his second stint with the club.  He has had great success with getting sides promoted but has struggled to keep them up.  They had the best offense and defense in Ligue 2 and will hope they can stay up.

Gazelec Ajaccio are in the top flight for the first time in their history.  In fact, they have earned two straight promotions to reach this level.  The team has its second consecutive promotion; first time in top flight.  They have been the Amateur Champions 6 times.  Their best result was in the 2011-12 Coupe de France when they reached the semi-finals.  They are located on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea.  This season could be a little difficult for them, but it is always great to see new teams in the Ligue.

Angers is back in the Ligue 1 for the first time in 21 years.  They were one of the better teams in terms of defense last season.  They had the third best defense in the Ligue.  They will need to rely on that defense if they want to stay in the top flight for more than one year.  Their manager is Stephane Moulin.  He has been in place since 2011.  They had the second highest scorer in Ligue 2 in Jonathan Kodjia.  They will need each one of his 15 goals he scored last season if they are to survive.

5 Major Storylines to Watch this Season

  1. Can PSG continue their recent domination? – PSG has won the last 3 Ligue 1 titles.  They will try to win their fourth title in a row and their sixth as a club.  They no doubt have the strongest roster in the league and will be clear favorites to win the title.  They have only added two players to their domestic treble winning team.  They brought in Kevin Trapp to challenge Salvatore Sirigu and Trapp looks to have won the starting job.  The other addition was Benjamin Stambouli who is a direct replacement for Yohan Cabaye.  The bigger question with this team should be how far they can go in the Champions League.  I think they could win the league by 8-10 points.
  2. Can Marcelo Bielsa rebuild Marseille? – Marseille saw a mass exodus this summer as key players like Giannelli Imbula, Dimitri Payet, Andre Ayew, Jeremy Morel, Rod Fanni, and Andre-Pierre Gignac all left. Bielsa has brought in replacements, but he has focused on youth.  Three twenty year olds were brought in, Lucas Ocampos, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and Karim Rekik.  He also brought in Lassana Diarra and Abou Diaby to add some experience to the team.  They can make a run for a Champions League spot, but they will most likely qualify for Europa League.
  3. Will any of the promoted sides stay for more than 1 season? – Well this is a tricky question to answer, as the French FA has decided that only two teams will be relegated to the Ligue 2.  So that means at the worst 1 team will stay up.  Last season, Toulouse was really close for a while but managed to pull it off.   I honestly think it will be tough for 2 of the newly promoted teams to stay up.  One of them will, but who is the question.
  4. Can Guingamp continue their climb up the table and get back to the Europa League? – They were a pleasant surprise the last couple of seasons.  They were the Coupe de France Champions in 2014 and reached the semifinals last season.  They also reached the Round of 32 in the Europa League.  They played a very exciting brand of football and should be a great watch this season.  Hopefully they can find the form that got them European Football a couple of seasons ago.
  5. Will the most successful team in Ligue 1 history be able to challenge for the title? – That club is Saint-Etienne.  They have won the French title 10 times.  However the last time they won a title was in 1975.  Last season they finished 5th in the league and will look to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League this summer.  They have looked to strengthen this summer and will hope to build on their 5th place finish.

5 Key Additions

  1. Stephan El Shaarawy (Monaco) – He is a very exciting player and can be a real difference maker.  This might only be a stepping stone for him, but he will look to make some splashes.
  2. Kevin Trapp (PSG) — Can he be the difference between the pipes for PSG?
  3. Abou Diaby (Marseille) – He will need to be a strong leader on this team as they look to rebuild this season.
  4. Claudio Beauvue (Lyon) – He was a lethal goal scorer last season with Guingamp and will look to continue this with Lyon
  5. Hatem Ben Arfa (Nice) – He is hoping to find a new home after leaving Newcastle.  He is a very creative player and could be a vital player for his new team.

While there is still a ways to go in the transfer market, here are three players to watch who could be on the move and could really make an impact either leaving or coming to a Ligue 1 team.

  1. Angel di Maria (Manchester United to PSG) – At the time of writing this, it was almost done and should probably have been moved up to the top spot in the key additions.  Will be a great player.
  2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG to Manchester United) – I have seen this rumor a couple times and it feels like every summer Zlatan is rumored to want to leave and never does.  It would really surprise me if this does happen. But watch out for him next summer.
  3. Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon to Arsenal/Liverpool) – He is an outstanding striker and is apparently not happy.  If he leaves it will be for a hefty fee and will be a nice piece for his new team.
  4. Lucas Digne (PSG to Liverpool) – The PSG left-back might be close to leaving the French capital as he searches for more playtime.
  5. Nabil Fekir (Lyon to EPL) – After choosing to resign with Lyon, he has hinted at leaving for England.  The striker could become a target for Arsenal or Liverpool.

Like I mentioned in the last blog, this season I will be having a good friend of mine, James, making some predictions this season and will be giving his insight on some of the big games.

Top 3 Predictions

Mine – PSG, Lyon, Monaco

James – PSG, Monaco, Marseille

Relegation Predictions

Mine – Gazelec Ajaccio, Angers

James – Angers, Gazelec Ajaccio

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