Why You Should Have Been Watching Ligue 1 This Season

We are now in the period that every football fan dreads the most: the season has ended and there is very little football happening to satisfy our fix. Sure, we have the Women’s World Cup and the Copa América, but they are only on for about 3 weeks each and due to time zones it’s pretty difficult for the average fan to watch every moment of action.

So for the next couple of months, we will be gripped by even the most minor and ridiculous transfer stories, only taking a break to become tennis fans for 2 weeks once Wimbledon rolls on by. This season has been tense, it’s been enthralling and we’ve seen some spectacular goals, especially in France.

Yes, you heard that right. In my opinion, Ligue 1 has been the most fascinating league to watch out of Europe’s top 5 leagues this season.

Led by the charismatic Marcelo Bielsa, Marseille raced out of the blocks at the start of the season to an early lead, holding top spot since week 6 and going into the winter break top of the league. André-Pierre Gignac carried on his own personal renaissance, scoring 21 goals this season, averaging a goal every 147 minutes.

For the first half of the season, Marseille were a team reborn. “El Loco” had lit a much needed fire at the club who underperformed so badly last season when they missed out on European competition altogether

After the winter break, the team ran out of momentum both physically and mentally. Reports came out of the club saying that Bielsa and the board were not getting along, the older players were growing tired of Bielsa’s coaching methods and the team struggled to kill off games, as evidenced by their thrilling 5-3 loss to Lorient.

Marseille would eventually finish 4th. Winless months in February and April helped to ensure that Marseille managed to both burn out and fade away this season.

Marseille Dimitri Payet
Image source: FIFA.com

Since PSG and Monaco have been taken over by oil rich owners, Ligue 1 has been seen as a two team league in recent years but both clubs have had to cut costs and be a lot more cautious with their funds.

Monaco’s owner Dmitri Rybolovlev was forced to pay out 2.6 billion to his ex-wife in a divorce settlement which, and I can only speculate at this point, indirectly led to the sale of James Rodríguez to Real Madrid and the loaning out of Radamel Falcao to Manchester United.

The sudden change to Monaco’s financial power resulted in a slow start for them as they had to adapt to life without Rodríguez and Falcao, but ultimately they adopted a more solid, pragmatic approach to matches. This is evidenced by them conceding the least amount of goals in Ligue 1 this season with 26.

Monaco’s defensive spine was its main strength this season, showing an industrial side that very few people would associate with the Principality. It worked as they finished a respectable third.

PSG were red hot favourites to retain their Ligue 1 crown, and eventually did despite aforementioned FFP penalties and the purchasing of David Luiz. They eventually won a domestic treble but they were made to work for it in the league and were pushed to the limit. At times, PSG looked lethargic and they struggled to take a strangle hold of games.

For example in a match against newly promoted Caen in February, PSG were 2-0 up at half-time but went on to draw the game 2-2 with 9 men on the pitch.

Maybe PSG had eyes solely on the Champions League this season, maybe coach Laurent Blanc had lost the dressing room. PSG were not the force that many expected them to be.

It also does not help that your star player, Zlatan Ibrahimović, openly undermines your coach by claiming that he is really the boss in Paris, and the rift between Ibrahimović and Edinson Cavani is no longer in any doubt as shown when PSG played Marseille at the Parc de Princes.

PSG Zlatan
Image source: goal.com

With PSG cruising to a win, Ibrahimović looked to flat out refuse to pass to Cavani, instead opting for extravagant shots on goal or making a far more difficult pass to another teammate. PSG should have won that match by about 4 goals, but instead of celebrating a win against their heated rivals, people were left questioning the PSG project.

The surprise package this season came in the form of Lyon and their dynamic team of French talent, in particular Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir. Lyon are no longer the dominant force they once were, they’ve had to reevaluate their ethos and focus on developing talent rather than buying.

This season Lyon played some sublime attacking football, seemingly cutting opponents open at will, and they were solid at the back too, only conceding 33 goals all season.

One could argue that had it not been for the relative title-challenging-inexperience of this team and the unfortunate timing of Alexandre Lacazette’s injury, Lyon would have been champions and absolutely no-one would have begrudged them winning it.

It was equally as tense at the bottom of the league as well. Guingamp looked set for the drop at the start of the season as their limited squad was stretched by domestic and European campaigns, but in the end they settled and gave a good account of themselves on both fronts, eventually finishing in a respectable 10th.

Bastia also looked set for the drop after a poor start to the season for new coach Claude Makélélé, and things went from bad to worse after striker Brandão headbutted PSG midfielder Thiago Motta in the tunnel after the match. Brandão was later sentenced to a month in jail, but it could easily have been longer as it was clearly a premeditated attack.

On November 3rd, Claude Makélélé was relieved of his duties and Ghislain Printant was brought in. Results started to improve and Bastia finished 12th in the league and runners-up in the Coupe de la Ligue, losing out to PSG.

Lens and Metz that went straight back down to Ligue 2 and Evian took the final relegation spot, although it could also have been Toulouse, Lorient or Reims that went down. Fans of adventurous, attacking football may also have wanted to see Nantes go down as they only scored 29 goals all season, the lowest in Ligue 1.

Evian’s miserable campaign was wrapped up with the news that striker Nicki Bille Nielsen could face up to 8 years in prison after biting a police officer in Copenhagen. He was given a suspended 60 day jail sentence.

This summer will be key to whether the French league can carry on this excitement into the new season.

Alexandre Lacazette’s 27 league goals have inevitably put him in the shop window and whilst Lyon are under no real pressure to sell due to him being under contract and them playing in the Champions League next season, players’ heads do get turned when Premier League clubs come sniffing.

The French “super tax” law will also affect the majority of the league, and it has already indirectly affected Marseille. Employees earning over £832,000 annually will be taxed 75%, meaning that clubs such as Marseille who are not rich will find it difficult to keep talent as they will want to earn more money elsewhere.

André Ayew has already joined Swansea on a free transfer and André-Pierre Gignac is set to join Mexican club Tigres and young midfielder Giannelli Imbula is likely to be sacrificed in order to raise funds, with Inter Milan being heavily interested in his services.

Alexandre Lacazette
Alexandre Lacazette.
Image source: jentwistlefootball.wordpress.com

Add the growing rumours about Bielsa’s future into the mix and you have a very uncertain summer for Marseille.

Monaco are exempt from this tax policy, but of course their owner will be paying out to his ex-wife. Dmitri Rybolovlev has pledged his commitment to Monaco, but ultimately, his private life will take priority. It will be interesting to see what moves the Principality make this summer, especially with the long term future of Radamel Falcao unknown.

PSG have to sell to buy, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi have been linked with a move away all season, as has Marco Verratti. Paul Pogba has been linked with a move to Paris, but ultimately it depends who leaves the club and for how much.

Of course, they may need to invest in a new manager too and will want to improve on their Champions League ¼ final finish. PSG have established domestic dominance, and now it’s about time that they made waves in Europe in order for fans to truly take the PSG project seriously.

With some top young talent coming through and with Euro 2016 just around the corner, it may be a good idea for football fans to keep a close eye on France.

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