Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Ligue 1 is here! Frog's predictions and thoughts on upcoming season

Wow, cannot believe that this Saturday we will have the start of the French domestic season...wasn't the World Cup just yesterday? I guess that is a good thing since South Africa was a tournament all France fans want to forget...and soon. Of course the transfer season is not over so some of the French squads might look very different come Sept 1st but here are some predictions based on current rosters and what I think might transpire the next few weeks.

Here are the teams I see finishing in the top 5:

5th Place - Stade Rennaise FC: The club from Brittany finished in the top 10 last year. They did lose the likes of Sow and Briand during the off season so why do I see them getting into the top5? I actually think losing Briand will not be as bad for the squad, not that the player is not talented. However he was injured most of last season, tallying only 5 goals for the side. I think Rennes has always been waiting for him to live up to his enormous potential and has held back the team during this waiting time...with the additions of Apam and Mandjeck they have added some muscle to the squad. The midfield will hinge around youngster M'Vila and former PSG player Leroy. Add the talented but frustrating Dalmat to the mix and the midfield could be very strong. The real catalyst for Rennes, will be the season I expect from Ghana World Cup star Gyan. Many will remember Gyan for missing that penalty kick in the 120th minute against Uruguay but he was a monster the entire tournament and was the offensive force for Ghana. Of course if Rennes ends up selling their star striker then they will fall out of my top 5.

4th Place -Girondins de Bordeaux: The team that took everyone by surprise two season ago by winning Ligue 1 and had a great Champions League run last season also has a number of holes. Namely losing their manager Laurent Blanc. He has been replaced by another French legend, Jean Tigana - who I think is one of France's greatest holding midfielders. Tigana had stints with Fulham, Besiktas, Lyon and Monaco as their manager. He also was one of the
pillars for Bordeaux back in the 1980s, playing over 250 games for the club. Bordeaux has not made major additions other than Tigana, but more importantly they have held on to the majority of their talent - Gourcuff and Diarra to name some of the players that were rumored to moving on. They did lose Chamakh to Arsenal, but the fact he left on a free transfer meant Bordeaux expected to have their striker leave. Assuming they hold on to their key players before September 1st I think they are in a good position to threaten for a Champions League spot. Why? First with the rumors around Laurent Blanc and his move to managing France all of last season, the team clearly suffered and lost focus. This will not be an issue this season. Second, I think Gourcuff and Diarra will be motivated to put the World Cup debacle behind them and show that their form from 2 seasons ago is what we can expect. Third, Tigana will be able to build from a formidable defense - Carasso in goal, Ciani, Chalme, Tremoulinas on defense with captain Diarra acting as the cover from the midfield that is a formidable defense. Finally the midfield will remain strong with Gourcuff, Wendel, Plasil and Gouffran. The real question Bordeaux must answer is: who will make up for the loss of Chamakh in the goal scoring category.

3rd Place - Lille Olympique Sporting Club Lille M├ętropole: The club from northern France finished 4th last season with a league leading 72 goals for. Add to this offensive powerhouse, former France U19 striker, Moussa Sow from Rennes and you might get close to an 80 goal season. Granted, LOSC will need to ensure they hold on to some of their
highly sought after players names Hazard and Gervinho. The Ivory Coast player is rumored to be moving east to either Spartak or to the EPL, if he does move on how LOSC leverages those funds will determine if they can achieve a 3rd place. I do think that Sow will provide some cover but LOSC will have to find another player to replace some of that offensive punch if Gervinho departs, €20 million would make that somewhat easier! I think that the Belgium wonder kid - Hazard - should be with Lille for at least this season, but he clearly has many of the big named clubs very interesting in getting the new Enzo Scifo. I think that Hazard's value, baring injury, will only go up. However with Gervinho, his value will never be as high as it is post World Cup.  In addition Blanc pre-called up 5 players from Lille, and not including Landreau and you have a very strong core of players to build on for the season. Look for Mavuba to have another strong campaign, I think the international door being reopened to the fiery midfielder will only add to his motivation. The core remains and if they can weather the rest of the transfer season and ensure they have the right pieces in place, they have a legitimate change at making a run at a top 2 spot this season.

2nd Place - Olympique Marseilles: The defending champion will not repeat. Granted maybe this has as much to do with my loyalties to PSG as to the fact I think OM will not repeat the season they enjoyed last year. However it will be a close race. Much will depend on if OM can find the same offensive punch they had last season with Niang, Gonzalez, Valbeuna and Brandao. OM finished second to LOSC in goals scored - 69 to 72. It appears the OM captain, Niang might be out the door. This would be a big mountain for OM to climb to fill this gap. Might be why there has been so much noise around Marseilles making an audacious move for former striker Drogba. If Niang does leave, Marseilles will need to find a way to replace those 18 goals. Add to this the fact Ben Arfa seems on his way to Newcastle and you start seeing some offensive gaps for Marseilles. Marseilles is rumored to be also looking at Adebayor (who played for Deschamps when at Monaco) as well as Gignac. Of course both strikers would come with some baggage - Adebayor's attitude and would he accept to leave the glamor of Manchester City? Gignac was a shell of himself last campaign with Toulouse, can he rediscover the form from 2 seasons ago when he had 24 tallies. OM will still lean on the likes of Cheryrou, Heinze, Taiwo (unless he leaves), Mandanda and Cisse to provide a strong defense. Add to this the Spanish U21 captain - Azpilicueta (who also made the 30 man provisional Spanish World Cup roster) and you have the making of a solid defense. Deschamps will clearly get the most out of his squad, however if he cannot get some offensive talent back in return, especially if Niang and Ben Arfa leave, it will be a challenge to maintain the offensive showing that led OM to the title.

1st Place - Olympique Lyonnaise: OL has not won Ligue 1 in....2 years!! Crisis time. The seven straight winner of the domestic title must be getting very itchy to get back what they see as their title. There was a time last season that they were in trouble and might have not even had European football this season. However they came back strongly and finished second to OM, only 6 point difference. Couple this with a very strong Champions League run defeating Real Madrid and Bordeaux to reach the semi finals, where they fell to Bayern Munich. Take the second half run for Lyon and another year of maturation for some of their squad and I think you have the recipe for another title. The main question for Lyon will be on defense. Boumsong is already gone, I realize he is not as good as his "French international" moniker will have you believe, however he was a solid central defender for Ligue 1 and made a good tandem with Cris. Lyon will have to find a partner for Cris...Toulalan? In addition, the rumor that left back Cissokho might be heading to Italy or Turkey, would be a hole defensively for Lyon. However, the left back remains at the club and the fact Lyon is flush with cash makes his sale seem a long shot. Lyon can build on a solid season from Bosnian youngster Pjanic, French international Toulalan, Brazilian back Bastos, coupled with a solid first season from Lopez and the addition of Briand (who I think will do well with Lyon where he will not be the focus of the team unlike when at Rennes) and the future looks bright for Lyon. In addition Lyon has a solid base of youngsters to build on - 6 players from the U19 European Champions are from Lyon, including Tafer and finals winner scorer Lacazette. I also think that Gonalons will take another major step this season to establish himself as one of Ligue 1's best midfielders. Oh and Lyon still have the best keeper in Ligue 1 and maybe one of the best keepers in Europe - Lloris. Put all this together and Puel and Lyon will find themselves at top of Ligue 1 after a 2 year hiatus.

Some other thoughts: team most likely to disappoint - PSG. Hard for me to keep rooting for my home town team. They did add Nene and Bodmer which will be helpful. However I fear the fundamental issue with the club continue...they have little clue of what is going on. For many seasons now they have not had a good recruiting strategy nor developed via youth - Sakho aside. The main issue for PSG is holding on to some of their key players - Hourau, Sessegnon, Clement, Sakho, Chantome and Erdinc - these players will be needed for PSG for to make any semblance of a run. With the noise around many of these players looking for the exit signs, I fear that PSG will once again look at a net loss in terms of players. PSG have no real base to build from and this will show once again this season. Team most likely to surprise ... again ...Montpellier HSC. The surprise team from last season will do so again. Building on their youth especially Ait-Fana as well as some veteran talent in the form of Estrada from Chile, the team from the south of France have a chance to make a run at Europe. I do not think they will make a real threat for a top 3 slot but could sneak into the top 5. The one issue for Montpellier is that they will not longer be able to sneak up on any of the Ligue 1 sides.

Teams that will be relegated: Sochaux, AC Arles-Avignon and St Etienne.

Player of the year: Pjanic - the Lyon midfielder will only get better and will clearly be the main cog in the Lyon midfield. Will also make the Bosnian national team a dark horse to get to Euro 2012.

Manager of the year: Puel. The Lyon manager is much maligned since he is the first in a long time not to win the title for Lyon. That will change this season. The team has been transformed into his team and he will guide them to another Ligue 1 title.

Glad to see Ligue 1 starting up this Saturday, not happy still that Setanta went out of business in North America...they were a great resource for watching Ligue 1 games. Another good write up on Ligue 1 from ESPN as well. Thankfully I still have TV5 but that means only 1 game a week!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this preview, really interesting. I'm in England so any news on L1 is good to read. Have adopted Lyon as 'my team' in France now - i saw them play Madrid last season in the CL (very impressed) and Milan at the Emirates Cup last weekend. Cheers!

JLP said...

Great blog entry.

It sounds like an exciting season despite the lack of transfers, doesn't it? Mostly transfers out of the Ligue but the battle at the top shall be interesting.

Rennes will rocket out of that top 5 if Asamoah Gyan leaves (of which I have recently heard rumored)

In which case, I would like to see PSG (wishful completely biased thinking) get in there. They've shown a promising start but they need a more solid defense and really need to offload those players they've been trying to offload for some time now.

I may add the following "most interesting teams to follow"

Lorient: youth galore, great coach (who knows something about coaching youth i.e. his own son) and... home field advantage on a very synthetic field (not one of those thick fake grass ones)!

Arles-Avignon: A tale of two cities. Very smart recruiting. Names of ex-L1 players who went MIA either in relegation teams or abroad, now with a chance to shine again in top flight. I'm quite curious to see what will happen here, if it will mix well.

Brest: will surprise many. Nolan Roux can score, raw talent right there. Let's see if the experienced defense can handle L1. In L2 last year, Steeve Elana, once a promising rising star goalkeeper showed his limits.

GFC said...

@JLP good insight. I have heard the noise around Gyan as well. Clearly if he leaves I agree that Rennes will fall out of the top 5. I had PSG winning the title last season but I just do not think they have solved their underlying issues - basic lack of underlying strategy for the organization. They constantly look to add older players as if they are "1 player" away! I realize that Hourau was injured last season and that really hurt...but I am not sure what the strategy will be - Nene, Bodmer - Sessegnon coming or going? Makelele for another season? Erding - Kezman what will they get out of these players? Too many questions.

I fear that Arles - Avignon will crash out, they were fortunate last season in Ligue 2, but they might surprise! That would be fun to watch. I agree with Brest, they have some talent and could show well for themselves.

JLP said...

PSG

I agree w/ you, especially the recruiting of older players as if they were "1 player" away. ha ha, love that!

Hoarau is an excellent anchor point because of his height. He surprisingly is quite mobile and complements Erding very well. The latter is all about power. Not great speed but he'll fight for space. He typically beats his defender on 1 on 1 situations if he's able to get the first control/dribble away from the defender. That's because he uses his brute force to get around and power in shots. He's not a star but he's the kind of consistent goal scorer PSG needs. I hope both stay healthy.
The addition of Nene brings threats to both sides.

Kezman should have never been brought in

Makelele will not finish matches this season so Clement or Bodmer need to cover for the other 1.5 spot. Bodmer can help play in central defense as well.
We need Jonathan Zebina, whom I prefer to Gallas, simply b/c Gallas has a "grande gueule" and will likely stir more controversy and shift power on the squad.

Sakho is likely going to start, or at least play against Norway. A huge confidence booster. We'll see him make many less mistakes this year b/c he'll want his 2nd cap. It's wide open in central defense in "les Bleus" and he knows that.

Coupet needs to retire already, and become coach for PSG. We need a new fresh keeper. I don't trust Apoula Edel. How about the 18yo 3rd string (who plays on the France youth squad), Areola? PSG doesn't have a history of putting green keepers in starter roles, unfortunately.

Mentality appears different in and around the team already. We need investors.

Love the new jersey!
Paris est Magique!!

GFC said...

@JLP good analysis! The new kit is nice, no doubt. I completely agree with your points especially about the keeper. Edel is so frightening when he plays. I think we can still get a season out of Coupet but not sure what the back up plan is. I agree on the 3rd stringer, cannot put an 18 year old to start on a regular basis for a club like PSG, especially at Parc de Princes! I think PSG will need to make a push for one of the strong second tier keepers in France - YPele or even a Rame (although that would be a stop gap as well) or even Janot from St Etienne especially if Les Verts get relegated.

I also agree that Sakho will have a good season for PSG...I hope they can hold on to him! The open door for Les Bleus should be a huge motivator for the natural lefty. I think the signing on Koscielny by Arsenal is a good thing for PSG since they were heavily linked to the PSG central defender, not that they might not still come a calling. As for Zebina, I also agree. I think Gallas has lost it both on and off the field. Zebina can also slot at right back as well.

Should be an interesting season.

GFC said...

PSG in first place!! After day 1...they looked good. But let us see how they do for the entire season...

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