Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ligue 1 starting up again! Guess who I think will win the title???

It never ceases to amaze me how little time professional footballers seem to get off between seasons. No wonder players are even more strained summers when there is a global tournament - which was the case this season with the Copa America. This should not impact too much the teams in Ligue 1, now the African Cup of Nations...that will be a different story.

The biggest news during this off season was the rise of Manchester City by the Seine - aka PSG. The team from the capital started splashing out tidy sums of money to acquire talent after being taken over by well funded Qatar owners. It will be interesting to see if, as the French say, "si la mayonnaise prend." Marseilles also made some noise, namely in not losing DD - Deschamps, their manager. Lille are the defending Cup and Championship winners and the exodus from the northern French team was less severe than feared. So who will finish in the top 5 this year? Read on ...
  • FC Sochaux: The surprise team from last campaign will build upon their 5th place finish and...maintain that fifth place finish! Much of their continued success will be due to continuity. Primarily in the fact they have held on their core, especially the new French darling Marvin Martin, even though the transfer winds were strong. The dynamo play maker made some noises that he would like to join PSG or others, but nothing came of it...yet. The other major factor why I see Sochaux defending their Europa League spot is that none of the other contenders really improved themselves enough to get into the top 5. I would, however, keep an eye on TFC, they did add some fire power and talent but I do not think enough to challenge Sochaux for Europa League play. Now if Martin does leave before the close of the transfer window, Sochaux will drop back to the middle of the pack. Look for the likes of TFC or Rennes to slot up.
  • Olympique Lyonnais: It was not that long ago that the club from France's gastronomic capital was seen as Ligue 1's best chance at European glory, and why not? With the likes of Essein, Malouda, Abidal, Benzema and the likes having worn the OL kit. Unfortunately it is never easy at the top of the pyramid. Especially when you miss on some key signings - Gomis, Gourcuff to name two. I do see Lyon coming back very soon based on the youth that has come up through their system and who is poised to make a greater impact on the senior side: Kolodziejczak, Gonalons, Lacazette, Tafer and Pjanic. They might be one more season from truly gelling as a unit. The transition in the Rhone region continues but they are not far from contending again. Unfortunately, veterans such as Gourcuff, who
    Better days for the play maker
    was brought in as key pieces to build around have failed to impress. Is the French play maker overrated? I know I have had many debates with the Gooner about this very topic, and after the past season I am starting to believe that the Gooner might be right. Gourcuff had a break out season at Bordeaux, but since then it appears that the burden of being anointed the next great French #10 is too much for his slender shoulders. With a new manager - Remi Garde (who by the way is rumored to be in line to replace Wenger at Arsenal whenever the Professor decides to move on) - who has been with Lyon since 2003, Gourcuff will need to establish himself and his game under a new system. Lyon's season will depend greatly upon his ability to regain some of the form that teased us while at Bordeaux.
  • LOSC: The defending French Cup and Championship side will not defend either title, too much attrition. Cabaye, Gervinho, Rami, Frau, Emerson....and the list goes on, but it did stop at the prize possession - Hazard. LOSC did bring in some replacements: Rozenhal, Pedretti and Payet to name a few. Not that the comparison is fair, but Rozenhal to replace Rami, Pedretti to replace Cabaye and Payet to replace Gervinho. Not like replacements, but what LOSC did that was intelligent was bring in players from Ligue 1 or who have played in Ligue 1. This should ensure a smooth transition for the club.  However with Champions League football and defense of two titles in addition to the year long rumors that will invariable swirl around Belgian winger Hazard, I think this will prove too much for the "little engine that could" of French football. LOSC have too much talent left over and were able to hold on to their best player, Hazard; however it will be too much to ask for them to mount another title winning campaign.
  • Paris St Germain: Surprise! I bet some of you thought I would pick them to win the title this season...why not I have done so consistently in the past when they had a far less exciting transfer season as this year! With the additions of Douchez, Gameiro, Matuidi, Menez, Sirigu, Bisevac Sissoko and the cherry on top - Pastore, add to this more rumors of players coming to Paris such as Cole and Berbatov - and you have a very exciting off season for the Parisians. I have argued with Gooner that, unlike Manchester City, these moves all making footballing sense and are not just the exploits of a front office drunk with petro-dollars. Granted if they also sign Berbatov and Cole we might start creeping into MCFC territory, but I digress. PSG had a good run last season, but just did not have enough to stay in contention. The main reason? Goalkeeping - check with Douchez and Sirigu that should not be a problem. Midfield depth - check with Pastore, Matuidi, Menez and Sissoko replacing the older Makelele and Giulys of the team.

    Scoring - check with the addition of Gameiro and Menez, if Hourau can ever find his goal scoring touch again then look out. If you add a Berbatov to that mix then goals should not be an issue. The other positive for PSG - not losing Sakho to the likes of Arsenal or Barcelona. Having him pair with Bisevac, in front of a solid keeper will go a long way to stabilize the back line for PSG. So why not in first place? I am not convinced that Kombouare is the right man for the role. Tactically he has not shown me anything and when it comes to personnel I am not convinced either - he was opposed to signing Nene last season, without him PSG would have been stuck mid table. I also think PSG need a season under their belt before we can see PSG live up to their potential.
  • Someone looks happy
  • Olympique de Marseille: Bleehhh...that was painful to type....might need to wash my hands. Hard for me to accept, but OM will win the league title this season. They stuck around all season, but could never make a serious charge to threaten Lille; however, look for this to change this season. With the main question of whether or not DD would stay, having been resolved, Marseilles spent a relatively calm off season, instead allowing their hated rivals PSG make all the noise. They were able to add Bordeaux captain Diarra, a player long sought after by Deschamps to add muscle to his midfield. The situation
    with Gonzalez remains a moving target, with the latest rumors being a move to Serie A. If that move were to materialize, look for DD to target another striker, possibly Gilardino from Fiorentina as a replacement. Regardless of the Gonzalez/Gilardino dance, Marseilles have the players in place to win the title. With the likes of Remy, Gignac, Valbuena, Mandanda, Cheyrou, Diarra, Amalfitano, Fanni to name a few, OM have the necessary fire power and depth to capture the crown. Ugh that was painful for me to write.
Teams that will have to fight on their hands to avoid relegation:

ASSE: The once storied French side have yo-yo'd between Ligue 1 and 2 for the past few seasons. This year will be no different with the losses of Payet and Riviere look for Les Verts to struggle to stay in Ligue 1.
Auxerre: Another storied Ligue 1 side will find the sledding tough after a net loss in the transfer market, especially their captain Pedretti who was the engine for the small French side. The one time hot bed for youth talent, thanks to Guy Roux, has become a small club that tends to punch above its weight, but they are destined to get knocked down one of these days.
FC Lorient: Talk about a team that punches above their weight class, but with the losses of Gameiro, Morel and Amalfitano it will be too much for the club.

If the likes of ASSE and Auxerre get relegated, Ligue 2 will look like Ligue 1 in the 1980s - Nantes, Lens, Monaco, Metz, Le Havre...

This should be an exciting Ligue 1 season, if nothing else to see a ratcheting up of the OM - PSG rivalry.


Anonymous said...

Surprise result yesterday for PSG. Their attack never quite materialized, but it may take some time before the new players are comfortable with one another. Sakho had a horrible game. He let an easy ball go past him to give Lorient an easy chance (which Lorient missed) and then made a bad foul near the penalty area, which Lorient capitalized on to produce the only goal of the game. Hopefully, Sakho's poor play yesterday is an aberration and not the start of a trend.

GFC said...

Well...Lorient is a good team and PSG will need time to "find themselves" sigh.

I think it amusing that after 1 game, PSG is slightly in panic mode with a huge fixture next game at Rennes who demolished Dijon 5-1 to open their season!