Defending Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain get the new campaign underway in Lille on Friday, and once again the big question is can anybody stop the juggernaut from the French capital?
Laurent Blanc’s men are chasing a fourth consecutive crown in Le Championnat and start the season as heavy favourites.
AS Monaco and Olympique Lyonnais have the ability to make life hard for Les Parisiens, but both will need to make fast starts if they are to avoid being left trailing in PSG’s wake.
Three reasons why this season will be ace...
1) Title contenders are stronger
Lyon were Ligue 1’s big success story last season as Hubert Fournier’s men pushed PSG in the title race until the last few weeks before ultimately falling away. The good news for Les Gones and those hoping the seven-time winners can repeat last term’s heroics is that OL have managed to keep last term's squad more or less intact.
Monaco are looking strong, too. Les Monegasques have had a busy summer, but Leonardo Jardim’s men have bought well with the money provided by some big name departures. The principality outfit continue to be France’s answer to Portuguese transfer masters FC Porto.
Unfortunately for Lyon and Monaco, PSG have not stood still. Les Parisiens look stronger this campaign, retaining key players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and coveted deep-lying playmaker Marco Verratti, and OL will hope their 2-0 Trophee des Champions defeat is not a sign the gulf has widened.
2) You can expect the unexpected
Despite Paris Saint-Germain's three consecutive Ligue 1 crowns and the first-ever domestic clean sweep last season, there is still a large amount of unpredictability in the French top flight.
Teams will try as hard as they can to compete with the champions, but the battle for Champions League and Europa League qualification will be fierce, while the relegation dogfight is always keenly contested.
Le Championnat’s reputation as a league where anyone can beat anyone is largely still true, and with continental competition making domestic life hard for some sides, expect to see some unfamiliar faces in the European places. Add in the customary emergence of the latest top young talents and there are the makings of an exciting Ligue 1 season outside of PSG.
3) There's Euro 2016 excitement
The European Championship will be held in France next summer and this season will witness the country make its final preparations for the big event. New and refurbished stadiums will be unveiled or completed, making games more of a spectacle, and despite not being renowned for being a “football country,” France will likely be gripped by Euro 2016 fever come the start of next year as the big kick-off edges closer.
PSG’s signing of Angel Di Maria finally ended Ligue 1’s biggest summer saga, but there has been plenty going on elsewhere in France. Monaco and Olympique de Marseille have both been rebuilding, but while Les Monegasques’ sales came as part of a continued restructuring of their once lavish project, Marcelo Bielsa has been left to pick up the pieces after a fire sale of talent. Lyon already have a few injury headaches with Clement Grenier and Gueida Fofana sidelined for lengthy spells, but Alexandre Lacazette’s future is also far from certain. After a poor pre-season, manager Fournier handed the player an ultimatum over a proposed new contract, although current reports claim he may be about to sign on.
Angers SCO have taken a risk by signing Tunisian bad boy Bilel Mohsni from Rangers. The defender’s seven-game ban for a violent attack will follow him to France.
Ligue 1 debutants Gazelec Ajaccio proved they are up for their fight against immediate relegation back to the second tier after a friendly with Cagliari was abandoned after 81 minutes because of a mass brawl.
FC Nantes manager Michel Der Zakarian landed himself in hot water after Les Canaris’ tense friendly against Portuguese side Maritimo by branding the opponents “cheats and fixers”.
Youngsters to spy on
Ligue 1 will once again be home to a large amount of young talent this season and one of the names that immediately jumps out is Lyon’s Nabil Fekir. The 22-year-old was a revelation for Les Gones last season and the France international is expected to build on that. PSG’s Jean-Kevin Augustin is another to look out for: the 18-year-old attacking talent impressed for the French champions in pre-season and is expected to be given a chance in Le Championnat. There are also the likes of Stade Rennais’ Paul-Georges Ntep, Monaco’s Anthony Martial, Lyon’s Corentin Tolisso and PSG’s Adrien Rabiot.
Tussle for the title
On paper, the Ligue 1 title race appears to be PSG’s to lose. Monaco and Lyon have strengthened since last season, but the additions of Di Maria, Kevin Trapp and Benjamin Stambouli have also improved the French champions. Realistically, it will only be one of those three sides winning the title, and even Monaco or Lyon would need an awful amount of bad luck or complacency on Les Parisiens’ part to succeed.
The chances of Marseille or Saint-Etienne launching a title tilt are slim at best. OM are rebuilding after losing a number of talented players and European qualification would be an achievement, let alone an improbable title triumph. Les Verts are again likely to suffer from a lack of goals and strength in depth and, depending on how deep their European run goes, could be one of the teams that suffers the most domestically.
Battle at the bottom
There are a number of clubs who can be considered favourites for relegation. Newly promoted minnows Ajaccio are immediate favourites to go straight back down, but the same was said of Guingamp and they are still in Ligue 1. Fellow promoted sides Angers and Troyes could also find it tough, but are better equipped to put up more of a fight. Toulouse and Stade de Reims came close to the drop last term and have not strengthened adequately this summer, while Bastia could also struggle after several important departures.
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