Pitchside Europe

Five questions ahead of the new Ligue 1 season

Pitchside Europe

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1. PSG: Can anyone stop them?

Last season PSG were crowned champions with the highest points tally ever, 83. That's without playing that well, and despite some incredible loses at the beginning of the season in a crisis atmosphere - the most amazing of which was a 2-1 home defeat against a Rennes side who'd had two men sent off.

This season, they have the same team plus Cavani, Marquinhos and Digne. Is there a club out there than can keep up with their pace?

Monaco? They've got a great team, or rather a load of great players. Their problem is that they will need to find a style and a collective approach that works for them. Marseille? They've bought some good players, but it'd be a great season if they even matched what they did last year.

But there are a few reasons to believe that PSG might not run away with it: they may put too much emphasis on the Champions League, as they did last year, and have therefore have difficulties against the likes of Reims or Guingamp. Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic accept that he won't be THE great player in the team? Will Laurent Blanc be as good as the coaches - Wenger, Mourinho, Capello - that PSG failed to bring to Paris? But the more you think about it, the less plausible it is that there is any alternative. If PSG aren't crowned champions this year then my name is Rafael Nadal.

2. What will this new Monaco side look like?

Monaco are coming up from Ligue 2 with a hugely ambitious project: to be champions this year, and to get straight into the Champions League.

A team which includes Falcao, Moutinho, Toulalan, Abidal and Carvalho can, of course, be competitive. But can they be competitive quickly enough? Will Ranieri be fired at the first sign of difficulties? How will be the climate between Monaco and French football change, given the row between the club and the league over taxation matters? All these questions are set to keep us guessing for months. There's a delicious kind of "everything is possible" climate around the French Riviera right now.

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3. Who will be the third team in the mix?

Ligue 1 is more or less in the same situation as Spain's La Liga: it'll be dominated by two monsters. If everything is normal, the others will eat what the giants leave. And the target everyone is dreaming about is the third place finish and the Champions League spot that goes with it.

The problem? Everyone has to survive a powerful economic crisis in which they'll likely lose more and more players.

Lyon has become an ordinary team: the star is Clement Grenier, a youngster from the club's academy who hit excellent form at the end of last season.

Lille have had to sell just about everyone they can sell, and they've lost almost everything that made them champions in 2011.

Marseille is the only team to have invested apart from PSG and Monaco, though you can't compare the sums being spent. They came second last year, held on to their key players (Mandanda, NKoulou, Valbuena) and bought some great talents (Payet, Imbula 'the new Essien').

And never forget you are in France, the country where Montpellier can win the title even if Qatar owns PSG. There could still be an incredible surprise for the European places, like there is every year.

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4. Where will the entertainment come from in Ligue 1?

As anyone who sits through Ligue 1 every Saturday knows, French football can be very tough to watch. With the exception of Lille and some romantic little clubs (Lorient, Saint-Etienne, Troyes), most of the teams play in a careful way, defensive, let's say "tactical" way. Counter-attacks, strong battles for the ball, a fair bit of pace, but too little in the way of technical quality.

This will change. Why? Because Laurent Blanc has been tasked with doing so in Paris. Because Marseille want to change identity after an incredible series of unwatchable 1-0 results last year. Because some clubs have promised to stick to their principles (Saint-Etienne, Lorient, Guingamp) while others have promise to be more expansive (Toulouse playing with three at the back, Lyon claiming they want to build moves more). We'll wait and see...

5. How about the young stars coming through?

France has become the supermarket of Europe, with foreign clubs keen to pick up players who are good, complete, and not that expensive. But inside France the men who run the academies at the various clubs are always complaining that they build good players aged 19, 20, 21 only to see coaches prefer to buy some South American or Eastern European player who is more expensive, and not as good. This is the reality.

But with the economic crisis, French clubs aren't buying any more, and because of that they're not selling that much any more either. It means that young players are available, and that club presidents are telling the managers to recruit from their youth section.

Lyon, Toulouse, Rennes, Nice, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, and even PSG (watch out for 17-year-old Ongenda) are bringing youngsters through. You don't have enough fingers on your hands to count the number of clubs who are betting everything on their young players next season.

The fans will be happy about it as well. France is U20 world champion and U19 European Championship runner-up, so people have watched young French players shine on television this summer and will now be happy to see them this season, in Ligue 1 or even playing for spots in the senior French team.

Which ones have the potential to electrify the season? Keep an eye on these ones in particular: Umtiti, Benzia (Lyon), Ongenda, Rabiot (PSG), Zouma (Saint-Etienne), Sylla (Toulouse), Poundjé, Sacko (Bordeaux), Guerreiro (Lorient), Imbula, Mendy (Marseille), Veretout (Nantes) and Thauvin (Lille) for starters. Chances are the club you support could end up buying one of them next summer.

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