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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

France

Monaco Mayhem Or Continued PSG Delight? 2013/14 French Ligue 1 Season Preview




These are fascinating times for French football. Whilst most teams in Ligue 1 are forced to sell off their best assets to balance the books, suddenly a rocket has shot up from the second tier in the form of fallen giants AS Monaco. Previously characterised as a maverick principality team whose tax free privileges made them something of an outcast in French football, since relegation two years ago Monaco have been bolstered by the funds of Dmitry Rybolovlev. The Russian billionaire’s wealth has bought Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho among others as Monaco gear up for an assault on the title and Champions League spots straight away.

Monaco’s outlay has been the story of the summer, and not just in France. It has been the most lavish expenditure seen in French football since, well, last year, when Paris Saint-Germain were similarly indulgent, bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. Both are still in Paris, although Carlo Ancelotti has jumped ship to join Real Madrid, meaning former France coach Laurent Blanc is in charge at the Parc des Princes.

This is the new bipolar nature of French football. Two teams so far ahead of the rest financially, and who are bringing in literally the most sought after players in world football, competing against 18 others selling off prized assets as though gripped by the midst of a worldwide economic depression. A bit like La Liga.

Still, it remains to be seen how quickly Monaco can establish themselves at the top – and whether these two teams will take the two Champions League spots at the season’s end. PSG’s extravagant spending did not bring instant success, and they were first humiliated by the modest budget of Montpellier in the 2011/12 title race.

Beyond the lavish expenditure in Paris and Monaco, there are some intriguing storylines to look forward to this season. Will Marseille be able to build on their solid season last time under Elie Baup, when they finished second? Can Lyon’s talented youngsters continue their rapid progress in spite of losing seasoned stars? A similar thing could be said of Saint-Etienne, but they have sold their best player, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Will Nice and Lorient continue to surprise as they did last year? And will Lille rediscover their former glories under ex-Montpellier coach Rene Girard? Bordeaux will also be looking to build on their French Cup win.

Lower down the table, and it has been ignored amidst Monaco’s spending that another fallen giant is back in the shape of Nantes. The third promoted side are Guingamp, who will do well to survive. A tough year lies ahead for perennial strugglers Ajaccio, whilst Bastia, Reims, Evian and Valenciennes will all be scrapping for survival once again. Sochaux will hope to put a couple of years of under-performance behind them and enjoy a season of mid-table security. Rennes, despite losing manager Frederic Antonetti, should be comfortable, along with Toulouse, whilst it will be interesting to see how 2012 champions Montpellier adapt in the post-Girard era.


Ajaccio

The big talking point for Ajaccio this summer is the appointment as coach of former Juventus forward Fabrizio Ravanelli. The Italian’s first coaching assignment will be a tough one though, with Ajaccio doing well to survive in Ligue 1 last term.

Some useful additions have been made, particularly Laurent Bonnart, but much will rest on the form of Romanian Adrian Mutu. If he has a good season, survival is a possibility – whilst Johan Cavalli’s creativity will continue to be heavily relied upon as well.

Key arrivals: Laurent Bonnart (Lille), Cedric Hengbart (Auxerre), Denis Tonucci (Cesena), Anthony Scribe (Corte), Claude Dielna (Olympiacos)

Key departures: Frederic Sammaritano (released)

Prediction: 19th



Bastia

Bastia did superbly last time around to achieve a finish of 12th but they have lost the experience of Jerome Rothen. Perhaps more damaging still is losing the skill and goals of Florian Thauvin, who has returned to Lille, and Anthony Modeste, who has gone back to Bordeaux and been sold on to Hoffenheim. Toifilou Maoulida and Wahbi Khazri will be relied upon for goals going forward in their absence.

This season may be a tough one for the Corsicans, and much will depend on how Francois Modesto and Drissa Diakite perform after arriving from Olympiacos. Sebastien Squillaci will hope for a better time of things back in France after his spell at Arsenal, and surviving with a few points to spare would be satisfactory.

Key arrivals: Francois Modesto (Olympiacos), Drissa Diakite (Olympiacos), Florian Raspentino (Marseille, loan), Sebastien Squillaci (Arsenal)

Key departures: Florian Thauvin (Lille, loan return), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux, loan return), Jerome Rothen (Caen)

Prediction: 17th



Bordeaux

Victory in the Coupe de France made last year a highly satisfactory one for Bordeaux but they must improve going forward. Whilst they have one of the best defences in the country, with a superb goalkeeper in Cedric Carrasso, they lack goalscoring options up front and are reliant on Cheick Diabate. Ludovic Obraniak remains the key creative presence for Bordeaux.

Having lost key men in Benoit Tremoulinas and Modeste, coach Francis Gillot has a tough job on his hands to rebuild the team once again and a challenge for Europe appears the most they could hope for.

Key arrivals: Jeremie Brechet (Troyes)

Key departures: Benoit Tremoulinas (Dynamo Kiev), Anthony Modeste (Hoffenheim)

Prediction: 8th



Evian

A strange season for Evian almost saw them beat Bordeaux in the aforementioned Coupe de France final, but in the league the club from the east struggled for much of the campaign and left it late to secure their Ligue 1 status for another season. This year they will look to try and avoid the late drama of last time around.

The loss of Yannick Sagbo to Hull City is a major blow, made only worse by the departure of Saber Khlifa too. However, with the talents of Olivier Sorlin, Sidney Govou and Cedric Barbosa, Evian have the firepower going forward to survive again.

Key arrivals: Nicolas Benezet (Nimes)

Key departures: Stephan Andersen (Real Betis), Yannick Sagbo (Hull), Saber Khlifa (Marseille)

Prediction: 14th



Guingamp

Back in the top flight, 2009 French Cup winners Guingamp have a tough battle on their hands to stay there. Away form was an issue for them last year in Ligue 2, although at the same time few sides will relish the challenge of taking points from them at home, where they are strong.

Gianelli Imbula has left for Marseille but they can look for inspiration to Thibault Giresse, the son of legendary French midfielder Alain Giresse, who starred alongside Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Jean Fernandez for France in the 1980s. With an eye for goal and superb creativity, the 32-year-old will be responsible for setting the tempo of their play.

Key arrivals: Jeremy Sorbon (Caen), Steeven Langil (Auxerre), Claudio Beauvue (Chateauroux)

Key departures: Vincent Plante (Red Star Belgrade), Gianelli Imbula (Marseille)

Prediction: 20th



Lille

Lille missed out on the Champions League for the first time in three seasons last time around and have a tough job finishing in the top three this season. Rudi Garcia, the title winning manager of 2011, has gone, replaced by Rene Girard, who led Montpellier to the 2012 crown. He has lost Dmitri Payet to Marseille and full-back Lucas Digne to PSG.

Simon Kjaer has been brought in to replace Aurelien Chedjou, departed for Galatasaray, whilst Florian Thauvin is a talented young forward who can make his name at Lille after being bought from (and loaned back to) Bastia last season. Goals have been a problem for Lille at times and they will hope to add some cutting edge up front.

Key arrivals: Florian Thauvin (Bastia, loan return), Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg), Jonathan Delaplace (Zulte Waregem), Thibault Peyre (Toulouse)

Key departures: Dmitri Payet (Marseille), Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray), Laurent Bonnart (Ajaccio), Lucas Digne (PSG)

Prediction: 5th



Lorient

A superb season for Lorient saw them finish a highly credible eighth and reach the semi-finals of the Coupe de France. Lorient proved a thorn in the side of many of the country’s leading teams, giving a bloody nose to the likes of Saint-Etienne, Marseille, Lille and PSG.

Jeremie Aliadiere is the spearhead up front for the club, but it was possibly the arrival of Alain Traore which helped propel the side forward most last year. Another solid campaign is in store for Christian Gourcuff, Ligue 1’s longest serving coach.

Key arrivals: Vincent Aboubakar (Valenciennes), Raphael Guerreiro (Caen)

Key departures: Ludovic Giuly (retired), Benjamin Corgnet (Saint-Etienne)

Prediction: 12th



Lyon

Les Gones continue their policy of selling off their star assets while trying to make bargain signings and bring through youngsters. Dejan Lovren, Fabian Monzon, Lisandro Lopez and Anthony Martial have gone, Bafetimbi Gomis continues to be linked with a move away and their only signings are the 31-year-old midfielder Gael Danic from Valenciennes and Miguel Lopes on loan.

Perhaps the most important signing though was that of Clement Grenier, extending his deal at the club and staving off interest in his services. Lyon’s best player last year, the prodigious creative playmaker could be a star at home and abroad in the coming season. With young captain Maxime Gonalons behind Grenier, and a host of young stars from Samuel Umtiti at the back to Alexandre Lacazette up front, Lyon can continue to defy the odds.

Key arrivals: Gael Danic (Valenciennes), Miguel Lopes (Sporting Lisbon)

Key departures: Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Anthony Martial (Monaco), Luciano Monzon (Catania), Anthony Reveilliere (released), Lisandro Lopez (Al-Gharafa)

Prediction: 2nd



Marseille

A solid campaign was what Elie Baup was brought in for last season and that is what he delivered, Marseille finishing second to fierce rivals PSG. Dmitri Payet arrives to add more creativity going forward, and this has been a summer of stability at the Stade Velodrome for a club who, like Lyon, have struggled financially amid the redevelopment of their stadium.

Marseille are at least managing to become a predator rather than a supplier in the transfer market however, as they continue to show interest in Bafetimbi Gomis from Lyon. With so much change elsewhere in Ligue 1, they can once consolidate and build on last season.

Key arrivals: Dmitri Payet (Lille), Benjamin Mendy (Le Havre), Gianelli Imbula (Guingamp), Saber Khlifa (Evian)

Key departures: Joey Barton (Queens Park Rangers, loan return), Florian Raspentino (Bastia, loan)

Prediction: 3rd



Monaco

Rarely if ever have a promoted side been tipped for the title the following season, but such is the depth of Monaco’s spending that many will expect them to challenge PSG this year. In Radamel Falcao, they have bought arguably the most prolific forward in world football, and his countryman James Rodriguez could thrive behind him at the principality club.

Joao Moutinho is another superb signing, while experienced faces have been brought in to bolster the club’s ranks further back, with Jeremy Toulalan and Eric Abidal returning to France, and Ricardo Carvalho joining. It is notoriously difficult to put together a winning side straight away and particularly in Ligue 1, a league which is traditionally hard to ‘buy’. Even with such lavish expenditure, as PSG have found, it takes time, but the jury is out on how much of that Claudio Ranieri will be given.

Key arrivals: Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid), Joao Moutinho (FC Porto), James Rodriguez (FC Porto), Ricardo Carvalho (Real Madrid), Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Anthony Martial (Lyon), Jeremy Toulalan (Malaga), Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (Valenciennes)

Key departures: Nampalys Mendy (Nice), Emir Bajrami (Panathinaikos)

Prediction: 4th



Montpellier

The 2012 champions returned to their traditional spot in the French football pyramid, finishing ninth last season. It was always going to be a huge come down after the heroics of 2012, and they have lost all of their key men from that season, with Mapou-Yanga Mbiwa leaving mid-season and Younes Belhanda going this summer. John Utaka has left, and Marco Estrada’s departure means the loss of yet more quality in midfield. At least Hilton, the ever reliable Brazilian centre-back and club captain, remains.

The promising Remy Cabella will become the focal point for Montpellier alongside the similarly talented Anthony Mounier under new coach Jean Fernandez, who comes in after an unimpressive time with Nancy, relegated last year. However, it is unclear how much Fernandez is still eating off the plate of his previous successes. Another mid-table finish is likely.

Key arrivals: Siaka Tiene (PSG), Djamel Bakar (Nancy)

Key departures: John Utaka (released), Marco Estrada (Al Wahda), Younes Belhanda (Dynamo Kyiv), Cyril Jeunechamp (released)

Prediction: 9th



Nantes

Newly promoted Nantes have gone shopping for Venezuelans this summer as they bid to stay in Ligue 1 and find value in the transfer market. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo arrives from Argentine outfit Lanus for one of France’s biggest teams on their return to the big time.

Fernando Aristeguieta joins permanently from Caracas having been an important player on loan last season for Nantes, and is greeted by Gabriel Cichero, another loanee who did well for them last year. Cichero is guaranteed a particularly hostile reception when they travel to Bastia, never a welcoming environment at the best of times, having assaulted their then-director Alain Seghi whilst playing for Lens back in 2011. But it is a Serbian, forward Filip Djordjevic, who will be Nantes’ star this season as they look to survive. They look to have enough to do exactly that.

Key arrivals: Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Lanus), Fernando Aristeguieta (Caracas), Gabriel Cichero (Caracas)

Key departures: None

Prediction: 15th



Nice

Last year went beyond all reasonable expectations for Nice, as Claude Puel restored his reputation in some considered style with a fourth place finish. A leaky defence was compensated for by a prolific and effervescent forward line. Dario Cvitanich, who netted 19 times for the south coast outfit, enjoyed a superb season for Nice who will relish taking on neighbours Monaco in Ligue 1 once again – and have even poached one of their players, Nampalys Mendy.

Puel will do well to get near fourth place again though, but with so many teams weakened over the summer, Nice’s relative stability means they can continue to punch above their weight.

Key arrivals: Nampalys Mendy (Monaco)

Key departures: Ceara (released), Mickael Salamone (Evian)

Prediction: 10th



Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain have splashed out big once again this summer, although they have devoted their spending to the talents of Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos, rather than bringing in multiple players as they have in previous campaigns.

Cavani will link up once again with former team-mate Ezequiel Lavezzi in a mouth-watering looking front line which could also feature Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The challenge for Laurent Blanc is how to make the most of the myriad talents available to him, which will be no easy task. Blanc’s test is not so much in the fact that he wasn’t the club’s first choice to replace Carlo Ancelotti, but that he was barely even their sixth or seventh choice either, PSG turning to him after all top level alternatives had been exhausted. If they struggle, Blanc could see his tenure cut short. But Monaco will surely take time to gel, whilst their nearest challengers from last year are still some way off quality wise, so Blanc may not have to worry about such a scenario.

Key arrivals: Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Marquinhos (Roma)

Key departures: David Beckham (retired), Sylvain Armand (Rennes), Saka Tiene (Montpellier)

Prediction: 1st



Reims

Survival last season was the goal and it was achieved in the end as Reims returned to Ligue 1 after decades in the wilderness. Grzegorz Krychowiak is the key man for coach Hubert Fournier, who will benefit from a settled team and will look to ensure that Reims’ defence is as solid as it was last time around. However, Reims scored fewer than anyone last season apart from Brest, who finished bottom.

One of the giants of French football traditionally, they will now look to consolidate and build, and have made some astute signings from abroad in the shape of highly-rated forward Eliran Atar and midfielder Mads Albaek, who once had a trial with Tottenham. If Atar can show the same goalscoring form for Reims as he did for Maccabi Tel-Aviv in their title winning campaign last year, Reims can take a step forward.

Key arrivals: Eliran Atar (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Mads Albaek (Midtjylland)

Key departures: None

Prediction: 13th



Rennes

Frederic Antonetti, the club’s long serving coach, is gone, but he has been replaced by Philippe Montanier, who impressed so much in guiding Real Sociedad to fourth place in La Liga last season. A 13th place finish was not good enough for a team which has been in the shake up for European places in previous campaigns.

Montanier may relish the chance to be at the club often dubbed the ‘academy of France’, having done so well with a group of youngsters in the Basque country last year. He will also look to bring a short passing and attacking game to the club to get the best out of attacking talents Julien Feret, Mevlut Erding and Jonathan Pitroipa. Much will be hoped for from youngster Romain Alessandrini, who did so well last year before missing much of the second half of the campaign through injury. Nelson Oliveira’s arrival on loan from Benfica is another cause for optimism.

Key arrivals: Sylvain Armand (PSG), Jean Makoun (Aston Villa), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica, loan)

Key departures: Yacine Brahimi (Granada), Kevin Beauverger (Lorient)

Prediction: 7th



Saint-Etienne

Les Verts experienced their best campaign for many a year last time around, winning their first trophy since their glory days of the 1970s when they beat Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue final. A European campaign therefore beckons for Christophe Galtier’s side, although they missed out on Champions League qualification.

The loss of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a major, albeit expected blow, and he creates a void which they will do well to fill. Carlton Cole has been heavily linked but it is unlikely he can live up to the Gabonese forward’s standards. An extremely solid side, Saint-Etienne should be able to remain in the hunt for Europe, but Aubameyang’s departure may mean that the top three remains beyond their reach.

Key arrivals: Benjamin Corgnet (Lorient), Paul Baysse (Brest)

Key departures: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)

Prediction: 6th



Sochaux

Sochaux have experienced two poor campaigns and once again battled for much of the season to stay in Ligue 1, having struggled to replace the goals and creativity of Marvin Martin. Poor physical preparation and a disastrous start to the season, losing their first four games, were major issues last time around for Sochaux, and so one of their most important signings has been that of seasoned rehabilitation coach Bernard Gines.

Giovanni Sio has returned to Wolfsburg after his loan spell last season, which is a blow, and Sochaux may look to youth as they have in the past in a bid to bring through another crop of talented youngsters. Lionel Zouma and Joachim Eickmayer could be given their chance in the first team, but it is hard to see how that will address the club’s infuriating inconsistency. This is a team who beat PSG and Lyon last season, but concentration defensively is vital against every opponent, and bringing through inexperienced faces is not the way to do that.

Key arrivals: Julien Faussurier (Troyes)

Key departures: Giovanni Sio (Wolfsburg, loan return)

Prediction: 18th



Toulouse

Mid-table security was achieved last season for Toulouse, a team who have done well in recent years off the back of intelligent dealings in the transfer market. That model will be tested this year, with Etienne Capoue, their midfield anchor, set to depart. The signings of Mihai Roman, Uros Spajic and Oscar Trejo are all unknown quantities but one can be sure Toulouse have got a gem or two amongst them.

The forward pairing of Wissam Ben Yedder and Eden Ben Basat was prolific for Toulouse last season, and their goals mean the club should enjoy another comfortable campaign, but unless a major signing is made, it is hard to see them pushing anywhere near the European places.

Key arrivals: Mihai Roman (Rapid Bucharest), Uros Spajic (Red Star Belgrade), Oscar Trejo (Sporting Gijon)

Key departures: Thibault Peyre (Lille)

Prediction: 11th



Valenciennes

A comfortable finish was satisfactory for Valenciennes last year, but it could have been so much more. A superb first half of the campaign saw them riding high and mounting an outside challenge for Europe. A collapse in the new year saw them slip into the more familiar lower mid-table position they are used to, and this summer has seen them lose key talents to Ligue 1 rivals.

Losing Gael Danic is a major blow, and much will rest on the shoulders of Anthony Le Tallec and Gregory Pujol up front. Valenciennes are nothing if not hard to beat though, and that should be enough to ensure they don’t get sucked too deep into the battle against relegation.

Key arrivals: Aurelian Chitu (Viitorul Constanta), Eloge Yamissi (Nimes), Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (PSG, loan)

Key departures: Gael Danic (Lyon), Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient), Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (Monaco)

Prediction: 16th