French Ligue 1 Preview

by Joshua McGehee



Bonjour! The English Premier League isn't the only league kicking off this afternoon.  AS Monaco take on Lyon in the first match of the new French Ligue 1 season.  While it's widely expected that Paris Saint-Germain will defend their title, there is still plenty of intrigue and fresh faces across the rest of the league.  That's why I'm here to help break down all 20 teams, the transfers that have shaped each squad, and which players you should be paying attention to.


Paris Saint-Germain

  • Last Season: Champions
  • Transfers In: Abdou Diallo (Borussia Dortmund), Ander Herrera (Manchester United), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla FC)
  • Transfers Out: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Kevin Trapp (Eintracht Frankfurt), Dani Alves (São Paulo), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis), Tim Weah (Lille)

Despite the fact that PSG won Ligue 1 by a 16-point margin, many fans would classify the team’s season as a major disappointment.  Of the nine matches PSG dropped points in, six of them came over the final two months of the season, which included four defeats.  When you add in the loss to Stade Rennes in the French Cup, and the embarrassing collapse to Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League, the pressure is on second year manager Thomas Tuchel to deliver more than just another league title.  The jury is still out on whether or not Neymar will leave the club this year, but “Les Parisiens” still have the best young player in the world, Kylian Mbappé.  Those two combined with striker Edinson Cavani to score 66 of PSG’s 105 goals in league play, dominance they hope to replicate this season.

Player to Watch: Ángel Di María

While the front three will usually grab the headlines for PSG, Di María quietly had a renaissance year.  The former Real Madrid and Manchester United winger led the team with 11 assists while also scoring the fourth most goals on the team with 12.  While he is getting up there in age, Di María’s ability to pick out a decisive cross is still fantastic, and it’s that ability PSG hope will remain one of their best offensive weapons this season.

 

Lille

  • Last Season: 2nd Place
  • Transfers In: Léo Jardim (Rio Ave FC), Benjamin André (Stade Rennes), Tim Weah (PSG), Victor Osimhen (RSC Charleroi), Yusuf Yazici (Trabzonspor)
  • Transfers Out: Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal), Rafael Leão (AC Milan), Anwar El-Ghazi (Aston Villa), Youssouf Kone (Lyon), Thiago Mendes (Lyon)

Lille were the feel-good story of Ligue 1 last year when they finished in second a year after finishing two spots away from relegation.  While Lille certainly don’t have the financial capabilities to keep up with PSG, they managed to beat them 5-1 during a league match in April last season on their way to clinching a spot in the UCL.  However, the club sold several of their key players this summer, with the loss of Nicolas Pépé and his 22 goals to Arsenal being the biggest blow.  Lille will have to depend upon their defense, which conceded a league low 33 goals last season.  The former Southampton and West Ham player José Fonte and Zeki Celik will lead the backline, whereas former Chelsea player Loïc Rémy could be the one to step up in place of the departed Pépé.

Player to Watch: Jonathon Bamba

Bamba instantly became a fan favorite when he scored on his club debut at the beginning of last season in August.  He would go on to score 13 league goals for Lille, which was good for second on the team.  The midfielder will now get to showcase his skills to the world when Lille start UCL play in September.

 

Lyon

  • Last Season: 3rd Place
  • Transfers In: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Nantes), Joachim Andersen (Sampdoria), Youssouf Kone (Lille), Thiago Mendes (Lille)
  • Transfers Out: Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid), Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham), Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

It was another solid season for Lyon last year, as they made it to the knockout round of the UCL while also clinching third place in Ligue 1 after three straight victories to end the year.  However, when it comes to the team’s ability to maintain their good form, there is concern over the fact that the club lost a key player at every level of their squad in Mendy, Ndombele, and Fekir this summer.  That will be something new manager Sylvinho will have to deal with successfully if Lyon want to remain as one of the better clubs in France.

Player to Watch: Memphis Depay

Depay was an integral part in Lyon’s offense last season, producing 10 goals and 10 assists in league play.  The former Manchester United winger still possesses great speed and skill in his set piece delivery.  If the Dutchman is able to once again be a big part of the offense, Lyon could make some noise at the top of the table once again.

 

Saint-Étienne

  • Last Season: 4th Place
  • Transfers In: Sergi Palencia (FC Barcelona), Denis Bouanga (Nîmes)
  • Transfers Out: Timothée Kolodziejczak (Tigres), Nevan Subotic (FC Union Berlin), Rémy Cabella (Krasnodar), Yannis Salibur (Guingamp)

Saint Étienne were six points off of a spot in the UCL, which was mostly due to losing both league fixtures to the team that finished above them in Lyon.  Nevertheless, the club finished by winning seven of their last 10 matches and earning a spot in the UEFA Europa League.  Ghislain Printant takes over as manager for Jean-Louis Gasset, who he worked under as an assistant coach last season.  “Les Verts” haven’t been active in the transfer market, but they were able to retain the services of William Saliba on loan after initially selling him to Arsenal this summer.  He’ll be the anchor in defense, with the likes of Yann M’Vila and Loïs Diony patrolling the midfield.

Player to Watch: Wahbi Khazri

Some die-hard fans will recognize Khazri’s name from the short time he spent with Sunderland when they were in the EPL.  The striker joined Saint Étienne last summer, scoring 13 goals and adding six assists to lead the club in both categories.  Khazri is capable of playing a physical brand of soccer while also having the skills to get past defenders.  “Les Verts” will hope he’s just as effective this season as he was last year.

 

Marseille

  • Last Season: 5th Place
  • Transfers In: Álvaro González (Villarreal), Darío Benedetto (Boca Juniors)
  • Transfers Out: Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla FC), Mario Balotelli (Free Agent), Clinton N’Jie (Dinamo Moscow)

While Marseille have established themselves in the top half of the table over the years, they struggled to put together any sustainable win streaks last season to propel them into a UCL spot.  They ended the year only winning four of their final 10 matches in league play.  That could have something to do in the change in manager, with former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur boss André Villas-Boas now taking charge.  He’ll take charge of a team with a ton of attacking talent, such as Dimitri Payet, and Kevin Strootman in the midfield, and Valère Germain at striker.

Player to Watch: Florian Thauvin

Thauvin has spent most of his career at Marseille and has grown into quite the attacking midfielder.  He led the club last season with 16 goals and eight assists after spending the summer as a member of France’s World Cup winning team.  Thauvin’s all-around playmaking abilities will be put to the test once again this year as he’ll be responsible for shouldering much of the offensive load for “Les Olympiens”. 

 

Montpellier

  • Last Season: 6th Place
  • Transfers In: Jordan Ferri (Lyon), Arnaud Souquet (Gent), Téji Savanier (Nîmes)
  • Transfers Out: Benjamin Lecomte (AS Monaco), Ruben Aguilar (AS Monaco), Ellyes Skhiri (FC Cologne), Isaac Mbenza (Huddersfield Town)

Montpellier actually could have had a better season than they did as they were top eight in both goals scored and goals conceded.  However, they couldn’t close the deal in a lot of their matches, having almost as many draws as wins (15 to 14).  There have been no major changes to Michel Der Zakarian’s side over the summer.  Their defense will be led by Daniel Congré and 41-year-old Hilton, while Gaëtan Laborde (11 goals) will be one of the player leading the line up front this season.

Player to Watch: Andy Delort

Delort was brought in on loan last season from Toulouse and made a huge impact for Montpellier.  The forward led the club with 14 goals and seven assists in league play.  Now that he has been brought in on a permanent basis, there are high hopes from the supporters and staff that he can do it all again this season.

 

Nice

  • Last Season: 7th Place
  • Transfers In:
  • Transfers Out: Christophe Jallet (SC Amiens), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle)

Nice made waves last season when they appointed Arsenal and French legend Patrick Vieira as their manager.  In his first year, Vieira led the club to a seventh-place finish, which was one place higher than the previous year.  They did it on the back of their defense, as they tied with PSG for the second lowest goals conceded total in the league.  The problem with Nice last season was on the other end, where they only 30 goals as a team, the third worst record in the league. That problem was compounded further with the loss of Saint-Maximin to Newcastle this month, but with Vieira at the helm, Nice seem like a sure bet to remain in the top half of the table.

Player to Watch: Youcef Atal

Now that Saint-Maximin has moved on, there will be more opportunities to provide goals for Nice.  Enter Atal, who tied for the team lead last season with six league goals.  That is total that can definitely be improved, but the midfielder will hope that others will step up on the team to provide the offensive boost necessary to have another quality season.


Stade de Reims

  • Last Season: 8th Place
  • Transfers In: Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
  • Transfers Out: Edouard Mendy (Stade Rennes), Björn Engels (Aston Villa), Pablo Chavarría (RCD Mallorca)

A memorable 3-1 victory on the final day vs. the champions PSG capped off a relatively good season for Stade de Reims.  Led by manager David Guion, who managed at the youth and reserve levels for the club, Stade de Reims were another one of those teams with a solid defensive record to go along with an underwhelming offense.  That combination led to 16 draws, tied for most in the league.  Another contributing factor was how young the team was, but that could turn into an advantage this season.

Player to Watch: Rémi Oudin

Oudin led Stade de Reims with 10 goals and four assists.  He could also be considered as the face of the youth movement, as he is only 22-years-old.  The attacking midfielder’s development is crucial to the improvement of the club’s offense, and therefore their record, this season.


Nîmes

  • Last Season: 9th Place
  • Transfers In: Pablo Martinez (Strasbourg), Romain Philippoteaux (AJ Auxerre), Sidy Sarr (LB Châteauroux), Zinedine Ferhat (AC Le Havre)
  • Transfers Out: Jordan Ferri (Montpellier), Sada Thioub (Angers), Denis Bouanga (Saint-Étienne), Téji Savanier (Montpellier), Rachid Alioui (Angers)

After earning promotion to Ligue 1 the year before, Nîmes finished in the top half of the table in their first year back last season.  They didn’t have a problem putting the ball in the net, but they conceded the third most goals in the league, which led to as many losses as wins.  Now manager Bernard Blaquart will have to deal with several key offensive departures, including joint top scorer Denis Bouanga and midfielder Téji Savanier, who led the team with 14 assists. This team still has some solid players returning in attack and Paul Bernardoni will be back in goal as well.

Player to Watch: Renaud Ripart

Ripart is a symbol of Nîmes’ immediate success in Ligue 1, as he upped his goal tally to eight, which was tied for the team lead.  He was also third on the team in assists with four.  People will be wondering if Nîmes is here to stay or just a one-season wonder, and Ripart will be at the forefront in ensuring it’s the latter for his club.


Stade Rennes

  • Last Season: 10th Place
  • Transfers In: Edouard Mendy (Reims), Romain Salin (Sporting CP), Flavien Tait (Angers)
  • Transfers Out: Tomas Koubek (FC Augsburg), Edson Mexer (Bordeaux), Brandon Thomas (Osasuna), Benjamin André (Lille), Hatem Ben Arfa (Free Agent), Ismaïla Sarr (Watford)

Some of you are saying that I already previewed this team, but don’t confuse Stade de Reims with Stade Rennes.  The highlight of Stade Rennes’ season had to be the victory over PSG in penalty kicks to win the French Cup.  It was the club’s first trophy in 48 years and helped qualify them for the Europa League again after they were knocked out by Arsenal 4-3 on aggregate last season.  Manager Julien Stéphan will hope his side show the same tenacity in the league this year that they’ve shown in other competitions.  The addition of Flavien Tate (five goals, seven assists) will add an attacking element to the defense, but either new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy or Romain Salin must step up to replace the departing Tomas Koubek.

Player to Watch: M’Baye Niang

While Stade Rennes have good attacking talent, Niang was the only player to reach a double-digit total in goals with 11.  After his impressive season, the club stepped up to make the striker a permanent member after he was loaned to them last year by Torino.  With “Les Rennais” pulling double duty in the league and in Europe again, a consistent output from Niang would go a long way in helping the club achieve success in both leagues.

 

Strasbourg

  • Last Season: 11th Place
  • Transfers In: Alexander Djiku (Caen), Jean-Ricner Bellegarde (Lens)
  • Transfers Out: Pablo Martinez (Nîmes), Anthony Gonçalves (Caen)

Strasbourg were able to win the French League Cup and achieve a spot in Europa League qualifying last season, despite finishing in the bottom half of the table.  While the club managed a +10 in goal difference, they couldn’t put teams away, ending the year with 16 draws in the league.  They’ve brought in some defensive reinforcements this summer to pair with the already present attacking options, such as Lebo Mothiba and Nuno Da Costa, in hopes of achieving a finish in the top half of the table this year.

Player to Watch: Kenny Lala

While Lala’s main duties are as a defender, the right back was a large part of Strasbourg’s offense last season.  He led the team with nine assists, while also adding five goals.  His season earned him nominations for some league awards at the end of the year even.  His pace and crossing ability will be utilized a lot to help the club’s campaign in the league and in Europe.

 

Nantes

  • Last Season: 12th Place
  • Transfers In: Alban Lafont (Fiorentina), Marcus Coco (Guingamp), Mehdi Abeid (Dijon FCO)
  • Transfers Out: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Lyon), Diego Carlos (Sevilla FC), Enock Kwateng (Bordeaux), Anthony Limbombe (Standard Liège), Majeed Waris (FC Porto), Gabriel Boschilia (AS Monaco)

No one in the world of soccer had a tougher season than Nantes.  The club and its supporters mourned over the tragic death of their star striker Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash on his way to complete his transfer to Cardiff City.  The team was able to rebound and enjoyed a five-game winning streak from mid-April to May which included wins over PSG, Lyon, and Marseille.  Sala’s death still took a toll on many, as its one of the reasons given for the sudden resignation of manger Vahid Halilhodžić last week.  Patrick Collot has taken up the post for now and he’ll be in charge of filling holes at goalkeeper, defense, and forward in order to improve the club’s showing this season.

Player to Watch: Valentin Rongier

Rongier will be one of the guys asked to take on a larger role this season.  The midfielder led the team with five assists while also contributing four goals in the league.  Of Nante’s top five goal scorers, Rongier is one of only two who is returning for this season, so there will be plenty of opportunites for him to get more looks at goal.

 

Angers

  • Last Season: 13th Place
  • Transfers In: Sada Thioub (Nîmes), Rachid Alioui (Nîmes), Mathias Pereira Lage (Clermont Foot)
  • Transfers Out: Flavien Tate (Stade Rennes), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham City)

Angers was one of the more consistent teams in Ligue 1 last season, having finished only one spot higher than the previous year.  The club joined Strasbourg in tying for the league lead with 16 draws.  The departure of their star left back Flavien Tate will sting, but Angers were able to bring in a few attacking players to make up for it.  It’s tough sledding in the bottom of Ligue 1 as Angers will hope they can move further towards the top half of the table this season.

Player to Watch: Stéphane Bahoken

Bahoken led Angers last season with 11 goals in league play.  The 27-year-old made 32 appearances for the club and is in the prime of his career.  With attacking reinforcements on their way, the striker will look to push his game to another level and help Angers become more of a threat this season.

 

Bordeaux

  • Last Season: 14th Place
  • Transfers In: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Edson Mexer (Stade Rennes), Enock Kwateng (Nantes), Loris Benito (Young Boys), Hwang Ui-Jo (Gamba Osaka)
  • Transfers Out: Sergi Palencia (FC Barcelona), Jules Koundé (Sevilla FC), Jaroslav Plasil (Retired), Yann Karamoh (Inter Milan), Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta)

After enjoying the spoils of a sixth place finish the year before, Bordeaux dropped last season inexplicably to fourteenth place.  The turmoil began in August when manager Gus Poyet was suspended, then fired, after criticizing the club’s decision to sell a player to another team in Ligue 1.  Ricardo Gomes took charge of his second spell with the club, but he only lasted till March when he was replaced by Paulo Sousa.  The club made headlines this week by making a move for former Arsenal captain and French international Laurent Koscielny.  His experience will be put to the test in order to bring Bordeaux back to its expected standard.

Player to Watch: François Kamano

Bordeaux struggled as a team to score goals last season, but Kamano was able to break the double-digit mark with 10.  What the 23-year-old lacks in size and experience he makes up for with speed and skill.  “Les Girondins” were solid in defense last season, so if Kamano and company can put more shots into the back of the net, Bordeaux could find themselves back in the top half of the table.

 

SC Amiens

  • Last Season: 15th Place
  • Transfers In: Christophe Jallet (Nice), Haitam Aleesami (Palermo), Chadrac Akolo (VfB Stuttgart)
  • Transfers Out: Emil Krafth (Newcastle), Khaled Adénon (Al-Wahda), 

SC Amiens did what any team fighting to avoid relegation would do at the end of the season: pick up points any way you can.  Over the last three months, the club drew eight times to go with two wins to finish in fifteenth place and remain in Ligue 1.  Now under the leadership of new manager Luka Elsner, SC Amiens will have to improve drastically on both sides of the ball if they wish to avoid another stressful season.

Player to Watch: Régis Gurtner

SC Amiens primarily focused this summer on retaining the attacking players loaned to them on a permanent basis.  This was in large part because they didn’t have to worry about who’s in net.  Gurtner played in every league match for “Les Licornes” last season, racking up 116 saves and 11 clean sheets.  The goalkeeper will hope for better play by the defense in front of him, but they can take solace in knowing that a sturdy pair of hands will be defending the net.

 

Toulouse

  • Last Season: 16th Place
  • Transfers In: Jean-Victor Makengo (Nice), Wesley Saïd (Dijon FCO), Efthimios Koulouris (PAOK Salonika)
  • Transfers Out: Christopher Jullien (Celtic), Francois Moubandje (Dinamo Zagreb), Yannick Cahuzac (Lens), Manu Garcia (Manchester City), Jimmy Durmaz (Galatasaray)

Toulouse limped to a sixteenth-place finish after going winless in their last seven league matches to close out the year.  They had started well in August and September, but soon found themselves with a relegation battle on their hands.  Manager Alain Casanova, in his second stint with the club, has bought a couple of attacking players in the transfer market that should help improve upon the total of 35 goals from last season.

Player to Watch: Max Gradel

Unless you’re a die-hard Toulouse fan, there probably aren’t too many familiar names on the roster.  One of them that sticks out is Gradel, who was a success at Saint Étienne before moving to AFC Bournemouth in the EPL.  Last season, the midfielder led Toulouse with 11 goals and five assists, his best totals since the 2014/2015 season.

 

AS Monaco

  • Last Season: 17th Place
  • Transfers In: Benjamin Lecompte (Montpellier), Ruben Aguilar (Montpellier), Gabriel Boschilia (Nantes), Keita Baldé (Inter Milan), Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla)
  • Transfers Out: Djibril Sidibé (Everton), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)

It wasn’t long ago when a Monaco team led by Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, and a young upstart by the name of Kylian Mbappé made it to the semi-finals of the UCL.  Most of the players from that team have moved on, which is the main reason the club have struggled over the past few seasons.  Manager Leonardo Jardim was sacked in October and replaced by French legend Thierry Henry, but he only made to January before he was fired and replaced by the previously sacked Jardim.  Monaco will get a boost in goal from new signing Benjamin Lecompte and there are plenty of big-name attacking options, such as Radamel Falcao, Gelson Martins, and new signing Wissam Ben Yedder, to help the team move back up the table.

Player to Watch: Cesc Fàbregas

Fàbregas’ time at Chelsea came to an end in January after he was unable to get consistent playing time.  He made 13 appearances for Monaco scoring one goal in the second half of the season.  The Spaniard still possesses a gift for picking out a pass, but he is getting up there in age.  If he is properly motivated this season, he could be the key in the midfield that unlocks the rest of Monaco’s offensive potential this season.

 

Dijon FCO

  • Last Season: 18th Place
  • Transfers In: Bruno Ecuélé Manga (Cardiff City), Mama Baldé (Sporting CP)
  • Transfers Out: Bobby Allain (Olympiacos), Valentin Rosier (Sporting CP), Oussama Haddadi (Al-Ettifaq), Cédric Yambéré (Al-Ettifaq), Mehdi Abeid (Nantes), Chang-hun Kwon (SC Frieburg), Wesley Saïd (Toulouse)

Despite win four of their final eight games, it took a victory over two legs in a promotion playoff vs. Lens for Dijon to maintain their Ligue 1 status.  Long-time manager Olivier Dall’Oglio was replaced in January by Antoine Kombouaré, who successfully led Dijon through the rest of the season and playoff before being replaced this summer by Stéphane Jobard.  It was a sharp drop-off from the club’s eleventh place finish the year before, and if they want to avoid relegation, Dijon must improve in every facet of the game.

 Player to Watch: Naïm Sliti

Sliti led Dijon last season with five goals and four assists.  The forward from Tunisia also scored twice in the second leg of the playoff vs. Lens.  It’s going to be another tough season for Dijon, but if Sliti came up his total close to the double-digit mark, then that should be enough to secure another season in Ligue 1 for the club.

 

Metz

  • Last Season: 1st in Ligue 2
  • Transfers In: Fabien Centonze (Lens), Manuel Cabit (AC Ajaccio), Thierry Ambrose (Manchester City)
  • Transfers Out: Iván Balliu (Free Agent)

Unlike the New York team that bares the same name, Metz had a very successful season last year when they earned promotion after finishing in first in Ligue 2.  Lucklily for their supporters, their tenure in the second league lasted only one season.  Under manager Frédéric Antonetti, Metz were an incredibly balanced team, scoring the second most goals in the league while also conceding the fewest at 23. They’ve been able to keep most of the team together, but that cohesiveness will be put to the test as tougher competition awaits in Ligue 1.

Player to Watch: Habib Diallo

Diallo was the marksman for Metz last season, leading the team with 26 goals scored.  The crafty midfielder is able to utilize his speed and skill to get past defenders and create chances for his side.  The defense will be under more pressure this year so it will be up to guys like Diallo to get Metz the goals they need to get results.

 

Brest

  • Last Season: 2nd in Ligue 2
  • Transfers In: Denys Blain (AC Le Havre), Romain Perraud (Nice),  
  • Transfers Out: Anthony Weber (Caen), Quentin Bernard (AJ Auxerre), Thomas Ayasse (Free Agent), Édouard Butin (Free Agent)

Brest came up second best in Ligue 2, but it was still enough to earn them automatic promotion.  They did on the back of their offense, which led the league with 64 goals scored.  The club were able to hold onto their top three goal scorers from last season as well as their starting goalkeeper Gautier Larsonneur.  Both qualities will be important in contributing to the success of Brest this season.

Player to Watch: Gaetan Charbonnier

Charbonnier lit Ligue 2 on fire last season by scoring 27 goals in league play.  While he may have attracted the eye of one or two of the bigger clubs in France, he has stayed with Brest for now, and will lead the line looking to solidify the club in the top flight for an extended period of time.

 

For more soccer coverage, tune into the STL United Soccer Sunday Show on 590 The Fan KFNS.  Au revoir!