Eleven games in and PSG are already looking nailed on for their fourth successive title. Below them, however, things look rather unusual, and some scrolling is needed to find a couple of traditionally heavy hitters in Ligue 1. Philippa Booth uses her first piece for The Offside Rule looks at the goings on below the runaway leaders…
Looking at the fortunes of last season’s top six, there have been some big falls from grace, most notably OM, who have hit as low as 16th. They spent much of the first half of 2014/15 at the top of the table, before dropping off, as the ‘Bielsa Effect’ took its toll on players after a good start. This season, OM fans were concerned about the number of departures, leaving only Michy Batshuayi up-front. Good as he is, he made only six starts last year, so not bringing in cover was a surprise. The biggest surprise, however, was Bielsa quitting after the first game of the season, leaving Michel to come in to manage a shell-shocked group of mostly new arrivals that overlaps only two players (Mandanda and Mendy) with last year’s favoured eleven.
Less remarked is the position of Willy Sagnol’s Bordeaux, who got a Europa League spot last season, but have also spent most of this one languishing in the bottom half. Sagnol has a lot of experience in player development, managing at youth levels for France, which an increased role for players such as Enzo Crivelli bears out, but they don’t look to have clicked, particularly in defence.
Of the rest, Lyon are down a bit after a slow start, with the injury to Nabil Fekir key, but they seem to be finding their mojo and should be back in contention sooner rather than later. St Etienne are about par, and Monaco, after some key departures (Kondogbia, Ferreira Carrasco, Martial) are also roughly where they were at this stage last season.
More exciting are the teams who are currently challenging for the podium. Last year, Caen were a newly-promoted side who got themselves into a few scrapes and ultimately finished 13th – this season, they have reached third with their enjoyable – albeit haphazard – attacking style. It doesn’t look sustainable, but then that was said about Montpellier in 2011/12; joining them up at the top table are an even more surprising club, Angers.
It’s no surprise to find newly-promoted teams struggling, and Gazelec and Troyes are certainly proving that, but the last time a new arrival looked this strong, they (Monaco) had billionaire backing and spent over €170m to bring in the likes of Falcao and James Rodriguez; conversely, Angers have sold Jonathan Kodija to Bristol City and spent €0 on replacements. They started with a bang, beating Montpellier 2-0 away (which now looks a less ridiculous result for the 2012 champions, considering), and have displayed admirable defensive solidity and a canny eye for a scoring opportunity. They’ve got some tricky games coming up in December and January, but have already banked valuable points and look to have a good rhythm going.
Another nice surprise in the top half is Nice, with a happy-looking Hatem Ben Arfa and stalwart Valere Germain scoring all over the place, while simultaneously letting in goals at the drop of a hat. Claude Puel’s men have a game in hand, and may not keep this form up, but it’s great fun to watch while they do.
PSG look to be getting an even easier run at the title this season, which may be helpful as their focus is clearly the Champions League. However, as they cruise along, the frantic paddling beneath them should prove to be the real story of Ligue 1 this season.
Follow Philippa at @Philby1976