So you think Ligue 1 is boring because the title race is over? Think again, says Andrew Gibney.
As an outsider looking in, it’s easy to dismiss this season in Ligue 1 as a non-event. Paris Saint-Germain are top, they have won nine straight league games and the LFP may as well hand the newly-crowned autumn champions the proper Championship as an early Christmas present.
However, outside of the champions, the 19 teams below Laurent Blanc’s side are providing a wonderful spectacle and in an already unpredictable league, that uncertainty has definitely been turned up to 11.
On Saturday night, SCO Angers beat the 2011 champions Lille 2-0 to leap above Lyon into second place. Caen would overtake them on Sunday, but both clubs are PSG’s closest rivals without providing any competition. The newly-promoted side are 15 points behind the Parisians, but only 14 points above Toulouse – who are 19th.
The division is fascinatingly tight, so much so that it is hard to predict where anyone will finish. Angers surprised many by gaining promotion last season. They’ve taken that achievement and blown it out of the water, to the extent that Saturday’s win was no surprise.
“We always try to play when we have the opportunity,” coach Stéphane Moulin told press after the win. “There are boys who turn up for every game, which is good for team spirit and helps us maintain our level. We have agreed not to talk about the Champions League. We are talking about a team that came from Ligue 2 and which has found itself on the podium after 15 days.”
Angers bought well in the summer. Buying players that showed quality in Ligue 2 and had the right attitude to carry on Moulin’s philosophy. Well-organised, hard to break down with an unrelenting spirit. They are on the crest of a wave, but show no signs of stopping any time soon.
Lyon went into the start of the weekend second, but without ever looking like the side that impressed everyone last season. The fast, free-flowing football is gone. Hubert Fournier’s side look sluggish, predictable and lacking that same togetherness and understanding that is helping Angers beat all-comers.
“It’s the worst match I have ever been in charge of, and I’m not just talking about Lyon,” admitted Fournier after the 4-2 defeat to Montpellier. “We were below-par in everything. We sank collectively. Inside 10 minutes we had given them a lot of chances, and given them a lot of space. We then didn’t have the mental or physical resources to get back into it.”
One of the reasons for Lyon’s high position, and for PSG’s dominance in first, is the inability for anyone in Ligue 1 to find consistency. You could say that the other 19 times are consistently inconsistent.
Gazelec Ajaccio – another team promoted last season – were cast aside by reporters only a month ago, but Thierry Laurey’s team found a way to win four straight games and propel themselves up to 16th. Montpellier’s Roland Courbis had looked like a man on the edge of the sack, but four wins from six and they are 13th.
Troyes and Toulouse looked dead and buried, yet, the fact they have not been cast aside should give them both the confidence to find that much-needed run of form. That was proved right this weekend as Le Téfécé stunned Nice 2-0 for only their second win of the season – this a Nice team that beat Lyon 4-1 last weekend.
In the short-term, this is wonderful to watch. In an unlikely Ligue 1 trend, teams are now going away and picking up points. Smaller teams are bonding together to challenge to traditional bigger teams.
Anyone obsessed with looking at countries’ coefficients may be worried about these smaller teams qualifying for the Europa and Champions League, but recent performances may suggest that it is irrelevant. Marseille recently finished with no points during an entire group stage, Lyon have just one point in five games this season.
France’s bigger teams aren’t getting the results they would expect. With the automatic second place still up for the grabs and third place going into the play-offs, why shouldn’t Angers, Caen or Nice earn the chance to rub shoulders with the giants of European football? It’s not like they could do much worse.
In the next few years, it would be great to see someone burst from the pack and pick up the victories needed to challenge PSG at the top, but while this trend continues, this is the time for fairy-tales to come true and dreams to be believed.
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