The Offside Rule’s French football expert, Andrew Gibney, gives his thoughts on the Ligue 1 season following last weekend’s final round of matches.
The curtain has drawn on the 2015/16 Ligue 1 season. we still have the Coupe de France final between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille to come at the weekend, but for the other 18 clubs, the focus now moves to the next campaign.
From the outside, it would have been easy to lose interest in the league with PSG galloping away with the title so easily. However, with two more Champions League places, Europa League qualification and relegation to sort, it was a fantastically enjoyable campaign from 2nd to 20th.
Let’s look at some of the winners and losers from the season.
Winners: Paris Saint-Germain
You can’t ignore them – they are the French champions for the fourth straight season and they did it with a ruthlessness and no-nonsense approach that has to be admired.
Last season PSG struggled at the start, letting other clubs join the battle before pulling away at the end. No chance of that this season. PSG won their opening four games, didn’t lose til February and finished with a remarkable +83 goal difference.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sensational in his last campaign for the club. He scored 38 league goals, a new club record, and in the process became their all-time leading goal scorer – not a bad way to leave.
They are heavily fancied to complete their second straight quadruple against Marseille on Saturday – it’s a brave punter that bets against them.
Losers: Stade de Reims
Corks were popping all over the Champagne region at the start of the campaign, but it has ended flat and tasteless.
Stade de Reims won four of their first five games and only lost once in their opening eight fixtures, including taking a point off PSG.
But following the 1-0 win over Lille in September, Olivier Guegan’s team lost six straight and only picked up three points once before the start of February.
Despite losing seven of their last nine games, the two-time European Cup finalists still had a chance of survival on the final day. They did their part, beating Lyon 4-1 at the Stade Auguste Delaune, but two goals in the last 10 minutes from Toulouse against Angers gave their relegation rivals a vital win and there was nothing Reims or caretaker boss David Guion could do.
In the end, Reims just weren’t good enough. They have the talent, but they just couldn’t put it all together.
Winners: OGC Nice
Everyone knows Hatem Ben Arfa, and the English press have been clambering all over themselves to tell Newcastle United fans about how well he has done for Nice this season – and he has – but he’s not the only success story.
Les Aiglons finished fourth, qualifying for the Europa League, and the tactics, midfield and group of players brought together by Claude Puel all deserve plaudits too.
Ben Arfa finished with 17 goals and six assists, but Valere Germain – on loan from AS Monaco – scored 14 goals and also added six assists.
Where Ben Arfa has let himself down at times is not turning up when Nice needed him most. Not Germain. Last week, facing Europa League challengers Saint-Etienne with a two-man advantage and 15 minutes to go, it was the French striker that stepped up. His double, two excellent finishes, sealed the 2-0 win and secured a place in European competition.
Behind those two forwards, it has been the midfield trio of Nampalys Mendy, Jean Michel Seri and Vincent Koziello that have given Nice the basis to build that success.
And the blonde locks of Koziello are catching most of the attention.
He looks like he should still be in school, but the 20-year-old has been a revelation this season. Strong, a good passer, and intelligent beyond his years, Koziello is a symbol of this new Nice team.
This summer’s biggest challenge for Nice is keeping this team together – only then can they truly be classed as winners from this season.