This weekend saw the culmination of pre-season with the traditional curtain-raiser, the Trophée des Champions. With PSG having won a second consecutive domestic treble, we unfortunately didn’t get to see them play themselves; the league place was again handed to runners-up Lyon.
In what is either just a better-organised friendly or a valid domestic trophy depending who’s counting, PSG won 4-1 with goals from Javier Pastore, newly assigned the number ten shirt, Lucas, Hatem Ben Arfa, playing up front in the absence of Edinson Cavani, and Layvin Kurzawa. For Lyon, Corentin Tolisso got the late consolation that won’t be much comfort. Ángel Di María was voted man of the match after being a threat throughout, and PSG won their fourth consecutive Trophée des Champions to kick off another tilt at winning everything possible this season.
PSG are purring as they head into their match away at Bastia on Friday. After a warm-up beating West Brom 2-1 (David Luiz own goal for the Baggies), they won all three games at the International Champions Cup, beating Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and Leicester. The use of some younger players – partly enforced, given various absences after Euro 2016 – hopefully bodes well, with centre back Presnel Kimpembe and attacking midfielder Jonathan Ikone handed consistent starts. Ikone scored two goals, and there is also Jean-Kévin Augustin, top-scorer in the U19 Euros, to look out for.
Lyon, meanwhile, have had the usual distraction of trying not to sell Alexandre Lacazette, and President Jean-Marie Aulas taking to social media. Things were looking good in their pre-season, with wins over Zenit St. Petersburg, Sporting CP, and Benfica, before that collective bad-day-at-the-office in the Trophée des Champions. They will be hoping to put that behind them with a first league match away at newly-promoted Nancy.
Third on the podium, Monaco have already had competitive fixtures to qualify for the Champions League group stage, which has stymied French teams for the past three seasons. They beat Fenerbahçe 4-3 on aggregate playing 4-4-2, with goals from Valère Germain and Falcao, and their attacking chances look even more promising as Kylian Mbappe returns from the U19 Euros, where he was second top-scorer. The defence could still do with some work, however, and they will face Villarreal next, in arguably the pick of the play-offs.
For the Europa teams, mixed results – Nice go straight into the group stage, but having lost both Ben Arfa and Germain, as well as midfield lynchpin Nampalys Mendy to Leicester, they look to be in need of a click – they are winless in four in pre-season. At least those results can be written off – Saint-Étienne beat AEK Athens 1-0 on aggregate to progress in underwhelming fashion to a play-off against Beitar Jerusalem, with coach Christophe Galtier continuing to look like he’s not sure what to do about scoring goals. Lille, meanwhile, got knocked out by Azeri side Qabala, ruing the days they came up against goalkeeper Dymtro Bezotosnyi, as their 47 shots over the two legs resulted in one goal.
Finally, a nod to the usual off-the-wall fixture characteristic of pre-season. In 2013, OM played a bizarre football / rugby hybrid match against Toulon Rugby Club in which new Crystal Palace goalkeeper Steve Mandanda played outfield, and scored two goals; this year, Caen played a UNFP (equivalent of the PFA) select eleven of free agents. Caen won 4-3 in a match where they managed to score by mistake in a very poor attempt to get the ball back to the opposition keeper, and so in gentlemanly fashion let their opponents walk one into the net to make up.
As Ligue 1 rumbles towards the restart, it’s time to focus on the job at hand. But pre-season is a mix of the big-ticket, the mundane, and the chaotic; perfect to set up what is to come.