Eight games into the Ligue 1 season and it’s looking good for an unbeated Nice and Monaco, who are on fire. But, PSG appear to be struggling after their title win last term as they sit in third place with the end of the international break looming, as Philippa Booth discusses.
Eight games in, and it’s surprisingly interesting at the top of Ligue 1 as Nice lead Monaco by one point, with PSG in third.
Nice are unbeaten in the league, having scored in every match so far. Monaco have only been beaten by Nice – the only match in which they failed to find the net – and also inflicted the first of PSG’s two defeats, the other coming from Toulouse, who are up in fourth.
Nice burned brightly last season, scoring at will at the start before developing some defensive solidity to finish fourth, but the summer changes didn’t bode well for this campaign. However, the loss of Valere Germain and Hatem Ben Arfa seem to have been offset by the arrivals of Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda, with Claude Puel’s place on the bench having been well-taken by Lucien Favre.
It’s not all been plain sailing, with two losses in Europe and some narrow wins on the record, including at the weekend, when the last five minutes or so was full Mario. Drawing 1-1 with Lorient – who have had a terrible start but seem to be vaguely pulling themselves together – he scored a lovely goal, took off his shirt, twirled it nonchalantly around to celebrate, and got booked. Then he had ‘contact’ with Steven Moreira, which could technically be described as a mutual headbutt but really wasn’t, and copped a second yellow to be sent off.
Favre was using Balotelli cautiously during a busy run – including their first Europa league games – but he may now be on an extended lay-off after the international break, which will be an annoyance as he is top-scorer with five goals and the next league game is against Lyon.
However, Favre continues to pepper his talented side with impressive youngsters, such as Wylan Cyprien and Vincent Koziello in midfield, and 17-year-old Malang Sarr in defence. Sarr and the more experienced Paul Baysse have been mopping up for Dante, a human beacon of unpredictability, in the three-man backline Nice have been rocking since beating Marseille 3-2 in game four.
Monaco, meanwhile, are a joy to watch, unless you happen to be a Metz fan. Their 22 league goals have been scored by 11 different players, which gives you an idea of how difficult they are for defences to handle. The panic they can provoke may also explain why their top-scorer is defensive midfielder Fabinho with four – he takes the penalties.
The 7-0 hammering of Metz was something of a freak scoreline – the last four came after FCM went down to ten men – but demonstrated Monaco’s purring form. It even outdid PSG’s 6-0 demolition of Caen in game five, which is significantly responsible for their goals scored figure being the same as this time last season. Poor Edinson Cavani. Last season he had six goals in the league at this point; this time it’s eight, and three in Europe, but people are still laughing at him.
Attention may have focussed on the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the biggest change at PSG is the arrival of Unai Emery, who already looks frazzled. They had a convincing 2-0 win over an unconvincing Bordeaux at the weekend, but rumours abound that the players have rejected their manager’s proposed approach, and requested changes in style and personnel. This kind of behaviour, like Cavani’s finishing, was supposed to have improved with the departure of Ibrahimovic…
So, Monaco are on fire, Nice combustible, Toulouse and Lyon are smouldering nicely, and PSG look a bit singed. This is entirely the wrong time for an international break. When we come back, Nice host
Lyon, Monaco go to Toulouse, and PSG will try to get themselves organised on Nancy’s artificial pitch.
The run-up to the Christmas break will be a fascinating watch.
Follow Philippa on Twitter at @Philby1976