As Ligue 1 returns from the winter break, Philippa Booth discusses the title race, with Monaco, Nice and PSG currently taking the top three places, and all of the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue action.
The restart after the winter break might not be ‘all change’, but there’s been a lot going on. Monaco top the Ligue 1 table and are two points clear of Nice, who are one point ahead of PSG. However, there’s also been two cup competitions in action.
The Coupe de France is the traditional way to start a new year, with the entrance of the Ligue 1 teams. Thanks to four top-flight match-ups and Metz losing 2-0 to Ligue 2 Lens, five have already gone and the draw for the next round sees another five all Ligue 1 matches. For underdog fans, there are three matches where two amateur sides face off, including fifth-tier Fleury-Merogis who beat Ligue 2’s Brest 2-0, guaranteeing some lower league teams making it through to the round of sixteen. The other cupsetters sixth-tier Poire-sur-Vie and fifth-tier Sarreguemines will also be eyeing distracted Ligue 2 opposition with interest. Those games will be played on the 31st January and 1st February.
In the Coupe de la Ligue, things are a bit further along. The last remaining Ligue 2 side, Sochaux, were knocked out by Monaco in their quarter-final – but the Monegasques needed penalties to do it. The semi-finals this week will be Bordeaux vs PSG on Tuesday, and Monaco vs Nancy on Wednesday.
With the knock-out action out of the way, Ligue 1 returned with a bang – at least for Monaco. Autumn champions Nice had a stuttering start with two draws – goalless at home to struggling Metz and 1-1 away tie at Bastia – which knocked them down to second. PSG have taken six points following a tight 1-0 win over Rennes, and a routine 2-0 victory over Nantes. Monaco, however – they’re doing that thing again. Their first match was a 4-1 win away at Marseille, featuring a double from Bernardo Silva. They then followed up with a slightly more predictable 4-0 win over Lorient – featuring a double double, with Gabriel Boschilia and Valere Germain sharing the goals.
As previously noted, Monaco are not slowing down when they go ahead, racking up these big scores, so they have room for the occasional defensive lapse. Meanwhile Nice are seeing what happens when their fine-margin game doesn’t quite come off. They had a lot of defensive players back for the Metz game, but were hampered in attack by several absences, including a suspended Mario Balotelli, and definitely lacked forward thrust. Balotelli was back for the trip to Bastia with Nice keeping over 70% possession, but they showed they can be frustrated by an obdurate defence, even if it does go down to ten men just after the hour mark.
An ugly point about this match was the alleged racist chanting from the home fans towards Balotelli. The LFP has referred the incidents to the Disciplinary Commission while Bastia say they are ‘stupefied’ by the allegations. Their captain Julian Palmieri very unwisely waded in, broadcaster Bein sent over their footage, and we await developments.
Looking forward, the fixture pile-up continues. Nice are now out of all cup competitions and get to concentrate on their match against Guingamp at the weekend, while their top podium rivals both have to factor in those cup semi-finals midweek. Lyon will also be looking to make up some ground on the top three after a comprehensive 3-1 win over Marseille on Sunday, as Rudi Garcia’s side’s previous inexplicably impressive defensive record has got a lot more explicable and less impressive. Sunday night will see a key match for the Ligue 1 title race as PSG face Monaco; the two top-scorers in the league, both on a three-game winning streak, and something has to give.
Follow Philippa on Twitter at @Philby1976