Welcome to the first part of our 2011/2012 French Ligue 1 Season Preview, where we will take a look at the teams most likely to be involved in the title race, as well as the ones fighting for the Champions League places. French Ligue 1 Season Preview part 2 will cover the mid table sides, whereas teams fighting for survival will find its place in part 3 of our preview. English Premier League Season Preview and German Bundesliga Season Preview are also available.
Without a doubt the most attractive team in French football managed to win their first league title after 57 years last season, having won the race with Olympique de Marseille. Les Dogues not only won the league title but also added a Coupe de France to their trophy cabinet, but they will face a serious test of their title credentials this season. Coach Rudi Garcia stayed without key players Cabaye, Rami and Gervinho but they did sign some very good replacements in Payet, Pedretti, Basa and Bonnart. However, balancing between French Ligue 1 and Champions League may prove too big a task for les Dogues, so I cannot see them defending the title this term, although another Champions League finish is a possibility. Having kept hold of key attackers Eden Hazard and Moussa Sow and with Dimitry Payet added to the ranks, Lille are set to remain the best attacking force in France. Rudi Garcia’s men have lost the Trophee des Champions match to Marseille, but the 5:4 scoreline proves that scoring goals won’t be a problem for Lille.
Last season: 1st
Important arrivals: Joe Cole (Liverpool), Ireneusz Jelen (Auxerre), Marko Basa (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dimitri Payet (Saint Etienne), Benoit Pedretti (Auxerre), David Rozenhal (Hamburger), Vincent Eneyama (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Laurent Bonnart (Monaco), Ronny Rodelin (Nantes).
Important departures: Gervinho (Arsenal), Adil Rami (Valencia), Pierre-Alain Frau (Caen), Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Nicolas Favergue (Sedan), Stephane Dumont (Monaco), Ludovic Butelle (Arles), Emerson (Benfica).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Landreau – Debuchy, Basa, Chedjou, Beria – Pedretti, Mavuba, Balmont – Payet, Sow, Hazard.
Pick: Lille to achieve top 3 finish
OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE
Marseille are slowly returning to old glory days and even though they failed to lift the league title last season, OM look like the most likely candidates for the Ligue 1 trophy this term. Coach Didier Deschamps did stay without Taye Taiwo and Gabriel Heinze, who weren’t exactly what we would call key players, but Marseille added a lot of quality to their ranks by bringing Morgan Amalfitano, Alou Diarra, Jeremy Morel and Nicolas Nkoulou. There are still doubts over the future of Lucho Gonzalez, who has expressed desire to leave the club, but OM will be well covered in all positions even if the Argentine leaves Velodrome. The three defensive arrivals have added much needed steel to the back line, even though the 5:4 win over Lille in the French Super Cup would suggest otherwise, but as long as Marseille manage to score one goal more than their opponents they’ll be perfectly fine. With Gignac, Remy, Valbuena and Ayew brothers, Marseille will continue to score goals for fun and I honestly believe they have what it takes to win the title this season.
Last season: 2nd
Important arrivals: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Morgan Amalfitano (Lorient), Nicolas Nkoulou (Monaco), Jeremy Morel (Lorient), Gennaro Bracigliano (Nancy), Djimi Traore (Monaco).
Important departures: Gabriel Heinze (AS Roma), Taye Taiwo (AC Milan), Fabrice Abriel (Nice), Edouard Cisse (Auxerre).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Mandanda – Azpilicueta, Nkoulou, M’Bia, Morel – Cheyrou, Diarra, Lucho– Remy, Gignac, A. Ayew.
Pick: Marseille to win Ligue 1 title
Following yet another disappointing season in which PSG could only achieve a 4th place finish and thus ensure Europa League qualification, the Saints are determined to take the Ligue 1 by storm this season and they might just manage to do that. The new Qatari owners have pumped up significant funds in the club, allowing new sporting director Leonardo to buy the likes of Javier Pastore, Mohamed Sissoko, Jeremy Menez, Salvatore Sirigu and Kevin Gameiro among others, but I still doubt the Saints can immediately mount a serious title challenge. Antoine Kombouare will need some time to make the new players gel, but since he doesn’t look capable of managing such a high-profile team, he might get lost, and sacked, somewhere in the process. The sheer quality of their players will allow PSG to fight for the trophies, but they should be happy if they manage to finish in top three this season. However, I have to admit they have made some amazing signings this summer.
Last season: 4th
Important arrivals: Javier Pastore (Palermo), Mohamed Sissoko (Juventus), Milan Bisevac (Valenciennes), Jeremy Menez (AS Roma), Blaise Matuidi (Saint Etienne), Salvatore Sirigu (Palermo), Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Nicolas Douchez (Rennes), Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce)
Important departures: Jeremy Clement (Saint Etienne), Claude Makelele (retired), Ludovic Giuly (Monaco), Gregory Coupet (retired), Apoula Edel (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Tripy Makonda (Brest), Sammy Traore (released).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Sirigu – Jallet, Bisevac, Lugano, Tiene – Sissoko, Matuidi – Menez, Pastore, Nene – Gameiro.
Pick: Paris Saint-Germain to finish in top 3
OLYMPIQUE DE LYON
Lyon have long been the most dominant force in French football, with their seven successive league titles something that no club would be able to match any time soon. However, once their domestic dominance came to an end, les Gones just couldn’t stop the downtrend in fortunes. Despite possessing a very good squad, Lyon largely struggled last season, although they somehow managed to finish the league campaign in 3rd place and thus ensured Champions League qualification. Nonetheless, there has been a great degree of uncertainty surrounding the club ever since, as les Gones could still see several key players leave the club. Claude Puel has already left, but Michel Bastos, Miralem Pjanic and Aly Cissokho could follow his footsteps and that would leave a big gap to fill. With Yoan Gourcuff struggling with injury and coming on the back of a very disappointing season, Lyon could be in for another year of struggles.
Last season: 3rd
Important arrivals: Mouhamadou Dabo (Sevilla), Bakary Kone (Guingamp), Gueida Fofana (Le Havre).
Important departures: Jeremy Toulalan (Malaga), Cesar Delgado (Monterrey), Pape Diakathe (returned to Dynamo Kiev).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Lloris – Reveillere, Kone, Lovren, Cissokho – Gourcuff, Gonalons, Kallstrom – Briand, Lopez, Bastos.
Prediction: Europa League qualification
Pick: Lisandro Lopez to be Lyon’s top goalscorer
GIRONDINS DE BORDEAUX
Bordeaux are another one of the French giants who enter the new Ligue 1 campaign on the back of the very disappointing season, with the 7th-place finish something that les Girondins just couldn’t afford to happen. Coach Jean Tigana has paid the price for the under-par results and the club management has produced quite a coup by appointing Francois Gillot, the man who led Sochaux to 5th place last season. There were no big name signings this summer at Stade Chaban-Delmas, although Maurice-Belay and N’Guemo did arrive from Sochaux and Nancy respectively. On the other hand, Alou Diarra, Fernando, Ducasse and Cavenaghi all left, so it is clear that Gillot will be looking to rely on several talented youngsters such as Sertic, Saivet and Modeste. There will be more arrivals and departures at Bordeaux, but the god performances in pre-season hint that les Girondins will certainly better the result from last season.
Last season: 7th
Important arrivals: Landry N’Guemo (Nancy), Nicolas Maurice-Belay (Sochaux), Gregorz Krychowiak (Reims).
Important departures: Alou Diarra (Marseille), Fernando (Al-Shabab), Salif Sane (Nancy), Fernando Cavenaghi (River Plate), Pierre Ducasse (Lens), Wendel (Al Ittihad).
Probable starting line-up (4-1-3-2): Olimpa – Chalme, Ciani, Sane, Tremoulinas – Krychowiak – Ben Khalfallah, Jussie, Plasil – Gouffran, Modeste.
Prediction: Europa League qualification
Pick: Bordeaux to finish above Rennes
Stade Rennes enjoyed a very good start to the last league campaign and they spend big part of the season in the title race, but the poor run of results in the second part of the season ended up costing them a better place in the overall standings. Les Bretons finished the Ligue 1 campaign in the final Europa League berth and they have already started the new season, having beaten Metalurg Rustavi 5:2 away in the Europa League 3rd qualifying round. The club have pulled off some shrewd signings, as Chris Mavinga, Jonathan Pitroipa and Julien Feret all arrived, while coach Frederic Antonetti will have no shortage of talented players as he has the courtesy of choosing from the best youth academy in France. Important players Nicolas Douchez, Sylvain Marveaux and Jerome Leroy have left the club, but the team are already proving that won’t be a problem. Whatever happens, les Bretons should be able to at least repeat the result from last season.
Last season: 6th
Important arrivals: Jonathan Pitroipa (Hamburger), Julian Feret (Nancy), Benoit Costil (Sedan), Chris Mavinga (Liverpool), Youssouf Hadji (Nancy), Vincent Pajot (Boulogne).
Important departures: Nicolas Douchez (PSG), Jerome Leroy (Evian), Sylvain Marveaux (Newcastle), Bira Dembele (Sedan), Fabien Lemoin (Saint Etienne).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Costil – Danze, Kana-Biyik, Mangane, Theophile Catherine – Doumbia, M’Vila – Pitroipa, Feret, Brahimi – Boukari.
Prediction: Europa League qualification
Pick: Rennes to be best in West (better placed than Lorient, Caen and Brest)