As Europe’s top soccer leagues start to get underway this week, Ligue 1 kicks off this Friday with defending champions Paris Saint-Germain in action on Saturday. Les Parisiens have been given a facelift with Luis Campos now shaping the sporting project and Christophe Galtier leading it and Renato Sanches, Vitinha, Hugo Ekitike and Nordi Mukiele freshening up the squad. Kylian Mbappe announced his extended contract at the end of last season and the French superstar will be joined be a rejuvenated Neymar and Lionel Messi in attack with all three gunning for maximum glory across all fronts. PSG picking up another Championnat crown is to be expected, but they will need to improve on last season’s UEFA Champions League and Coupe de France disappointments.
The big question is whether anybody in France can realistically hope to rival PSG and we look at the most plausible candidates first. Here’s a look at the best of the rest in Ligue 1 and what would have to go right for them to shock France and lift a title.
1. Stade Rennais
Bruno Genesio’s men are arguably the favorites to give PSG a run based on their summer business with only Nayef Aguerd weakening Rennes‘ starting XI and Arthur Theate his replacement. Steve Mandanda will fix the problematic goalkeeper position while Joe Rodon is an interesting alternative option in central defense. Arguably the best piece of business, despite losing a top young talent, was cashing in on Bayern Munich’s interest in Mathys Tel as it lessens the temptation to part with last season’s stars Martin Terrier or Lovro Majer. Jonas Martin, James Lea Siliki and Jeremy Gelin have freed up space on the wage bill which could also enable the underrated Benjamin Bourigeaud and Hamari Traore to be extended beyond this campaign at Roazhon Park. Consistency will be key for Les Rouge et Noir as they try to make a meaningful go of the UEFA Europa League too.
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2. AS Monaco
Situated around the same area as Rennes are, Les Monegasques, started their season with a home draw against PSV Eindhoven in the third round of Champions League qualification which makes next week’s trip to the Netherlands of crucial importance. Crashing out of the Champions League nearly cost the principality outfit last campaign and going out this early could equally undermine Philippe Clement who has already seen Aurelien Tchouameni depart for Real Madrid. Thankfully for ASM it is the only major departure with Takumi Minamino and Breel Embolo the two new arrivals of note with Malang Sarr and possibly Boubakary Soumare also on their way to Stade Louis II this month. Aguerd, while important, was less of a key piece for Rennes than Tchouameni was for Monaco, so that gives the Breton side the edge as they seek to establish themselves as the best of the rest behind PSG.
3. Olympique Lyonnais
This season promises to be fascinating at Groupama Stadium after President Jean-Michel Aulas strengthened the club’s financial position by adding American funds via John Textor while Peter Bosz was maintained as head coach. OL have seen Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso return to the club, while Johann Lepenant and Nicolas Tagliafico are interesting additions at the expense of inconsistent pair Jason Denayer and Leo Dubois. No European action will hurt Les Gones, but it could equally ensure that they are in the best position to capitalize and beat their rivals to second place behind PSG which should be within the squad’s capabilities.
Then there are the outsiders.
4. OGC Nice
Les Aiglons are one of the teams who many will be keeping a close eye on this season given the talent within their ranks. Losing Galtier to PSG was a loss, but Lucien Favre enjoyed relative success in his first spell as boss at Allianz Riviera and now has the means to pick up where he left off. This summer’s signings of Kasper Schmeichel and Aaron Ramsey add significant experience and quality to the ranks while Alexis Beka Beka, Rares Ilie and Mattia Viti inject some youth with no major playing losses outside of regular goalkeeper Walter Benitez leaving for PSV. If Favre can get the likes of Khephren Thuram, Amine Gouiri and Andy Delort to click, it could be a very good year for Nice.
5. Olympique de Marseille
Second last season, but nowhere near the running at this moment in time, this summer has been tumultuous at Stade Velodrome. There are already issues with Jorge Sampaoli’s replacement Igor Tudor while William Saliba and Boubacar Kamara leave a big hole in the middle of the pitch. Luis Suarez, Jonathan Clauss, Isaak Toure, Chancel Mbemba and Nuno Tavares are interesting additions with Jordan Veretout also believed to be on the way, but it is all very underwhelming for OM fans who are already quite pessimistic as to how this term will play out.
6. Lille OSC
After lifting the trophy two seasons ago, Les Dogues’ title defense effort was abysmal, but they now have an interesting managerial setup with Paulo Fonseca something of a coup. Mohamed Bayo, Remy Cabella, Jonas Martin and Akim Zedadka are smart gets so far with Ludovic Blas also on the radar. Losing Sven Botman, Renato Sanches, Zeki Celik, Burak Yilmaz and Xeka will hurt, but ultimately those moves should enable LOSC to stabilize financially and rebuild on the pitch. Getting themselves back into Europe will be the immediate aim, but there is no doubt that the squad has the quality to qualify for the Champions League — especially if Canada’s Jonathan David ends up staying.