meIt was hinted at as early as September, when Marseille beat PSG, and it became more likely when the champions lost at home to Lyon and then drew with Lille at Stade Pierre Mauroy. But, when Burak Yilmaz scored in the 86th minute to give Lille a 3-2 win in Montpellier and bring them alongside Lyon to the top of the table before the winter break, it was confirmed: Ligue 1 is fine and really. has a title race this season.
And not in the sense that Marcelo Bielsa is in charge so this won’t last, or in the way the young Lyon squad outperformed before an untimely injury to Alexandre Lacazette that same season, or even in Monaco having caught lightning in a bottle four years ago. Those races were largely fought between the unstoppable force of PSG and an opponent, with the team from the capital generally victorious.
Neither team appears to be making a decisive break from the group chasing the title this season. With three (or maybe four or even five) candidates looking to assert themselves, and with all of them with their own flaws, the showdown in France will be one to watch, which seems to be a theme across Europe in a season to be turned on its head by the current health crisis.
Lyon could be in the best shape of all rivals – only Milan can improve on their current 14-match unbeaten streak. There’s something to be said for seeing this team improve as the season progresses, but could the key players, especially Memphis Depay, be uneasy about a possible move in January? It would seem ridiculous that the Dutchman wanted to go upside down in the Champions League with Barcelona. Given that Lyon have not played in Europe this season, they are not tied for the cup so they may be a target.
In some games, a moment of individual brilliance from Depay can make all the difference. Witness his brilliant pass to Houssem Aouar for the opening goal against Nantes. But his form is uneven, he missed a ton of presentable opportunities when Lyon beat Nantes 3-0 on Wednesday night, and the continuous improvement of the players around him makes his possible departure not a concern. Aouar was also linked with transfers to Arsenal and Juventus in the summer, but after recovering from Covid-19 and lingering thigh problems, he is playing his best football of the year. With Karl Toko Ekambi and Tino Kadewere scoring the goals, and the lack of European football to congest their roster of matches, Lyon could be the favorites.
It could be the keyword. Lille have only lost once this season and have played much of the season without Renato Sanches, who was perhaps their best player last season. The strength of the team in defense and in the midfield allows coach Christophe Galtier to go from strength to strength in attack. Yilmaz, Timothy Weah and Yusuf Yazici are delivering on their promise after lengthy layoffs due to injuries, while Jonathan Bamba has been the best player in Ligue 1 this season.
There were concerns about how Lille would handle playing in Europe, but Galtier’s cunning and imaginative rotation helped his team advance to the last 32 of the Europa League in relative comfort, without missing a beat at the national level. Even if the Coupe de France resumes in 2021, Lille will enjoy a less crowded schedule. With their combative nature, they make a compelling case for themselves.
The elephant in the room, of course, is PSG. It’s easy to overstate their point total given the resources at their disposal, but they barely had a preseason after the Champions League final and have been hit by a number of injuries and Covid-19 cases, as well as a window of transfer somewhat unsuccessful. . Despite the fact that PSG have stumbled on their rivals at the top of the table (getting just one point from matches against Lyon, Lille and Marseille), their relentlessness against the rest of the league was on full display against Strasbourg on Wednesday , with Rafinha and Ángel Di María leading the show in a 4-0 victory. They are free from European distractions for their next half dozen matches, all of which appear to be won, before their trip to Marseille in early February. Although the impact of the expulsion of Thomas Tuchel and the likely appointment of Mauricio Pochettino in his place may add instability in the short term.
Rennes, who have won four matches in a row to climb to fourth place in the table, and Marseille, who have 28 points and have two eminently winnable matches against Lens and Nice in hand, also hope to challenge. However, it does not seem likely that either team will maintain the good starts they have had this season. Marseille lacks the necessary cohesion and Rennes lacks the individual talents. There is time to change this but, for the moment, the top three places in Ligue 1 are set to deliver a pretty compelling run for Hexagoal over the next few months.
Ligue 1 results
Bordeaux 1-3 Reims
Nice 2-2 Lorient
Nimes 1-3 Dijon
Lens 2-1 Brest
Rennes 1-0 Metz
Angers 2-1 Marseille
Lyon 3-0 Nantes
Monaco 2-2 St Etienne
Montpellier 2-3 Lille
PSG 4-0 Strasbourg
• Nantes were on the wrong side of a hideout against Lyon much harsher than the 3-0 score would suggest. Without Alban Lafont’s heroics in the Nantes goal and the aforementioned sorry finish from Depay, Lyon could have easily outscored six of their unfortunate opponents, who have looked no better since Christian Gourcuff’s dismissal. The club’s much-maligned owner Waldemar Kita, who has appointed no fewer than 14 coaches in the past 13 years, seems poised to bring in Raymond Domenech, last seen dealing with France’s infamous mutiny at the 2010 World Cup. While Gourcuff was criticized for not being in touch, or at least having old ideas, at least the veteran has largely stayed in touch with club football. Domenech, despite having had success with France before South Africa, has not been in charge of a club since leaving Lyon in 1993.
• One can only hope, for Domenech and Nantes fans, that the club will get the kind of rebound from new manager that Dijon has enjoyed with David Linarés. They haven’t won any of their first 11 matches this season, so it was a great job for the former midfielder, but their 3-1 win against fellow wrestlers Nimes has brought them just two points from safety. A total of nine points from eight games is unlikely to give the former Lyon player any manager of the year nominations, but at the very least, he has added a much-needed shred of hope, something that would be a welcome tonic in Nantes.
Ligue 1 table
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.