This weekend marks the end of the Winter Break in France, and some might say signals the start of an exciting title race in Ligue 1. With three clubs tied on 38 points, and the surprising finale to last season still fresh in the memory, the ingredients are certainly there. Will there be a dream 3-way last-day decider, or is the half-way table misleading us?
After a blistering start to the season, Marseille have been unpredictable and rather stale – they have not scored more than 2 goals in a game since thrashing Limassol in the Europa League at the start of October. The signing of Foued Kadir from Valenciennes could prove to be shrewd business.
Kadir will undoubtedly bring some guile and creativity, but Elie Baup will hope that he also spurs the likes of Valbuena and Andre Ayew on to higher levels of performance. With more goals, Marseille are certainly a title challenger, as they are an improving defensive unit.
Lyon have surprised many pundits to share the lead at halfway. Remi Garde has orchestrated a steady improvement from his side over the last 18 months, mixing youth and experience to produce a winning formula. The rejuvenated Steed Malbranque has provided key assists, while Bafetimbi Gomis has had his best ever start to a season. Last week’s astonishing Cup exit to Epinal could prove to be a pivotal moment in Lyon’s season, as the League will now command their full attention. I believe that Lyon may have to make a January signing or two to push their rivals all the way though.
After 3 games of the season, nobody predicted that Paris Saint-Germain would be 11th in the table, winless, with 2 scoreless draws. Since that slumber, they have cantered to the top of the table, dismantling teams at will. There is no doubt that it has been the ‘Zlatan Ibrahimovic Show’ for much of the season, and he will be credited with much of their success. Indeed, his absence has cost them several points.
The supporting cast do deserve mentions though. Thiago Silva has marshalled a miserly defence, Verratti and Matuidi have conducted the tempo in midfield, while Pastore and Lavezzi have provided additional problems for opposition defences. The signing of Lucas Moura is another huge statement from the PSG board, and no one would rule out more signings before the end of the window.
It is that intent, and the calibre of the PSG squad as a whole, that puts them way above their challengers in my opinion. I believe the only thing that can stop PSG is themselves – and that is where the distraction of the Champions League could prove to be unwelcome.
Manchester City undoubtedly benefited from their early exit last season, but with a favourable draw PSG could progress much further, and Ancelotti will have important decisions to make as he looks to end the 19-year wait for the Ligue 1 crown. Despite the current table, it would appear to be a formality, but nothing can be taken for granted in this competitive league.