PSG were not at their best last season but still won Ligue 1 by a country mile. Their 86 points obtained was 15 clear of Marseille and a similar points tally is probably all that will be required again. PSG led the way with xG (82.34) and it was no surprise to see them overachieve that metric by netting 90 goals. PSG have so many individually classy players capable of moments of brilliance that it is almost expected they will score several low xG goals. The big signing on the field so far this summer for the defending champions is Porto midfielder Vitinha who has cost them nearly £40m. Talented Reims attacker Hugo Ekitike also joins on loan with an option to buy. The main departure so far has been Angel Di Maria to Juventus.
Probably the biggest move at PSG has been a change of manager. Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked and replaced by Nice head coach Christophe Galtier. It took some sorting out behind the scenes, but PSG eventually got their main. Galtier won the league with Lille in the 2020/21 season and is known for his no nonsense 4-4-2 formation. It is a surprise PSG opted for Galtier because he is more of a safety first, more pragmatic manager who focuses on defence. This could help them out in the Champions League, but he doesn’t really fit in with the idealism of style here at PSG. The capital club are rightful favourites to win Ligue 1 and should coast towards the title. But if things start sour, then fans might get on Galtier’s back, especially if the football is less than entertaining.
Monaco are perhaps the team most likely to push PSG closest. They finished last season like an absolute train by winning 9 of their last 10 matches and very nearly stole second place. It took some time for manager Philippe Clement to settle after his mid-season move from Club Brugge. He was reportedly close to being sacked before that fantastic finishing run. One big problem for Les Monegasques is the loss of key midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni to Real Madrid. He fetched them good money – nearly £75m, but he is basically an irreplaceable player. Monaco have yet to reinforce this area so it will be interesting to see who they sign. The acquisition of Minamino from Liverpool might be a smart signing and add to an attack force which already has Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland. Only Kylian Mbappé eclipsed Ben Yedder’s 25 goals last season and he is a guaranteed scoring machine if he stays fit. Should Monaco make the right moves in the transfer market before the end of the window then they could be a dark horse, because Philippe Clement really had them firing in the second half of last season.
Lyon have reinforced their squad by adding former players Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, both on free transfers. They look like losing playmaker Houssem Aouer, whilst midfielder Lucas Paqueta is being courted by several clubs, reportedly close to the £70m mark. Les Gones have kept manager Peter Bosz which in some ways is a surprise. OL finished a disappointing 8th last season and many people expected Bosz to pay the price. He needs to get off to a good start this campaign otherwise the vultures will start to circle. Lyon had the second best xG in the entire league last season (73.32) but only converted that into 65 goals. They definitely underachieved last year and without any European football should be able to improve. Whether Bosz is the right man to lead them is questionable though and a title challenge is surely far-fetched.
Rennes were arguably the most exciting team in Ligue 1 last season and were the second highest scorers netting 82 goals. Led by Martin Terrier and Gaetan Laborde, the Brittany club had a fantastic home record at Roazhon Park winning 14 out of 19 games. Rennes were another team who really found some form in the second half of the season and if they carry that momentum forward into this campaign could also be a dark horse. Bruno Genesio has got this team firing nicely, although the loss of key centre back Nayef Aguerd to West Ham is a hole which needs filling. Rennes have always been a selling club and there is no guarantee they can keep hold of their top talents such as Terrier, who has been courted by several sides across Europe.
Marseille finished second last season on 71 points and will be playing Champions League football again, directly from the group stage. They are another team who have lost their manager this summer because Jorge Sampaoli walked out of the door, reportedly due to him being unhappy over a lack of backing in the transfer market. Croatian manager Igor Tudor takes over and joins from Serie A club Hellas Verona, with whom he led to a very respectable 9th place last season. Marseille have signed Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi for around £10m after he impressed on loan last season. It was disappointing that they could not land William Saliba who returns to Arsenal after claiming the young player of the year award in Ligue 1 last season. Marseille overachieved their expected points by 7.83 last season which was the second most of any side. With a reliance still on the shoulders of 35 year old Dimitri Payet and uncertainty over the new manager then it is difficult to have high expectations for the Mediterranean giants. They should compete for European positions, but a title challenge is unlikely. Marseille are probably the biggest candidate for genuine underachiever this season. Some bookmakers even have them as second favourites to win Ligue 1. But without Sampaoli, having to juggle Champions League football and concerns over lack of ambition in the transfer market, it could lead to a below-par campaign.
A team that always has the potential to overachieve are Reims. They have lost their young star striker Hugo Ekitike to PSG on a season long loan with a £25m option to buy. However, he missed nearly the entirety of the final third of last season and his total of 10 goals was less than 25% of the team. The main strength of Reims has always been defence and if they keep hold of key players like Wout Faes and goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic then they will be a competitive force. The permanent signing of defender Andrew Gravillon only reinforces their strength at the back. Reims had the fifth best xGA at home last season (19.17) and Spanish coach Oscar Garcia had a very solid first campaign in charge, finishing in 12th place. They are the same price for relegation as newly promoted Toulouse and shorter than the likes of Brest, Angers and Montpellier. This seems wrong and Reims could again surprise most pundits by finishing in a solid safe midtable position. They are such a professional, hard-working squad and have a high class defence which can be very difficult to penetrate.
Due to a restructuring of the divisions, a total of four teams will be automatically relegated from Ligue 1 this season.
Ajaccio are the hot favourites to go down and it is very difficult to see how they survive. They finished second in Ligue 2 last season and their success was built around a watertight defence which only conceded 19 goals in 38 games. Unsurprisingly, they had the best xGA in the league (39.52), but they still massively overachieved this metric by over 20 goals! The big issue for Ajaccio is how they will score enough goals to survive. They only netted 39 times in the second tier last season and won by an exact 1-0 scoreline an incredible 11 times. They are strapped for cash and have the reported lowest budget in Ligue 1. Olivier Pantaloni’s 4-4-2 formation will sometimes be hard to break down, but they look very likely to finish rock bottom.
Lorient have only just survived in each of the last two seasons and could be a major candidate to drop down. They have sacked manager Christophe Pellisier but I am not sure that was a wise move. Pellisier never failed at Lorient. He obtained promotion during the COVID struck year and then kept the club in Ligue 1. Les Merlus have taken a big risk by appointing B team manager Regis Le Bris as head coach. It is his first managerial role in charge of a senior team, and it would not be a surprise to see him struggle. They have let go of a lot of experienced players such as Jeremy Morel, Fabien Lemoine and Jerome Hergault which could lead to problems with leadership in the dressing room. I think they will end up being one of the four teams relegated.
The best value for a surprise candidate to be relegated could be Angers. They had an appalling second half to last season, winning just 3 of their last 17 matches. Two of those came in late dead rubbers in the last few rounds. They sank like a lead balloon in the second half of the season and manager Gérald Baticle made several questionable decisions. He has done well to keep his job but could be under pressure early. There has been a huge turnover of players this summer with several ins and outs. They have lost a lost of experienced players such as Thomas Mangani and Ismael Traore, who in many ways were legends of the club. Young starlet Mohamed Ali Cho has been sold to Real Sociedad for nearly £10m. If the new signings don’t work out and the manager feels the heat, this could be a difficult campaign for Angers.
In Pascal Gastien, Clermont have a superb manager who has worked miracles with this club. They were the red hot favourites to go down last season, but he managed to guide them to 17th spot which was enough to survive by four points. They were led by striker Mohamed Bayo who scored 14 goals which was over 40% of their overall tally. He has been sold to Lille for nearly £13m though and will leave a huge hole. Talented midfielder Salis Abdul Samed has been snapped up by Lille for £4.5m, whilst defenders Akim Zedadka and Cedric Hountondji all left on frees. Clermont have at least made good money, but it might take them some time to rebuild. In a season where four teams go down it is difficult to see how they survive. They will give it absolutely everything and the manager will get the maximum out of the players, but their budget is low and realistically expectations can’t be too high.
Top Goal Scorer
The Ligue 1 top goal scorer market is dominated by Kylian Mbappé who is the ret hot favourite to retain the golden boot. Last season he scored 28 times and on average hit the back of the net once every 108 minutes. Mbappé only scored four penalties but there are rumours he could now be the number one spot kick taker at PSG as part of the mammoth contract he signed during the summer. The big positive for Mbappé is that he plays for the best team and will get tons of chances. He is also quite durable and does not often miss games for small niggling injuries unlike some other players. The downside might be that new manager Christophe Galtier is not known for his attacking tactics. He also could be rested to be fresh for some Champions League matches. Unless he misses significant time due to injury it is difficult to see how Mbappé won’t win the golden boot again though.
Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder came second in the golden boot race last season and netted 25 goals. He is second favourite again and expected to go well. The big positive for Ben Yedder is that he’s in a team which will create a lot of chances and is normally on penalty taking duty. The downside he that he turns 32 in early August and is often substituted off early, or even rested to the bench. If anything, Ben Yedder will probably struggle to even match his 25 goal mark due to the competitiveness in the Monaco squad.
Elsewhere, Lionel Messi and Neymar are two of the favourites, but neither can be relied upon to stay fit and go down with regular injuries. There is always the danger when looking for the golden boot winner that he might not last the whole season in Ligue 1.
Martin Terrier bagged 21 goals last season and if you could guarantee that he stays at Rennes for the whole campaign then he would be a genuine dark horse to be the top scorer. There has been a lot of interest in his services though that he might be gone by the start of September or get a move in the January transfer window. The same applies to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele who at some stage may depart from Les Gones.
An interesting runner in the golden boot race could be new Lille striker Mohamed Bayo. He has signed for nearly £13m from Clermont after scoring 14 times with the Auvergne club last
season. If he could score that many in a struggling team who only just avoided relegation, then I think it is fair to assume he can significantly improve that tally. Lille are now managed by former Roma boss Paulo Fonseca and are expected to significantly improve after last year’s disappointment. He should bring some entertaining football to Le Stade Pierre Mauroy and Bayo could be a man to profit greatly.
Player to Watch
19 year old Montpellier attacker, Elye Wahi really burst onto the scene last season. He scored 10 goals, but it was the manner of his performances which really took the eye. Wahi is a highly skilled player, has the x-factor and plenty of flair. Capable of playing on either wing or upfront he is a nightmare for opposition defences to deal with. Already capped several times at France Under 19 level, the next logical step would be to make the U21 squad. He recently signed a contract extension in March and is focusing on a full season ahead at Montpellier. He is not with a great team, and they will probably languish in the bottom half of the table. However, it will suit him to be one of the top players at the club and to catch the eye. Montpellier’s general attacking approach also suits his style and he will get plenty of opportunities to impress. This time next year his name will probably be mentioned being linked to several clubs, in a similar type of way Hugo Ekitike has been this summer. Wahi is a player who could really break through even more this season and is one of the top players to watch out for in Ligue 1.