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Leagues: Serie A

Winter Break Review of Ligue 1

Lyon PSG

If anyone suggested that Paris Saint-Germain would be sitting in second let alone third going into the winter break they certainly would not have been met with a gallic shrug, quite the opposite in all likelihood. But that’s the state of play in Ligue 1 which is shaping to be the most keenly contested league in Europe.

The influence of Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille has set the league alight whilst Hubert Fournier has been reaping the dividends of Lyon’s phenomenally productive academy. The result is a Ligue 1 race that has become unexpectedly competitive.

Table:

PositionTeamPlayedWonDrawnLostGoals ForGoals AgainstGoal DifferencePoints
1Marseille19132438172141
2Lyon19123440172339
3PSG19108132131938
4St-Étienne19106322121036

Marseille have been the main story of Ligue 1 overcoming an ordinary start to reel off eight straight wins in a row. André Pierre-Gignac has been crucial to Marseille’s good start banging in 12 goals this season. The striker’s contract is up at the end of the season but he reassured OM fans that he will not be depart the Stade Vélodrome in the January window. André Ayew could leave next month though it has been mooted that he will sign a pre-contract deal with Everton.

Despite the rumoured departures Bielsa still has a strong-squad who have in general bought into his methods. The Argentinean coach despite his run-ins with the hierarchy (or maybe because of them) has made Marseille box-office again but can they keep up the pace over the course of a season? Bielsa’s vision of football is notoriously taxing so it’ll be interesting to see if the players can physically withstand the demands his style of play requires.

Hubert Fournier may not be as big a name as Bielsa but he has made his mark at Lyon since taking over in the summer. Olympique Lyonnais finished a disappointing 5th last season below rivals Saint-Étienne. They started this season poorly losing three of their first four league games but from September onwards Les Gones have picked up the pace going on a 10-game unbeaten run winning seven (beating Monaco and Marseille in that streak) whilst drawing the other three (including a 1-1 draw with champions PSG).

Lyon’s success has been built on their home grown talent. The likes of Nabil Fekir, Jordan Ferri and Maxime Gonalons have all impressed but Lyon wouldn’t be sitting where they are were it not for the blistering form of Alexandre Lacazette.

The striker, who is a reported Liverpool target, has banged in 17 goals already this season but he is more than just a simple poacher. Lacazette sets chances up for his teammates, he has five assists to his name, and leads the line well. His understanding with his fellow attacking players has seen OL flourish.

Whilst the products of Lyon’s academy system have been dazzling it’s worth noting that the backline consisting of Christophe Jallet, Milan Biševac, Samuel Umtiti and Henri Bedimo is experienced and gives a platform for the players in midfield and upfront to take the game to their opponents. If Lyon, like Marseille, can hold on to their best players then a title challenge is not beyond them especially with the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Clément Grenier waiting to return.

As for Paris Saint-Germain it’s been a frustrating campaign for the champions. They were unbeaten in their first 17 games but that run consisted of seven draws. Not exactly form to boast about. When they did lose it was to Guingamp who are currently sitting in 12th. The Parisian club will hope that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic can steer clear of injury in the New Year after suffering a trying first half of the season.

The problem for the French champions has been up front. A team with the attacking talent at their disposal should be scoring more but thus far they haven’t been able to match the firepower of either Marseille or Lyon. Ibrahimovic, despite missing a number of games, is still the club’s top scorer in the league with eight goals.

Defensively, they’ve been solid keeping eight clean sheets and have only conceded more than one goal on two occasions.

Laurent Blanc needs the attack to start firing again. The title is the bare minimum for PSG and if he doesn’t deliver don’t expect the man nicknamed Le Président to be at the Parc des Princes for too much longer.

It’s worth noting that Saint-Étienne aren’t too far off the pace either sitting in 4th. They have the best defense in the league conceding just 12 goals and five of those were courtesy of Paris Saint-Germain. In fact they have kept a remarkable 12 clean sheets in total. Saint-Étienne even managed to banish a 20-year hoodoo when they defeated rivals Lyon 3-0 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. The last time they beat Lyon at home was in 1994.

Goals are the problem for Christophe Galtier’s men with their top scorer, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, netting five times and Max-Alain Gradel scoring four. If they can add goals whilst maintaining their defensive discipline then Les Verts could upset the apple cart at the top of the league.

Of the major European leagues, Ligue 1 is proving to be the most competitive. Paris Saint-Germain need to pick up their form but if Lyon and Marseille maintain theirs then the title could go right down to the wire.

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