Ligue 1 preview: The return of heroes and the same old story

Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso's return to boyhood club Lyon has Les Gones dreaming of Champions League football, while Paris Saint-Germain look set to canter to their 11th Ligue 1 crown.

Published: 6 August 2022 - 1.15am

Another season full of Ligue 1 thrills and spills is almost upon us, with Lyon hosting newly promoted Ajaccio tonight from 7.45pm, live on BT Sport 1. 

Without further ado, let's get into the key talking points ahead of this weekend's curtain-raisers.

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Serial title winners

It will come as no surprise that Paris Saint-Germain are heavy favourites to retain their crown. Mauricio Pochettino resigned over the summer, but his replacement Christophe Galtier helped scupper PSG’s title hopes in 2021, guiding Lille to a sensational triumph.

Galtier then surprisingly stepped down, believing he had taken the team as far as he could and took over at Nice, where he guided the French Riviera outfit to an impressive fifth-placed finish last term. PSG certainly looked to have retained their clinical edge under Galtier, winning their first match of the season, the Trophee des Champions, 4-0 against Nantes.

As far as recruitment is concerned, the capital club have again strengthened. Despite losing Angel Di Maria, they have acquired striker Hugo Ekitike on loan. The 20-year-old was heavily linked with Newcastle over the summer and scored 10 league goals in 2021/22 for unfashionable Reims.

He is joined by the versatile Nordy Mukiele, who is confident operating at centre-back as well as his customary right-back role. The ball-playing defender made nearly 150 appearances for RB Leipzig and was part of the side that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20.

Former Wolves loanee Vitinha has also been added to the ranks, hot on the heels of the instrumental role he played in guiding Porto to the Primeira Liga title.

PSG have also tied up the permanent signing of Nuno Mendes, having enlisted the left-back’s services on loan last season from Sporting, while Renato Sanches bolsters the midfield options after three years at Lille. 

Summer managerial changes

Paris Saint-Germain - Mauricio Pochettino out, Christophe Galtier in

Marseille - Jorge Sampaoli out, Igor Tudor in

Nice - Christopher Galtier out, Lucien Favre in

Lille - Jocelyn Gourvennec out, Paulo Fonseca in

Lorient - Christophe Pelissier out, Regis Le Bris in

Could returning heroes spark Lyon’s revival?

Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso came through the ranks at Lyon before both departing in the summer of 2017, the former having scored 129 goals in 275 games across all competitions.

Having largely impressed for Arsenal and Bayern Munich respectively, the pair are back at Groupama Stadium, where Peter Bosz is leading a revival.

Les Gones were languishing in 11th in early January after five games without a win. A resurgence from then onwards saw the team haul themselves up to eighth.

However, it was the last seven games of the campaign that provided the club’s fans with hope for the future as 22 goals were scored during that period.

Moussa Dembele’s 21 league strikes mean that a first France cap is surely only a matter of time, while the verve of the likes of Karl Toko Ekambi, Lucas Paqueta and Romain Faivre underlines the breadth of attacking options at Bosz’s disposal.

Add the quality of Tolisso and Lacazette into the equation and Lyon may feel that qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in four years is on the cards.

That said, there will be fierce competition from the likes of Rennes, Monaco and Marseille for second and third, while Nice’s acquisitions of Aaron Ramsey and Kasper Schmeichel and the retention of top scorer Andy Delort and creative genius Amine Gouiri make them one to watch. 

Most exciting signing

Mohamed Bayo to Lille looks very, very interesting (on paper at least). The 24-year-old arrived in Ligue 1 last season off the back of an extremely successful campaign with Clermont, as his 22 strikes helped fire Pascal Gastien’s men to promotion. Bayo was at this point an unknown quantity in France’s top flight – but you wouldn’t have known it as he went on to net 14 times in a team flirting with relegation. 

Elusive in possession, Bayo was able to create chances for himself from deep as well as having the useful knack of converting from close range when supplied by teammates from out wide.

Lille are in a period of flux, having suffered a deeply disappointing 10th-placed finish following their shock title win in 2021. Jocelyn Gourvennec’s services were dispensed with in June after just a year in charge, while important figures like Sven Botman, Xeka, Burak Yilmaz and Zeki Celik have all departed the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

However, the radical change in personnel gives incoming head coach Paulo Fonseca – who was close to joining Tottenham last summer – the opportunity to start afresh.

Bayo will have his old Clermont team-mate, right-back Akim Zedadka, for company, and Fonseca’s emphasis at his previous club Roma on transitioning quickly and encouraging runners from deep to provide options and overloads for the central striker should provide Bayo with lots of link-up opportunities (and goals). Bayo netted the winner at Cadiz in the team’s final friendly of the summer, stabbing home after bringing the ball down cleverly in the box.

If fellow new signing Remy Cabella and Canadian sharpshooter Jonathan David can rekindle their best form under Fonseca, Lille may become one of the most exciting sides in the division. 

Players crossing the Channel

Matteo Guendouzi – Arsenal to Marseille

Nuno Tavares – Arsenal to Marseille (loan)

Takumi Minamino – Liverpool to Monaco

Joe Rodon – Tottenham to Rennes (loan)

Kasper Schmeichel – Leicester to Nice

Brice Samba – Nottingham Forest to Lens

Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal to Lyon

Moussa Sissoko – Watford to Nantes

Pierre Lees-Melou – Norwich to Brest

Folarin Balogun – Arsenal to Reims

Jeremie Bela – Birmingham to Clermont

Promotion pressure

Toulouse, Ajaccio and Auxerre will be looking to avoid falling through the trap door at the first time of asking.

The latter two sides have been absent from France’s top table since 2014 and 2011 respectively, while Toulouse, led by former Nottingham Forest boss Philippe Montanier, have come back up at the second time of asking and were Ligue 2 champions last season, scoring an outstanding 82 goals, with Manchester-born former Milton Keynes marksman Rhys Healey leading the way with 20, while Branco van den Boomen, Rafael Ratao and Ado Onaiwu also bagged double figures.

Pleasingly for Montanier, none of that quartet have left yet, and while Les Violets may struggle defensively, they will feel confident in their ability to outscore teams on enough occasions to stay afloat. 

Unlike Toulouse, Ajaccio built their promotion campaign on the foundations of an incredibly stingy defence which conceded just 19 goals in 38 games. Scoring goals proved a tougher task though, as they scored just 39 times. They have tried to remedy this to a degree by signing midfield veteran Thomas Mangani from Angers, but they will certainly need more attacking reinforcements to have a decent chance of survival. 

Auxerre came through a heart-stopping relegation play-off at Saint-Etienne in May following a stalemate after two legs, with the visitors’ penalty shootout victory quickly followed by an angry pitch invasion from swarms of home fans who lobbed flares at the home dugout and the tunnel.

However, like Ajaccio, they haven’t added any players with solid Ligue 1 pedigree to their outfield options, while they have lost right-back Carlens Arcus to Vitesse, while keeping hold of goalscorers Gaetan Charbonnier and Gauthier Hein is vital to their survival hopes. 

It looks unlikely therefore that Ajaccio and Auxerre will make their stay last, while Toulouse seem to have enough to remain at France's top table. Who also look most in danger?

Clermont will be looking over their shoulders having come 17th last term, and don't seem to have filled the void caused by Bayo's departure, while Zedadka and outgoing centre-back Cedric Hountondji may be difficult to replace.

 

Ligue 1 table 2021/22

1. Paris Saint-Germain 

2. Marseille

3. Monaco 

4. Rennes

5. Nice

6. Strasbourg

7. Lens

8. Lyon

9. Nantes

10. Lille

11. Brest

12. Reims

13. Montpellier

14. Angers

15. Troyes

16. Lorient

17. Clermont

18. Saint-Etienne

19. Metz

20. Bordeaux

The opening weekend’s fixtures

Friday

Lyon vs Ajaccio, 7.45pm on BT Sport 1

 

Saturday

Strasbourg vs Monaco, 4pm

Clermont vs Paris Saint-Germain, 8pm on BT Sport 1

 

Sunday

Toulouse vs Nice, 12pm on BT Sport 1

Angers vs Nantes, 2pm

Lens vs Brest, 2pm

Lille vs Auxerre, 2pm on BT Sport 1

Montpellier vs Troyes, 2pm

Rennes vs Lorient, 4pm on BT Sport 1

Marseille vs Reims, 7.30pm on BT Sport 1