With the French top-flight set to dominate the headlines this summer, French Football Weekly‘s Chris Luxford-Noyes reviews the Ligue 1 season…
It’s the day after the night before. We now know the winners and losers in this season’s race for glory in Ligue 1.
As forecasted by many pundits, PSG came out top dogs with 83 points, 12 ahead of 2nd placed Olympique Marseille. PSG didn’t have it all their own way thankfully, as the occasional draw here and there, along with a handful of losses – most notably away to Sochaux and Reims – ensured that the title race was kept fairly interesting for those fighting it out at the top. Their slip ups over the course of the season offered up a few small but regular morsels of hope to the chasing pack behind them (and the more casual, neutral observers tuning in to watch).
In the end they achieved exactly what they had expected of themselves, securing a league title and another tilt at the Champions League next season, albeit possibly without Carlo Ancellotti at the helm and question marks over Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future in Paris.
OM finished runners-up, and although they hadn’t exactly been written off back in August they certainly weren’t expected to do as well as they have done. Early season wobbles had many questioning their resolve. Second behind PSG and a Champions League place? They would have snapped such an offer out of anyone’s hand at the beginning of the season, then again, so would’ve most teams. Since succeeding Didier Deschamps last summer, Elie Baup has done well with the team, guided them into the Champions League, and will likely be rewarded with a contract extension thought to already be in the offing. Rumour has is that Joey Barton has been offered the chance to become a permanent fixture in Marseille, with a 3-year deal on the table if he wants it. With a return to relegated QPR now even less appealing for the controversial Englishmen it makes sense for him to stay. Barton is enjoying his time at OM and recently told the press, ‘for the first time in my life, I’m very happy, really content’.
Lopez leaves it late to confirm third place for Lyon and break St Etienne hearts
Following the FFW timeline during the final day of the season, I knew that any chance of a 3rd finish for St Etienne was over as soon as Lisandro Lopez converted his penalty for Olympique Lyonnais against Rennes. Having only managed 3 wins in their last 7 games prior to Sunday’s finale, St Etienne had left themselves at the mercy of lady luck and the teams around them, and once OL had got their noses in front it was over. They wouldn’t let their lead slip away.
It’s been a tough season for OL, losing players like Hugo Lloris and Michel Bastos, mainly to reduce their heavy wage load as Aulas sought to get the club back on a firm financial footing by utilising the squad’s younger players. A 3rd place finish is as good as they could have hoped for with the added reward for Remi Garde’s men of a chance to qualify for the CL group stages.
The season’s surprise package were Claude Puel’s OGC Nice. Having quietly gone about their business throughout the year, they ended up qualifying for the Europa League, which was the least they deserved following an outstanding campaign; their best in Ligue 1 since a 6th place finished in 1989. Having contributed 19 goals to the cause, their striker Dario Cvitanich played a huge part in their table-climbing feats. His 50th minute opener set the ball rolling in their final day win against Ajaccio as they played on in the hope that events further north didn’t conspire against them, where Lille were taking on St Etienne in what would be the game of the weekend.
Les Stephanois needed all 3 points against a tough Lille side who had beaten them 4 times out of the last 7 to ensure a CL spot, providing OL didn’t beat Rennes. Sadly this was not to be.
The main surprise was that Christophe Galtier decided to forego his usual apparel of fur-hooded coat, his lucky charm and a beacon of hope for all ASSE supporters. When he wore it, we knew he meant business.
I could only follow via FFW on twitter, and despite several opportunities Brandao and Aubamayang just didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength to convert the early chances. Lille on the other hand appeared resilient in a game of strong challenges, and knew that a win against their opponents could well propel them into next season’s Europa League. Though LOSC had several early attempts Ruffier managed to keep Lille at bay in the St Etienne goal until the 42nd minute when a Rodelin knockdown allowed Kalou to beat his man and poke the ball home. At half time, Lille were sitting in 4th place.
The second half played out much like the first. Kalou looked to have poked the ball into the back of the net again only to be ruled marginally offside as Les Verts continued attacking with Auba and Brandao. The equaliser finally came in the 59th minute from Hamouma with a cool finish, steering his shot past Mouko, who managed to get a hand to it. As the ball sailed into the far right hand corner, Lille dropped from 3rd to what would be their final placing of 6th.
Lille kept on pressing knowing that a draw would not be enough and were helped further by a second booking for St Etienne’s Guilavogui who left the field for a foul on Mavuba. With their extra man advantage, Lille continued to push on and very nearly got their reward from that man Kalou who went close with a header that was saved by Ruffier. The Bayonne-born goalkeeper has been superb all season and the ASSE faithful can only hope that he stays next season. Losing his services would be a massive loss to the club next year.
Following another disallowed Lille goal and 4 minutes of extra time, the game finished as a draw – a result that suited neither clubs, confirming St Etienne would finish above Lille in 5th, without that coveted Champions League qualification spot.
After the match, Rudi Garcia said. ‘It’s never easy integrating new players when the team has to be built every year. The aim is to qualify for Europe next year. There will be economic ramifications and we will have to see what we’re capable of. It’s up to the President to set out our goals for next year’
Christophe Galtier responded with, ‘This is a painful result for Lille. For us, it’s the end of a great season where we were always in the hunt. If we’ve finished 5th, it’s because we deserve to finish in that position, no more, no less. The big surprise is Nice. They should be congratulated, in particular their coach, Claude Puel.’
There was no mention of the missing lucky coat in Galtier’s after match press conference.
It’s been a fantastic season throughout Ligue 1. Highs, lows, cheers and tears. What will the 75% tax regulations have on football in France next season? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, but there will be comings and goings and new heroes to get behind and maybe a few surprises along the way.
To all French football fans, have a great summer and let’s get ready for 2013-14!