Teams to watch: Nice and Monaco
Players to watch: Anyone who plays for Monaco
Ligue 1 has not been your standard European league over the past few years.
A glance at the ultra-impressive modern stadia situated throughout the league — thanks to the country hosting the Euro 2016 finals last summer — would suggest that the league is the place to be when it comes to the millions being splashed around in modern football.
Marseille’s Velodrome and Lyon’s Parc Olympique Lyonnais are just two of the many huge arenas that wouldn’t look out of place hosting a Champions League Final.
Yet this is not the case. In recent years the league has been plagued by the financial discrepancy between the capital’s Paris Saint-Germain and the rest. A mixture of their millions and a lack of TV money for the rest has led to the French top flight ceasing to be a competitive contest for a number of seasons.
In 2011, the Qatari Sports Investment group purchased the club and ploughed in their millions and millions.
This discrepancy is clear when seeing the Deloitte Football Money League, who reported that PSG have the sixth highest revenue in world football. Lyon were the only other French represented in the top 30, placed at 24th.
Lucrative marquee signings such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Edison Cavani, and Lucas Mora, to name a few, have led to Ligue 1 often looking like a display of men against boys.
Every season since 2012/13 PSG have won the league, with each season seeing a margin of over seven points between them and second place. This culminated in a whopping 31 points between themselves and Lyon once the 38-game season had concluded. The title was wrapped up by March 13th, following a 9-0 demolition against Troyes.
But PSG’s dominance is not apparent this season.
After 22 games they find themselves in 3rd place, three points behind joint leaders Nice and Monaco. Manager Unai Emery finds himself under increasing pressure in every week that goes by.
It would be easy to criticise a PSG side who clearly have not reached the heights of previous years, but the brilliance of Nice and Monaco has also played its part.
Monaco have become Europe’s entertainers this season. With the principality club scoring more goals than any other team in the continents top five leagues so far with 65 —an average of just under three goals a game.
And they are achieving this with some of the most exciting young players around — Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, and Tiemoue Bakayoko are all under 24 and are generating interest from many of Europe’s top clubs due to their consistently excellent displays.
Tie this in with the goals of a revitalised Radamel Falcao and the steal of centre Kamil Glik and it’s not hard to see why Monaco are enjoying such a good season both domestically and in European competition.
Nice are Ligue 1’s surprise package this season. Last winning the top flight in 1959, there hasn’t been any real suggestion since that the club were capable of the dizzying heights they are currently enjoying.
They did finish 4th last time out, but were closer to the relegation places points-wise than they were to PSG.
But with a new manager following Claude Puel’s move to Southampton, Nice have been in the top three virtually all season.
Their success has been built from the back; with only 15 goals against them they currently have the tightest defence in the league.
They know where the net is as well, scoring 38 goals, 10 of which have been scored by Mario Balotelli.
But it is the wing back Riccardo Pereira, on loan from Porto, who has been the standout.
Pereira possesses all the attributes that a modern day wing back needs. Defending, attacking, and clocking some of the fastest speeds of any footballer in Europe, he has the capabilities to be playing for the top clubs throughout the continent.
WhoScored currently have him as the joint highest-rated player in the league, along with Alexandre Lacazette and Maxime Gonalons.
It remains to be seen whether Nice and Monaco can keep their form up and hold off PSG for the rest of the season. Even if they are unable to, the fact that Ligue 1 is finally a competitive competition again is a victory story in itself.