Ligue 1

Previewing The 2017-18 Ligue 1 Football Season

Monaco's Brazilian defender Fabinho gestures during a training session on June 30, 2017 in Monaco. / AFP PHOTO / Yann COATSALIOU (Photo credit should read YANN COATSALIOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Previewing The 2017-18 Ligue 1 Football Season

Here at the Stoppage Time, we counting down the days to the start of the new European football calendar (although a number of countries, like Sweden and Ireland, are going through their seasons right now). This is the 2017-18 Ligue 1 preview. In this article, we will take a look at the 20 teams that will be taking part in the top division of French club football. Let’s jump right in. En route!

1. AS Monaco

Last season, Leonardo Jardim’s AS Monaco pulled off an amazing run of form, steamrolling their way to the title and ending Paris Saint-Germain’s streak of Hexagoals won at four. A number of players have moved on as a result. Bernardo Silva is at Manchester City with Benjamin Mendy soon to follow. Tiemoue Bakayoko is at Chelsea. And Valere Germain is with Olympique de Marseille. But that doesn’t mean Monaco is down for the count.

They still have Radamel Falcao on the books. Thomas Lemar doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. And the league’s best playmaker, Fabinho, is ready for another season-long hit-out. The one question that could sink or swim Monaco’s defense is the future of Kylian Mbappe (15 goals, eight assists in 29 appearances), although it seems all but answered. A longterm commitment to the Monegasques will instantly make AS Monaco hot favorites to defend their Hexagoal and chase Saint-Etienne’s record of 10 Ligue 1 titles. Monaco currently have eight.

2. Paris Saint-Germain

As for Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain, the Parisians defended all of their domestic trophies save one. Barely. And the Coupe de France itself was won on a last second own goal, a boulette that was the epitome of a very depressing campaign by Nasser Al-Khelaifi high “Dream Bigger” standards. A number of players are on their way out: Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Serge Aurier. Dani Alves has rolled in from the face of Serie A in Juventus to shore up a defense that wilted away from Le Parc de Princes against opponents great and small. Also coming in is a Spaniard from Real Sociedad in Yuri Berchiche.

If Monaco is set to keep Mbappe, then Paris will need to counter by working real hard to get Neymar’s signature and pry him away from Manchester United and Barcelona. Neymar has won every team title possible with the Blaugrana and a move to the French capital will provide a unique challenge in his quest to win a Ballon d’Or. One would imagine that the hefty release clause is something that the petrodollars of QSI (the Qataris) can pacify on the fly. Alternately, the club can go after Alexis Sanchez, who is quitting Arsenal this year. Acquiring Alexis extends PSG’s South American pipeline of talent to Chile. The mystique of returning to good old fashion UEFA Champions League football has to also weigh heavily on the player’s mind.

But at the same time, the situation regarding Marco Verratti’s future will need to be sorted. A PSG team with Verratti, Edinson Cavani, Neymar or Alexis, Julian Draxler, Adrien Rabiot, Marquinhos, Javier Pastore and Angel Di Maria, among others, should issue a strong enough challenge against Monaco and other Ligue 1 club that have held acceptable form against them last year at home.

3. OGC Nice

One of those teams that did hold form at home against Paris Saint-Germain last season was OGC Nice, under the leadership of Lucien Favre. At the centerpiece of this squad is Mario Balotelli, who’s personality and energy has given new life and meaning to this club. Ivorian midfielder Jean Michael Seri has been strong as a provider last go around and should have another productive season. Other key players to watch include forward Alassane Plea, midfielder Wylan Cyprien, midfielder Valentin Eysseric and the Brazilian defending tandem of Dante (the team captain) and Dalbert Henrique.

4. Olympique Lyonnais

Jean-Michel Aulas’s faith in Bruno Genesio must be commended here on TST…with a few golf claps here and there. Unlike the world-beating women’s team led by Alex Morgan, the men of Olympique Lyonnais are a far cry from their former title-winning selves in the 2000’s and have not been as on form these days. To make matters worse, they lost their main man, Alexandre Lacazette, to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. So how do l’OL reload before they turn into the exact meaning of #LOL?

Hmmmm. Well…they do have this dashing flying Dutchman named Memphis Depay, among their ranks. Hey, that’s a start. Oh yes, and the Ivorian, Mr. Maxwel Cornet, is looking for another strong campaign. And this is a great opportunity for the unassuming Nabil Fekir to emerge out of Lacazette’s shadow and be productive up front. Big question: Burkina Faso international Bertrand Traore has been rewarded for a strong AFCON campaign with the No. 10 jersey, but will this season prove that he has truly earned it in the end? Better jump, like the club’s song suggests…

5. Olympique de Marseille

The audacious, ambitious and not-so=-surreptitious Champions Project at Rudi Garcia’s Olympique de Marseille is championed by a certain American named…wait for it…Frank McCourt! The same Frank McCourt that ran the Los Angeles Dodgers into…le turf, leaving Les Dodger Bleu fans…le triggered. One in the South of France, outside of Nice, Monaco and maybe Montpellier and Toulouse, may want to hold their collective breath and pray that this burning desire does not explode into ashes, the flames being doused by some fresh spring water from their rivals in Paris. This is Frank McCourt we’re talking about, though. Don’t be surprised. Expect everything and anything, but certainly nothing because l’OM are on to something. Hon hon hon!

Marseille are led by longtime servant Dimitri Payet and brought in a capable defender in Adil Rami. Patrice Evra is also back for another go-around, as is Japanese defender Hiroki Sakai. Cameroonian strike Clinton N’Jie has had a strong preseason and will factor into their Ligue 1 and, if things go well, Europa League concerns. Florian Thauvin is back with OM and should have a similarly productive season. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda makes a glorious return to Marseille and should earn plenty of minutes if not resume his role as the No. 1 netminder. Finally, the aforementioned Valere Germain has been brought in from Monaco to give Marseille a lift. Germain’s form in particular is the exact form that will make or break Marseille’s 2017-18 season.

6. Girondins de Bordeaux

Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Girondins de Bordeaux were fortunate enough to get a taste of European action this season courtesy of Paris Saint-Germain their Coupe de France. Bordeaux may not have the names of the Ligue 1 big five but they do have a list that should have strong campaigns featuring players such as Brazilian forward Malcom, Senegalese midfielder Younousse Sankhare, Czech midfielder and team captain Jaroslav Plasil, defender Nicolas Pallois and the Uruguayan tandem of Mauro Arrambarri and Diego Rolan.

7. FC Nantes

Ever heard of Claudio Ranieri? If you have, good. If not, shame on you. We covered him on TST, so pay attention. This is the man, the Italian Stallion that helped Leicester City make history by winning the Premier League against all odds a few years ago. FC Nantes have already won Ligue 1 a number of times, but if Ranieri’s magic touch is to be believed, this could be the season where the Canaries are flying back to the big time with a vengeance. Players to watch include Argentian forward Emiliano Sala, Polish striker Mariusz Stepinski, Nigerian defender Chidozie Awaziemmm and Swedish midfielder Alexander Kacaniklic. Not too long ago, another, more noteworthy Swede left his impression on the competition. That man was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Does Nantes have their Zlatan in them this year? Stay tuned…

8. AS Saint-Etienne

It’s a new era and a new day at AS Saint-Etienne, and another Garcia is ruling the roost: Oscar Garcia, simply known as Oscar, He is a former manager at Maccabi Tel Aviv and Red Bull Salzburg. Consider this job to be Oscar’s true big break: ASSE have the most Ligue 1 titles at 10 and they want their own version of the Undecima this season, right here, right now. And Saint-Etienne have a capable list that can rise to the challenge and surprise the establishment including Paul Pogba’s brother Florentin, Martinique defender Kevin Theophile-Catherine, striker Kevin Monnet-Paquet and Norwegian forward Alexander Søderlund.

9. Stade Rennais FC

Longtime manager Christian Gourcuff continues his run as Stade Rennais FC, and that means his son Yoann is back as well. Some massive turnover took place at Rennes in the offseason but there are notable returning faces, including defenders Ludovic Baal and Pedro Mendes, Ivorian forward Giovanni Sio and midfielder Morgan Amalfitano. Expect Rennes to finish with more of the same form from last year.

10. EA Guingamp

Antoine Komboure’s EA Guimgamp finished last season in the middle of the pack and claims its home victory over PSG as one of its biggest, if not the most defining, win of the season. Jimmy Briand, the club’s No. 23, is the captain of the side and a number of key returnees for Guingamp include French Guiana forward Sloan Privat, Cameroonian defender Felix Eboa Eboa, Senegalese midfielder Mustapha Diallo and defenders Jeremy Sorbon and Jonathan Martins Pereira.

11. Lille OSC

A lack of managerial stability almost saw Lille OSC plummet into Ligue 2. But in the end, Les Dogues stayed up and Marcelo Bielsa now takes over the reins. You can only hope he doesn’t stab the fans in the back and leave early, like he did at Marseille. Argentine forward Ezequiel Ponce comes on loan from AS Roma. He joins a list that includes Portuguese midfielder Xeka, forward Nicolas de Preville, Egyptian forward Anwar El Ghazi and Ivorian striker Nicolas Pepe.

12. Angers SCO

The own goal that Issa Cissokho conceded for Stephane Moulin’s Angers SCO in the Coupe de France final was a boulette that sealed his fate with the club, sadly. A new sense of purpose and meaning will need to be had for Les Scoistes if they are to come close to their Cinderella run of last year while not dropping in form and facing relegation. Notable returnees include Cameroonian midfielder Karl Toko Ekambi, goalkeeper Alexander Letellier, midfielder Baptiste Santamaria, striker Billy Ketkeophomphone and midfielder Thomas Mangani. Forward Enzo Crivelli hails from now Ligue 2 side SC Bastia and will hope to see better fortunes at Angers.

13. Toulouse FC

Pascal Dupraz’s Toulouse FC was one of a few teams with the honor of not losing to Paris Saint-Germain. And if you don’t lose to Paris Saint-Germain, there’s a good chance you will remain in Ligue 1. But a 13th place finish last season will not be enough if TFC want to win their first-ever Ligue 1 title. The bulk of the Toulouse list is back: the Swedish tandem of Ola Toivonen and Jimmy Durmaz, Burkina Faso defender Steeve Yago, defender Christopher Jillien and the talisman, midfielder Yann Bodiger.

14. FC Metz

Philippe Hinschberger’s FC Metz came agonizingly close to prevailing over PSG late in the season at home. Metz are not expected to make a strong case for the title, but they have some players to keep an eye out for, including Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, Senegalese forward Opa Nguette, midfielder Yann Jouffre, Senegalese striker Habibn Diallo, Senegalese defender Fallou Diagne and Senegalese midfielder Ismaila Sarr. Expect Metz’s Senegalese connection to deliver in their bid to remain in the big time.

15. Montpellier HSC

Michel Der Zakarian is the new manager at Montpellier HSC, and managing La Paillade is nothing new to him, having started his managerial career overseeing the second and third teams. Der Zakarian has worked with other names in French club football, including Nantes, Clermont and Stade Reims. The main player on this squad is Algerian international Ryad Boudebouz, the No. 10. The Montpellier list is not as fancied as their female counterparts (a similar case to Lyon), but it has the likes of forward Jonathan Ikone to look up to. Ikone is on loan from, wait for it…Paris Saint-Germain. Ahhhh. And Montpellier also feature a South African rising star in Keagan Dolly, formerly of Ajax Cape Town of the country’s Premier Soccer League. Better get used to hearing his name this season, Ligue 1 fans…

16. Dijon FCO

The Mustards of Olivier Dall’Oglio’s Dijon FCO nearly didn’t cut their own celebrated condiment last season. But they are still standing and Dijon will hope to prove to be the genuine article in a stacked Ligue 1. Among the players to watch include Cape Verdean forward Julio Tavares, forward Wesley Said, goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet midfielder Frederic Sammaritano and striker Benjamin Jeannot. The main man to watch: Korean midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon, the former Suwon Samsung Bluewing. If Kwon breaks out, look out, Dijon will be cutting the dijon this season. Maille send help.

17. SM Caen

Patrice Garande could have been out of a job, had it not been for the heroics of a certain Ronny Rodelin. The late equalizer from SM Caen’s No. 12 at Le Parc on Week 38 ensured that he also stick around as well and with the fighting pride of Normandy remaining in the top flight, there can only be hope that this year, the situation will be much more stable. Rodelin may be the face of Caen, but there are others looking to dial in, including goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre, Croatian forward Ivan Santini, Haitian defender Romain Genevois, defender Damien da Silva and the captain, midfielder Julien Feret.

18. RC Strasbourg Alsace

Welcome back to the big time, Strasbourg, a club we extensively featured on The Stoppage Time. After a period in the wilderness that is the lower divisions of French club football, Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace are back in Ligue 1 with a vengeance. And manager Theirry Laurey, who had an ill-fate spell in the top flight with Gazalec Ajaccio, is hoping for redemption with a successful 2017-18 campaign with #TousRacing. Notable players to watch for on this Strasbourg list include midfielder Vincent Nogueira, midfieldeer Anthony Goncalves, striker Jeremy Blayac, Cape Verde forward Nuno da Costa and Senegalese midfielder Oumar Pouye.

19. Amiens SC

The hometown club of French president Emmanuel Macron, Christophe Pélissier’s Amiens SC were sent to the top flight on the last kick of the 2016-17 Ligue 2 season by another Emmanuel in Emmanuel Bourgaud. It was a goal worthy of securing the No. 10 jersey for Bourgaud, and he will be one of many players on this Amiens list that will be coming up big for this Cinderella team, including Guadeloupe forward Yannick Mamillione, New Caledonian forward Georges Gope-Fenepej, DR Congo midfielder Harrison Manzala, Cameroonian defender Guy Ngosso and Benin defender Khaled Adenon. Midfielder Jean-Luc Dompe joins the Unicorns on loan from Belgian powerhouse side Standard Liege, who are about three hours away from the Stade de La Licorne, traffic permitting.

There is one interesting set of fixtures for Amiens: the home-and-home with Marseille. OM are Macron’s adopted club. This is sure to set up for some interesting meetings between both supporters, without a doubt… En Marche, mes amis!

20. ESTAC Troyes

Remember this, ESTAC Troyes fans?

That’s right, once upon a time, Jean-Louis Garcia’s ESTAC Troyes were sent to the woodshed by Paris Saint-Germain, a 9-0 smashing that saw PSG walk right up and defend their Hexagoal with overachieving style, strength and seldomly surreptitious swagger. They got Zlatan’d by #ZlatanTime. Times change. Lists change. And ESTAC’s learning experiences from a relegated campaign saw them change for the better and oust FC Lorient from the top flight and celebrate a return amidst the flares littered on to the pitch by surly and salty Merlus supporters.

This year’s Troyes squad will once again have it tough to avoid another relegation but they have some players that are capable of ensuring ESTAC’s survival, including Colombian defender Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Gabonese defender Johann Obiang, Brazilian defender Gabriel who is on loan from Lille, Martinique defender Christopher Herelle, and the face of Troyes, midfielder Benjamin Nivet.

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Ligue 1

Jo-Ryan Salazar is a writer for The Stoppage Time, a soccer blog powered by Azteca Soccer. A supporter of the Los Angeles Galaxy since 1996 and a committed supporter since 2002, Jo-Ryan also follows Chelsea FC, Melbourne Victory, FC Tokyo and Paris Saint-Germain. Apart from soccer, Jo-Ryan is an administrative assistant for a local nonprofit in Long Beach, California and also does photography, photo-editing and fictional writing.

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