The extent to which Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco dominated this summer’s Ligue 1 headlines meant the circuit’s former titans, Lyon and Marseille, were not only pushed out of the spotlight but off the stage entirely. An especially detailed mainstream account of Ligue 1’s state might allude to the battle for third, the league’s final UEFA Champions League spot, but unless you went to a France-dedicated blog or followed the right people on Twitter, you were unlikely to hear much talk of Lyon or Marseille.
Which, of course, is a shame. Marseille is one of (if not the) largest clubs in France, while Lyon won seven straight titles the last decade. From 2001 to 2011, at least one of the clubs finished in the league’s top two. Though it was Bordeaux that eventually broke Lyon’s title run in 2008-09, it was Marseille that was always considered the most likely usurper – the club with the history, prestige, and resources to make France a two-team league, if they got their act together.
Marseille eventually claimed a title in 2009-10, but fast-forward three years, and France is finally on the verge of becoming that two-horse race. Only now everybody’s focusing on PSG and Monaco, leaving those not so far off days of Lyon dominance and OM potential in another era.
For one weekend, however, OL and Marseille (who finished third and second last year, mind you) turned back the clock, posting convincing victories on Ligue 1’s opening weekend. While the results may not be enough to get people outside of France excited for something other than PSG dominance and Monaco intrigue, there may be no better time to convince potential fans there’s something beyond the league’s big two; particularly after a weekend where the Parisians disappointed and Monaco still looked within reach.
The round started Friday in Montpellier where the two latest champions met at the Stade de la Mosson. An early goal from Remy Cabella left PSG down at halftime, though a second half score from left back Maxwell (starting over big summer acquisition Lucas Digne) allowed the Parisians to salvage Laurent Blanc’s debut.
PSG started slow last year, with draws in their first three matches warning us against reading too much from their August results. (More on Blanc later tonight.)
On Saturday, while Monaco played out a convincing 2-0 win at Bordeaux, it was a former Girondins player that stole the show for Lyon. Yoann Gourcuff, who’s move to OL has seen random flashes dot a three years of bust-worthy performance, was the weekend’s best player. The France international set up two goals and did a Juninho impression on a third, leading Lyon to a 4-0 win over Nice. While the show only fueled speculation he could jump to Lorient to join his father (who coaches the team), it gave Lyon fans one night of joy in during this troublesome Gourcuff era.
On Sunday, Marseille looked set to best Lyon’s act, scoring twice at Guingamp in the first four minutes, three times by the 18th. André-Pierre Gignac, ready to affirm his last year under Didier Deschamps was indeed an aberrational one, scored in the second minute, while former Lille winger Dimitri Payet scored twice on his OM debut. Though Marseille created a couple other clear good chances in the first half, they eventually let off the gas, allowing their hosts a goal before going on to a 3-1 victory.
It’s worth remembering Marseille got off to a blistering start last year, too. Regardless, on Sunday this year’s squad proved as potent in real life as their attack implied on paper, with Payet’s presence balancing a group that already had André Ayew, Mathieu Valabuena, and “APG”. Though their defense looked generous on Mustapha Yatabaré’s second half goal, Marseille have enough talents to make even the likes of Monaco slightly envious. And with players like Alexandre Lacazette, Clement Grenier, Maxime Gonalons and Gueïda Fofana, the same could be said for Lyon.
That, however, is unlikely to capture many imaginations when the big spenders bring in the likes of Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but until Monaco can show they’ve forged a team from their lavish parts, we may want to hold of ceding second place to the Red-Whites. At least, let’s wait until after Monaco visits Marseille on Sept. 1 before making the Big One (PSG) into a duopoly.