There’s more to the French league than Paris Saint-Germain, though after Eden Hazard completed his move to Chelsea, the Parisians were the summer’s only story. That changed over the last week, as preview content started identifying some potential challengers. For that small group , Ligue 1’s opening week could scarcely have been better:
Lille: How will they ever survive the loss of Hazard? With an opening weekend win at Saint-Etienne. Not bad at all.
Granted, Rudi Garcia’s team needed some stoppage time heroics from Benoit Pedretti, but given how Dimitri Payet was playing, it was only a matter of time until a LOSC player became the hero.
Last year, Payet was known in the English-language world as the guy who kept Joe Cole on the bench. The 25-year-old moved from Saint-Etienne last June, filling in nicely for the departed Gervinho. As Eden Hazard became even more on the alpha dog (especially after the mid-season departure of Moussa Sow), it was Payet who helped pick up the slack wide. His five goals and three assists understate his contributions.
On Saturday, there was nothing understated about Payet’s play. The France international (capped three times) set up each of Lille’s goals in their 2-1 win at Stade Geoffrey-Guichard.
Lyon: In the two-plus years since OL was in UEFA Champions League’s semifinals, Lyon’s gone from under-appreciated to under-achieving and, as it concerns title contenders, forgotten.
But look at Saturday’s starting XI, remember that Remi Garde held out his two best players (Lisandro Lopez and Hugo Lloris), and you see a team with enough talent to be a spoiler:
Remi Vercoutre, Anthony Reveillere, Cris, Bakare Kone, Aly Cissokho, Guieda Fofana, Maxime Gonalons, Jimmy Briand, Yoann Gourcuff, Alexandre Lacazette, Bafetimbi Gomis
Gourcuff will be key. On Saturday, he put home a beautiful cross from Briand for the match’s only goal, OL getting 1-0 win at 10-man Rennes (who may still lose Yann M’Vila).
A bust since moving to Lyonnais, Gourcuff is being granted one more chance to make a career at Stade Gerland. If he doesn’t come off by January, he’ll likely be nudged toward Lorient, where his father serves as head coach.
If Gourcuff miraculously finds the player that led Bordeaux to a title four years ago, Lyon’s a major threat. If he merely becomes a man that can justify last year’s sale of Miralem Pjanic, Lyon will be a spoiler. They have the talent.
Montpellier: Inconclusive. That’s how we’ll have to read the holders’ first game without Olivier Giroud. Having lost their leading scorer to Arsenal this summer, Montpellier’s title credentials are in question. Their 1-1 draw on Friday provided few answers, with MHSC going up 1-0 before playing the last 51 minutes with 10 men against visiting Toulouse. The match ended 1-1.
Keeping 23-year-old captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will be key to qualifying for Europe, though it’d be too much to expect them to compete for another title. Even if they’d managed to retain Giroud, they’d have to deal with the increased attention their title attracted. No more sneaking up on anybody.
On Saturday, they travel to Lorient. Provided they keep 11 men on the pitch, we’ll get a better idea of where they stand.
Marseille: OM are not title contenders, but coming off a collapse that saw them win only twice after January, it’s worth noting how one of France’s big boys started. Didier Deschamps, the man who took them to the title two years ago, has moved on to the national team position. Elie Baup’s tasked with picking up the scraps.
Marseille’s start was a little bit Montpellier, a little bit Lyon. As is the case with defending champs, it’s difficult to discern much from OM’s weekend result. Benoit Cheyrou broke through in the 78th minute at Reims, giving Marseille a 1-0 win, but until we see more from the newly promoted club, it’s hard to put Marseille’s performance in context.
Like Lyon, Marseille maintains enough talent to be a spoiler. Their attack of the Ayew brothers, Loic Remy, Andre Pierre-Gignac and Mathieu Valbuena may prove to be the second best in the league, if given the chance to show it.
None of these contenders have the Parisians’ talent, but as we saw on Saturday, PSG’s not going to be perfect. With Paris Saint-Germain committed to UEFA Champions League, there may be an opportunity to challenge. Scrounging points against the likes of Reims and Rennes with be crucial, especially when PSG slips against Lorient.