Right then — Ligue 1. It’s a bit interesting now, isn’t it? With some very big money arrivals, and equally expensive departures, people seem to be starting to take the French league seriously.
While Eden Hazard’s early form at Chelsea has shown the league isn’t as weak as many would have you think, the arrival of some of the best players in Serie A in Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic perhaps indicate a shift in the power balance. OK, so PSG’s petro-dollars are behind all of those, but it was encouraging to see players like Salomon Kalou and Adrian Mutu choose to move to France, as well as the likes of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Marvin Martin staying in the country.
With Lyon’s monopoly on league titles well and truly over, and four different champions in the last four years, Ligue 1 is looking stronger and more competitive than ever.
Two of the strongest looking outfits, the aforementioned oil-powered Paris Saint-Germain, and 2011 champions Lille, met on Sunday with just one league win between them. Having sealed their place in the Champions League group stage during the week, Lille were slow to start, and were punished within a minute by Ibrahimovic.
PSG’s slick passing in the build-up to the goal displayed that their expensively-assembled side is beginning to show some cohesion, a lack of which had led to their string of draws in their first three matches of the season.
Aurélien Chedjou’s second goal of the season levelled the scores before Ibrahimovic’s second of the match put Paris back in front. The Swede has scored all of his team’s goals so far this season and seems to enjoy being an even bigger fish in a perhaps smaller pond.
Reigning champions Montpellier got their first win of the season this weekend too, as the returning Younès Belhanda pulled the strings in a straightforward win over pointless Sochaux. Montpellier have had an awkward start to the season as they dealt with the loss of last season’s top scorer Olivier Giroud. The goalscoring baton has been passed to the significantly less handsome Emanuel Herrera, who got his second goal for the club, albeit a tap-in.
Sochaux look in deep trouble, having failed to significantly strengthen a side that finished just four points above the relegation spots last season, and have since lost their primary creator and goalscorer in Marvin Martin and Modibo Maïga respectively. Winger Sébastien Roudet’s comments that Sochaux “are a Ligue 2-quality squad” won’t encourage the fans, who saw their side qualify for European competition just two years ago.
While Sochaux have made the worst possible start, Marseille are flying with four wins from four. Élie Baup was something of a leftfield appointment to succeed Didier Deschamps, but, of course, the appointment suddenly looks a masterstroke in a week in which OM successfully qualified for the Europa League group stage and got a deserved victory against Rennes at the Stade Vélodrome.
Mathieu Valbuena looked sharp, and the return of Loïc Rémy was another positive sign, but there was one clearly outstanding performer in André-Pierre Gignac, who is playing, in stark contrast to last season, like a man with all the confidence in the world. This was summed up by the gall he had to even attempt his glorious strike to make it 2-1 to the home side. If Rémy can make a full recovery from his long-term injury problems, Marseille will go from strength to strength.
After a tricky start, Saint-Étienne have picked up six points in seven days, scoring seven without reply. In their 3-0 outclassing of Bastia they were efficient in launching counterattacks and clinical in front of goal, thanks mainly to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scoring one and creating another. With Brandão still to be integrated into their attack, things are looking up for Christophe Galtier’s men.
Lyon had a mixed final week of the transfer window. While Cris was a great servant to the club, his departure to Galatasaray will not be much of an issue on the pitch, especially after the arrival of Milan Bisevac. But the loss of Hugo Lloris will be much more keenly felt, with long-term bridesmaid Rémy Vercoutre finally getting his wedding day. The goalkeeper has never played a full season as first choice in his career, so will take a bit of time to become fully match-ready, as was evident in his half-hearted effort to collect a Valenciennes cross that led to the opening goal on Saturday.
New signing Steed Malbranque and Clément Grenier were industrious in midfield to turn the game in Lyon’s favour, the latter scoring a deserved winner.
Elsewhere, Toulouse continued their unbeaten start to the season, but made hard work of it against newly-promoted Reims. Wissam Ben Yedder boosted his burgeoning reputation with an excellently taken equaliser, his third of the season, and his form has earned him a deserved call-up to the France under-21 side. Ben Yedder was influential in all of Toulouse’s good work, and, with the smallest squad in the league, his manager Alain Casanova will be desperate for him to avoid injury over the international break.
It’s been a long time since Ludovic Giuly has been eligible for the U21s, but he showed he’s still got something to offer France’s top flight with Lorient, as he scored against Nancy. Deemed surplus to requirements in Ligue 2 by Claudio Ranieri’s Monaco, the signing of the 36-year-old could turn out to be a shrewd move by Christian Gourcuff, bringing experience to a squad that survived relegation by just a point last season.
A player who could have an impact over a longer period of time could be Alain Traoré, scorer of a glorious free kick from an unlikely angle. Whether these summer signings can end Lorient’s appalling record away from home next weekend at Rennes remains to be seen.
The final word goes to Évian, who have sacked Pablo Correa after a gutless performance against Ajaccio. In a grand tradition of former managers in sinister “sporting director” roles, the Uruguayan has been duly replaced by Pascal Dupraz.
Written by Alasdair Shaw
Follow him on Twitter @radalias
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