Top-flight European soccer has returned, as the 2017-18 Ligue 1 season kicked off this past weekend. Each week, we’ll be breaking down the top teams in the league into three tiers: Title Contenders, who are the teams best equipped to bring home the Ligue 1 crown, Champions League Contenders, teams whose ceiling is likely a top-three finish, and Europa League Contenders, teams who should be gunning to breach the top six. Let’s dive in!
1. Paris Saint Germain
Until proven otherwise, PSG is the only realistic contender for the Ligue 1 crown. Perhaps fueled by slipping to second in the 2016-17 campaign, the Parisians went on a spending spree for the ages during the summer and currently boast a roster with more talent, perhaps, then the rest of the league combined. The most talented roster doesn’t guarantee the title, of course, but the gulf between PSG and their league-mates appears massive.
It must be said that PSG didn’t quite look the part against newly-promoted Amiens last weekend, earning a very quiet 2-0 win that was only really in the bag after an 81st minute goal from Javier Pastore. Still, when 2-nil wins aren’t quite satisfying, you know you’ve reached a high standard. And just wait until Neymar joins the front line.
Champions League Contenders:
This will be the first season without Champions League football for Lyon since 2014, thanks to an average 2016-17 campaign that saw them finish eleven points short of the line. They’re still a bit of an enigma after the departure of star forward Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal, but they had more than enough scoring punch to dispatch of Strasbourg easily in a 4-0 victory. Former Real Madrid youngster Mariano Diaz was impressive up top, earning a brace in 76 minutes of work. This doesn’t have the makings of a top-tier squad yet, but they look to be a step ahead of the pack in the early going.
This placement is more out of respect for what the defending champions did last season than what they might do with their current squad. A 3-2 win over Toulouse was exciting, if not convincing, but it might be notable if it turns out to be Kylian Mbappe’s last game in a Monaco shirt. Does this team have enough punch to get back to the Champions League without Mbappe? Likely not, but they do have a lot of spare change right now.
Marseille spent big over the summer with the goal of returning to the Champions League, and it looks like they will indeed be in contention this season. They made short work of Dijon on Sunday, winning 3-0 on the strength of a brace from 23-year-old Clinton Njie, who replaced star Dimitri Payet at halftime. The Payet situation will be one to monitor this season—if he’s in top form, Marseille might be the second-best team in Ligue 1. But he hasn’t been in top form for some time now.
ASSE didn’t earn the right to any sort of European football last season, but they’ve come out with a bang with a 1-0 win over Champions League qualifiers Nice. With Caen and Amiens in their next two matches, Saint-Etienne could send a message to the rest of the league with nine out of nine points in their first three matches.
It wasn’t the start to the season that Nice were hoping for, but they’ve still got a couple things working in their favor: the return of Mario Balotelli from a hamstring injury will surely help, and all will be forgiven with a win over Napoli in the Champions League qualifiers. This was a surprise Champions League squad last season, and perhaps they shouldn’t be expected to repeat that run. Still, they’re very much in the hunt.
Sure, why not? In a year with seemingly very little separating the second through seventh place teams in the league, Lille are a perfectly reasonable dark horse bet to sneak into the top three. Europa League qualification is probably a more fitting goal, given that the Great Danes slipped to eleventh in the table last season, but they did look like one of the best teams in the league in an impressive 3-0 romp over Nantes.
Europa League Contenders:
It’s been a tough couple weeks for Bordeaux, who were eliminated from Europa League play on away goals before surrendering a 2-1 road lead over Angers in the 88th minute. Nonetheless, this is clearly a team in contention for another top-six finish, though anything higher than that seems a bit lofty.
Three points is three points, though a less-than-dominant comeback win against a relegation contender is Metz is likely not what Guingamp had in mind. Still it’s a step in the right direction for a club that has only made the Europa League twice in its history.