Although not every team has returned to action just yet, the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season is already underway and the chase for the title is on.
Once again Paris Saint-Germain are the defending champions, having won the title for the seventh time in eight years last term, finishing 12 points clear of second-placed Marseille. The margin was PSG’s third-biggest gap over second place since their domination of Ligue 1 started, slightly less than the 16-point lead they had over Lille in 2018/19. However, both are still some way off the 31-point gap between PSG and Lyon in 2015/16.
The gulf between PSG and the rest of French football has often led many to expect the Parisians to win Ligue 1 before a ball is even kicked – and they are yet to kick off their campaign due to their participation in the latter stages of the 2019/20 Champions League.
But do PSG have serious competition for 2020/21? Or will the title race turn into a procession? We’ve taken a look at the five teams that may be in the best position to challenge Thomas Tuchel’s side for the Ligue 1 title.
2019/20 finish: 7th
SBK* percentile odds (to win Ligue 1 in 2020/21): 6.90%
*Odds correct as of 10:00 on 25/08/2020. You have you be be 18+ and GambleAware to sign up to SBK.
Looking at Ligue 1 only, the 2019/20 campaign was not a good season for Lyon, as they finished seventh and failed to qualify for any European competition – a drop off from their third-place finish the season prior. But Champions League Lyon were a different beast entirely.
Finishing second in their group behind RB Leipzig, Lyon knocked out Juventus and Manchester City to reach the semi-finals, although Bayern Munich proved to be a step too far. Despite the defeat, Lyon can look back on their Champions League run with fondness, having reached the semi-finals for the first time since 2009/10, when they were knocked out by Bayern. And if Champions League Lyon turn up in Ligue 1 next season, they could be a problem for PSG.
Boasting the likes of Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar and Jason Denayer, Rudi Garcia has a strong squad on his hands, with only Monaco and PSG scoring more goals than them in Ligue 1 last season, while they also had the joint-fourth best defence.
In terms of setting up on the pitch, Lyon’s full-backs often pushed slightly higher, alongside the holding midfielder, turning their formation into a 2-3-2-3 at times with the centre-backs playing the ball out. The fluidity of their attack, and Depay’s tendency to drift slightly to the left, made Lyon tougher to stop.
Like PSG, Lyon’s start to 2020/21 was delayed due to their Champions League participation. But once they do get going, their title hopes could be boosted by their lack of European football.
2019/20 finish: 2nd
SBK percentile odds (to win Ligue 1 in 2020/21): 5.56%
Last season’s runners-up enjoyed a good first season under Andre Villas-Boas, with the Portuguese manager continuing their push up the Ligue 1 table. It wasn’t too long ago that the club, who are record 10-time French champions, finished 13th in the table – just nine points clear of relegation – and had exactly half the points of champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Two fifth-place finishes and a fourth followed but last season under Villas-Boas was arguably their best since finishing second in 2012/13, with decent performances at both ends of the pitch. Only three teams – PSG, Lyon and Monaco – scored more than Marseille’s 41 goals before the league was curtailed, while just five conceded fewer.
As expected from any Villas-Boas side, Marseille spent large parts of their 2019/20 season with the full-backs pushing high up and a holding midfielder dropping slightly deeper to provide cover for the centre-backs.
Right-back Bouna Sarr was also used as a winger at times, which explains how good he was at pressing forward, practically playing as a midfielder and forming a neat triangle on the right from which Marseille looked to benefit.
Marseille have already moved to build on their squad for last season, with Alvaro Gonzalez making his loan move from Villarreal permanent, promising defensive midfielder Pape Gueye joining from Le Havre and Leonardo Balerdi loaned from Borussia Dortmund.
Gonzalez played 20 times for Marseille last season, featuring in all but eight of their Ligue 1 games at centre-back, 19 of which were starts. He was often partnered alongside Boubacar Kamara or Duje Caleta-Car, with the latter expected to form a centre-back duo with Gonzalez for the new campaign. There are also high hopes for Gueye, once described as a hybrid between Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, despite the Frenchman being just 21.
They will still be looking to rely on the likes of top scorer Dario Benedetto and creator Dimitri Payet, who was directly involved in 13 Ligue 1 goals last season, scoring nine and adding four assists. However, it will be interesting to see how Marseille fair domestically while also competing in the Champions League – having been out of European competition completely last season.
2019/20 finish: 4th
SBK percentile odds (to win Ligue 1 in 2020/21): 3.33%
Finishing fourth last season, Lille’s chances of usurping PSG at the top of the table will depend heavily on how their new signings slot into the side.
Last season’s top scorer Victor Osimhen was sold to Napoli, just one year after he joined Lille, and Jonathan David has been signed to try and fill the gap left by the Nigerian. In Ligue 1, Osimhen managed 13 goals, six more than any other Lille player, while adding a further four assists – bettered only by Jonathan Ikone.
Despite playing in slightly different positions, David scored 23 goals in 40 games for Gent last season, including 18 in the league, as they finished second behind Club Brugge. Lille also added Burak Yilmaz to their squad to help replace Osimhen, but past the Turk and David they do not have much strength in depth.
Renato Sanches will also be key to Lille, having featured heavily both on the right of midfield and in central, which allowed Christophe Galtier to switch formations freely when required. But another departure Lille will need to deal with is that of centre-back Gabriel, who is expected to join Arsenal before the transfer window closes, having missed the opening 1-1 draw with Rennes.
2019/20 finish: 9th
SBK percentile odds (to win Ligue 1 in 2020/21): 2.78%
Monaco have been a strange old side over the past few seasons, following up their 2016/17 Ligue 1 title win with a second-place finish before dropping all the way down to 17th. Last season brought a bit more stability and progress, with Monaco moving up to ninth – but they will not be happy with that, instead believing they should be among those challenging PSG.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with Monaco’s attack last season, with Wissam Ben Yedder scoring a joint league-high 18 goals and adding a further four assists, with only Kylian Mbappe (23) being directly involved in more across the division. Islam Slimani also did his part with nine goals and seven assists, though he is no longer at Monaco, having returned to parent club Leicester City.
But what let Monaco down last season was their defence. Conceding 44 goals – the same amount as they scored – only three teams let in more than Monaco last season, two of whom were relegated in Toulouse and Amiens, while Saint-Etienne finished 17th.
Monaco have already looked to improve on that, signing centre-back Axel Disasi, who played all but one of Reims’ games, helping them record the best defensive record in Ligue 1. And they’ve moved to appoint Niko Kovac as their new manager, but the big question is whether he can inspire an instant improvement, helping Monaco leap up the table.
In their first game, a 2-2 draw with Reims, Monaco showed signs of positive changes under Kovac but there is still clearly a lot of work to do.
2019/20 finish: 3rd
SBK percentile odds (to win Ligue 1 in 2020/21): 1.82%
Perhaps the team one would least expect to be challenging PSG for the title (among those included), it would still be rude not to recognise Rennes for their progress last season.
Routinely, and quite bizarrely, switching between ninth and fifth in Ligue 1 for a few years, Rennes followed up a 10th-place finish in 2018/19 with third last season, securing Champions League football for the first time in the club’s history.
It was reward for a fine season under Julien Stephan, who replaced Sabri Lamouchi midway through the 2018/19 campaign, and also led the club to the Coupe de France – beating PSG in the final. Despite not boasting the big-name stars of their rivals, Rennes appear to be perfectly set for the future, and have already added Martin Terrier and Nayef Aguerd to their squad for the 2020/21 season.
Niang, who joined last summer from Torino, has been linked with a move away from Rennes this summer, and the club will do well to keep hold of the 25-year-old, who finished his debut campaign at the club as top scorer. Rennes aren’t just about the attack, however, with only Reims conceding fewer goals than their 24 in Ligue 1 last season.
Unlike Marseille, Rennes did have to deal with European football last season, although their Europa League campaign ended at the group stages, but it will be a bigger task juggling Ligue 1 and the Champions League this time around.
Ligue 1 title odds: 2020/21 season (via SBK)
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