The new Ligue 1 season is on the horizon and Paris Saint-Germain are clear title favourites. They may have lost the championship race last term, but some things never change.
If Lille’s triumph was unexpected in 2020-21, another upset in the coming campaign would be on another level entirely.
While PSG have continued to spend, many of their rivals are feeling the effects of a tough financial market struggling to recover from the collapse of a mammoth television deal late last year.
Is silverware inevitable then for Mauricio Pochettino’s men? Stats Perform takes a look at the state of play in France…
THE RICH GET RICHER
Few teams in Europe have recruited as impressively as PSG ahead of the new season, but many of the changes might not be immediately evident in Ligue 1.
Take Sergio Ramos, for example. PSG may have lost their domestic crown last term, but their repeated failures in the Champions League are of primary concern. Ramos should help to fix that.
Few players can match the centre-back’s European pedigree. Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018, Real Madrid won 10 of the 15 Champions League games Ramos featured in and only four of the 13 he missed.
It is likely he will be the man for the big occasion again in Paris. Now 35 and having played only 15 games in LaLiga last season due to injury, that might mean limited Ligue 1 outings.
Likewise, Gianluigi Donnarumma’s role is not entirely clear. He was the standout player at Euro 2020 but must now compete with Keylor Navas, who prevented 8.1 Ligue 1 goals last season according to Opta’s expected goals on target (xGOT) data – the third-best mark in Europe’s top five leagues.
Georginio Wijnaldum is a solid addition but unlikely to move the needle, although Achraf Hakimi should give PSG a new dimension. The wing-back has been involved in 30 goals (12 goals, 18 assists) since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, trailing only Robin Gosens (34) among defenders in the top leagues.
However, if Mauricio Pochettino prioritises the Champions League, Moise Kean – 13 goals in 26 league games last season but now back at Everton – might be a miss.
LILLE A LEADING CONTENDER
It was anticipated Lille’s key men would be picked off following their title win and that did happen to an extent. Mike Maignan left for Milan, replacing Donnarumma, and Boubakary Soumare for Leicester City. Coach Christophe Galtier is now at Nice.
But Lille have retained their strike force in Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan David along with centre-back pairing Jose Fonte and Sven Botman – two old-and-young combinations.
Fonte and Botman were particularly impressive last term, leading a defence that conceded a league-low 23 goals. They both started last week’s Trophee des Champions triumph over PSG, the third time since the start of last season the capital club have failed to net against Lille.
They were not the only club to end 2020-21 with momentum, though. Monaco collected a league-high 51 points from their 21 games in 2021, while only Lille (11) have conceded fewer than their 17 this year.
Stretching that form out across an entire campaign to put PSG under pressure is no simple task, but Monaco have Ligue 1’s form man in Aleksandr Golovin.
With five goals and eight assists in 969 minutes in 2021, Golovin is averaging a goal involvement every 75 minutes in Ligue 1 – the best rate among players with 200 minutes or more.
Money may be in short supply throughout the division, but PSG are not quite alone in spending ahead of the new season. Rennes and Nice are looking to climb back into the top-four picture.
Rennes finished sixth last term after ex-Lyon man Bruno Genesio arrived with 11 games of the season remaining, finding the side winless in eight and stuck in mid-table.
A record-breaking run lifted Rennes into a European place. No coach in their history can match Genesio’s points-per-game average (1.8) or win rate (54.6 per cent).
His reward was significant expenditure on centre-back Loic Bade, joining the third-best defence in the league (40 goals conceded), and forward Kamaldeen Sulemana.
Meanwhile, Nice will hope their own coaching change has a similar impact. Galtier has also been backed, with Jean-Clair Todibo and Calvin Stengs among his recruits.
Perhaps creator Stengs can get Kasper Dolberg firing again after a disappointing six-goal season.
No player in the Eredivisie last term underperformed their expected goals (xG) tally by as wide a margin as Stengs (9.3 xG, five assists), who will hope to find more clinical team-mates in France.