It’s seldom that smaller clubs with a lack of resources are given proper credit for their achievements, however the fact that Lille are sitting three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Ligue 1 is a true testament to their sporting structure, although it has also proven that PSG are no longer invincible domestically.
Not since the Kylian Mbappe-inspired Monaco team of 2016/17 has PSG‘s grip on the Ligue 1 title been in such danger, with the principality club actually lifting the trophy on that occasion before the circling vultures of Europe decimated their team.
Lille, though, can consider themselves in with a real chance of glory in France this term, despite holding just a three-point advantage over their infinitely wealthier rivals.
Now, this is not a piece which is stating that PSG have blown their chances of the Ligue 1 title – they still have a match against Lille to play on April 3 at the Parc des Princes and are one positive results-swing away from returning to the summit of the table – however the sheer fact their stranglehold on the Ligue 1 title is at risk is monumental to the footballing landscape.
It’s important to remember the context behind PSG‘s rise. The French top flight has never been the haven for the top players in world football, and generally teams from France have enjoyed little more than fleeting success in Europe.
However, PSG are essentially bankrolled by a state in the form of the Qatar Sports Investments group, which means that they are able to spend money without any concern about profit margin, FFP rules and the risk of going bankrupt.
This is such an advantage over every other club in the world, aside from Manchester City, that it’s becoming increasingly inconceivable that they will ever be caught domestically, which is what makes Lille’s rise so admirable.
Using limited resources well, identifying talent and bringing in the right coach has led to Lille sitting atop the Ligue 1 table, and they can consider themselves as having a genuine shot at winning the title. Lyon, who are third and joint-level on points with PSG, are also ready to cause an upset.
Defeat to Nantes on Sunday was the latest slip-up in a domestic campaign that has been full of disaster for Mauricio Pochettino‘s charges.
They may impress in the Champions League, but it’s like they have taken their eyes off the ball in France; there can be no other explanation.
Historically, dominant teams would be forgiven for seasons where they perhaps fell short in the league, but the one drawback of the ownership models of PSG and Manchester City, and the vast advantages they provide, is that there is no margin for error.
Manchester City and PSG should win their domestic title every single year without fail, that’s just reality, and any other outcome should be seen as a cataclysmic failing on their behalf.
When you have such deep squads, filled with talent, you can allow for several members of your usual starting XI to have below-par seasons, especially after the disappointment of losing the Champions League final last term, but when your reserve players are so much stronger than anyone else’s starters, you can’t accept succumbing to a wonderful Lille or Lyon side.
Pochettino may rue his decision to take the coaching position at the Parc des Princes, despite his affinity with the club, as he is on a hiding to nothing there, unless he can win a Champions League.
For the most part, it seems as though his players lack the interest and intensity in Ligue 1 to really push to defend their title, and we’re seeing that manifest itself in results and performances which, in truth, should never be seen from a team with such a sporting advantage over everyone.
Whether it’s complacency, the sheer wonder of Lille’s momentum or the constricted 2020/21 calendar, it’s difficult to say, but Paris Saint-Germain‘s domestic dominance is over far earlier than their financial might should have allowed, and now the question is whether they will suffer the ultimate humiliation of letting their title head to another club for the first time in four years.