Of course, there is much discussion about the change of the team over the summer. The big names departing are Dimitri Payet to Lille, Blaise Matuidi to PSG, Emmanuel Riviere to Toulouse and Christophe Landrin to Arles-Avignon (which kind of surprises me). But even though some of these players are gone, there replacements should be able to prove themselves on this stage as well.
The biggest signing for ASSE has to be goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier from Monaco. Does this mean that Jermanie Janot’s retirement is closer than we think? Easily, both of these players know how to play goal, and are some of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 1. But even so, both of them have different playing styles. Janot is more or an acrobat, while Ruffier is stellar at positioning. It will be interesting to see how coach Christophe Galtier juggles the goaltending roles.
But, of course, some think it will be difficult for St. Etienne to replace the departed, especially Payet and Matuidi. Regarding Payet, his departure might be a blessing in disguise. For a number of seasons now, followers of ASSE have been waiting for Payet to explode. And during his time at the team, he constantly under-performed. Last year, he finally started to show what many of us were expecting from him, but his new talent also brought about a poor attitude. Therefore, the departure of Payet from the ASSE system might not be the worse thing in the world. Also, Gonzalo Bergessio, another player that ASSE fans are expecting a lot from, is now back on the team after a loan stint at Catania in Italy. Florent Sinama Pongolle is also on loan from Sporting Clube de Portugal, which gives ASSE that extra dimension, speed, to their arsenal.
As far as the offensive midfield, ASSE pretty much stayed intact. Laurent Batlles, Alejandro Alonso and Bakary Sako will continue to provide the offensive support in the midfield. In addition, the team added former Lyon and Fulham player Steed Malbranque to the mix.
Blaise Matuidi, on the other hand, will be much harder to replace. It was only a matter of time until he was going to move to a bigger team. Still, in almost a swap, ASSE were able to acquire Jérémy Clément from PSG. Yes, Clement is a solid defensive midfielder and has been for years, but Matuidi is the future of French football. But still, with the addition of Clement, it makes the loss of Matiudi less noticeable. In addition, ASSE still have the services of captain Loïc Perrin to assist Clement in the defensive midfield.
Even with these changes up front, one of ASSE’s biggest strengths has to be on the back line. American Carlos Bocanegra, Sylvain Marchal and Albin Ebondo were absolutely stellar last year. And with the addition of Jean-Pascal Mignot a few days ago, St. Etienne will have one of the strongest back lines in all of Ligue 1.
While St. Etienne are covered well at every position, there is one bonus that they have that almost all other teams lack…leadership and experience. Of course Jeremie Janot can be an inspiration to his player. Loic Perrin is the current captain of the team. In addition, Bocanegra is the USMNT captain and Sylvain Marchal was captain at Lorient. Along with these inspirational leaders, the team brought in experienced players like Clement and cleaned out of the players with poor attitudes (Payet) and the unpredictables (Riviere) that could be the difference between winning and losing.
This team should make the Europa League. But, like with Rennes, if any of the top teams slip just a little, St. Etienne could be a Champions League bound team.
4th. Paris St. Germain: Oh, no you didn’t!
Oh, yes I did!
I know, we have all been hearing about the super-team that PSG is creating with their new found Qatari money. And yes, the players that they have brought in have been impressive. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Manchester City, the Boston Red Sox or the Detroit Red Wings. Even with the amount of players brought into PSG, it will take at least a season to grow.
Why do I say this? Well, let’s look at the big named players brought in. We have Kevin Gameiro from Lorient, Milan Biševac from Valenciennes, Blaise Matuidi from St. Etienne, Jeremy Menez from Roma, Mohamed Sissokho from Juventus, Nicolas Douchez from Rennes and now Javier Pastore from Palermo. More than likely, most of these players, if not all, are going to be starters. And, of course, none of them have played on the same club teams before. Therefore, coach Antoine Kombauare might have a rough time getting all of his players on the same page.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a good set of players. In addition, the depth of this team might be another plus. But could the depth of this team also cause tension? Because they are bringing in so many players, could other players feel that they are being left out in the cold and want to transfer to another club? Where is Clément Chantôme going to fit? And, actually, what is their defense going to look like? Will Christophe Jallet and Mathieu Bodmer be spending most of their time on the bench? I can just see some real problems for PSG do deal with.
This team does have the makings of becoming one of the best teams in Europe. But almost in every sport, when a team buys a ton of players in one year, results don’t come immediately. I see that happening with PSG. And if that does happen, and my prediction of a 4th place finish is correct, another question needs to be answered…can both the PSG organization and their fans handle a finishing position outside of a Champions League spot? Who knows.
With the exception of Kevin Gameiro, Nicolas Douchez and Salvatore Sirigu, it seems as if PSG has gone on a drunken buying spree, buying everything in the store and not asking questions. It seems as if they bought players just for the sake of buying players and not really examining what positions they need to prioritize. Yes, they will eventually learn to buy wisely. Even Manchester City had its “drunken buying spree” moment. But they have now started to learn how to do things correctly.
With all of these factors, I really can’t give a detailed account of what PSG might look like this year on the pitch. Hell, I don’t even think Antoine Kombouare could do that right now either! It is just too fluid of a situation in Paris.
3rd – Lyon: Lyon is quite the opposite of PSG. Unlike a team that has an entirely new body, we have a group of familiar faces at the Stade Gerland. Yes, one big piece, Jeremy Toulalan, has departed. But even with his departure, the team still looks poised to make another run at a Champions League position.
Of course, the departure of Toulalan this summer was a blow to the team. And, personally, I am disappointed that Toulalan made the move as well. But this just means that Maxime Gonalons will have to step up on the defensive end of the midfield, which I feel that he is totally capable of doing.
As far as defense, Lyon should be solid. Even though he didn’t have the best of years last season, Hugo Lloris still had a great season compared to what most keepers in professional football usually have. As far as defense, a healthy Cris along with the ever-improving Dejan Lovren should give Lloris the cover he needs. And, of course, we have Aly Cissokho at left back and Anthony Réveillère at right back. And while replacing Cissokho for a few matches last season, Timothée Kolodziejczak showed he can easily play at the top level.
As far as the attackers, there is Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis. We know what they can do, and I am sure they will continue to work well together. In addition, don’t be surprised if we see Jimmy Briand becoming more of an offensive threat as well. Last year, he quietly scored eight goals. Even small production like that makes him a strong player for Lyon.
The big question for Lyon is the midfield. Kim Kallstrom, Michel Bastos (who seems to be staying), Ederson, Miralem Pjanić, Jérémy Pied and, of course, Yohann Gourcuff. Who will play in the midfield for Lyon? To start of the season, both Gourcuff and Ederson are injured. But when they return, who will the be the go-to guys for new coach Remi Garde? I think most Lyon followers can agree that Lyon might go the way of Gourcuff. If Gourcuff does well, Lyon will as well. If he falls apart yet again, Lyon might. But luckily for Lyon, they do have the depth to deal with the possibility of Gourcuff imploding.
Like with any team that is this highly predicted, Lyon has a chance of being the Ligue 1 title holders. The advantage that Lyon has is that many of these players have played on the same team for at least two seasons, and going on their third. This might be exactly what could separate Lyon from the rest of the field. And, for Lyon’s sake, hopefully they will stay healthy.