The Ligue 1 season is less than 24 hours away. As we all know, the faces of a lot of the teams out there have changed. There doesn’t seem to be any one team that hasn’t had to deal with the summer transfers in one fashion or another. But when all is said and done, which team was the one that came out ahead?
Of course, this is all subjective. For all we know, next week we could have some major transfers that could change the face of Ligue 1 yet again. Just look at last year for example. Yohann Gourcuff, Loic Remi and Andre-Pierre Gignac were some of the players on the move late into the transfer window. And last year was considered a “boring” transfer year, with the exception of Nene going to PSG. This year has been much different.
So, which team is going to make the best of what they have? Which team has the complete package? Here are my predictions for 1st and 2nd place in Ligue 1.
2nd – Lille: Going into last year, everyone knew that Lille was a force to be reckoned with. And when all was said and done, they pulled off an extremely impressive season. Overall, the team was solid, played together well, and were able to take advantages when other teams slipped up.
But with that being said, will they be able to pull off the magic that they did last year?
First of all, we have to look at the departures. With Adil Remi, Yohan Cayabe and Gervinho leaving, there will be tremendous holes in the team. And, of course, these holes are on every part of the field, not just pinpointed at one position. Remi was an ever important part of Lille’s defense. But even with his departure, Lille still has a very strong core on the back line with Mathieu Debuchy and Aurélien Chedjou, as well as the newly arriving Laurent Bonnart and David Rozehnal. Bonnart has shown that we can play both the right and left side of defense, giving Lille an even more versatile player at defense than Rami. Therefore, their defense should be in great shape.
In addition to the back line, Benoit Pedretti has been brought in from Auxerre. He should be able to help Auxerre with the transition play as well as set pieces. But the big question is if Pedretti will be able to keep up with the fast pace of Lille after coming from the defensively dominated Auxerre.
Another issue to be dealt with was the departure of Yohan Cabaye only days after Lille won the Ligue 1 title. In the off-season, coach Rudi Garcia really didn’t bring anyone in to be an offensive threat from the midfield like Cabaye. Therefore, it seems as if Ludovic Obraniak will even become more of an important part of the offensive midfield.
But the biggest issue with Lille is their attack. Yes, we all expect Hazard to do his thing, he always does. But there are two questions that really need to be asked when looking at Lille’s offense. First, is Moussa Sow really as good as he looked last year? Never has Sow been looked at as more than an average player until last season. Will he be able to continue his brilliance, or will he slump like Andre-Pierre Gignac did after his 2008-09 season?
The second question to be asked is if Dimitri Payet is a good replacement for Gervinho. The answer is simple…no. And in all fairness, I don’t think anyone is expecting him to be Gervinho. Still, the problem with Payet is that we really don’t know how good he is. Season after season, Ligue 1 followers like myself were waiting for Payet to have a breakout season. And season after season, he continued to disappoint, until last season. So, how will he be this season? We simply don’t know yet.
Eden Hazard is the star of this team and is what makes this team work. He is consistent every year. But with Sow and Payet being the big unknowns up front, what will Hazard have to do? Will he have to continue to play the role of playmaker, or will he have to attack the net more than he usually does? There is the possibility that the offense of Lille could implode. But the odds are still in favor of the team, not against it.
1st – Marseille: In 2009, Marseille brought in a bunch of new players. In addition to Marseille bringing in players, so did Lyon. Therefore, the 2009-10 season was not unlike this one, with two powerhouse teams going through a major face lift while Bordeaux looked like the steady team.
Now going into the third season, Marseille has gone from”panic buy” mode into a team that is smart when dealing with the transfer market. Last year, I argued that Marseille “panic bought” Loic Remy, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Rod Fanni. But this year, they actually worked on addressing their problems by filling the holes where they needed to be filled.
The biggest loss for the team was Taye Taiwo. Luckily for Marseille, they knew that Taiwo would be leaving well before the transfer window opened. Therefore, they were able to fill that hole nicely with the addition of Lorient’s Jérémy Morel. Panic buying crisis adverted.
OM did lose a few other key players from the last few years, like Gaby Heinze, Hilton and Fabrice Abriel. But when all is said and done, these players had average, if not sub-par, careers at Marseille. In addition, Nicolas N’Koulou will be an adequate replacement at central defense to work with Stephane Mbia and Souleymane Diawara. Therefore, they aren’t losing anything more than Taiwo, who has been replaced.
With many of the players still staying with the team, this gave Marseille more of a chance to add more depth. One of the biggest names from last year was Lorient’s Morgan Amalfitano. Many were expecting Amalfitano to transfer to England or possibly another Ligue 1 club. In the end, he decided on Marseille. This will give Marseille an unpredictable attack that will drive other Ligue 1 teams crazy.
But the best transfer was yet to come. Alou Diarra could have fit into any team in Ligue 1. With the departure of Jeremy Toulalan at Lyon, he could have fit there. Same with the departure of Claude Makelele at PSG. But in the end, he decided that OM was the best choice for him. Marseille has had a lack of talent at the defensive midfield position. One could say that this position was the biggest “hole” at Marseille. Now with that hole filled, Marseille looks like a complete team. When all is said and done, I feel that Alou Diarra will have been the best transfer of this Ligue 1 season.
With the addition of these players as well as having Benoit Cheyrou, Cesar Azpilicueta, Loic Remy, Andre-Pierre Gignac, the Ayew Brothers, Mathieu Valbuena, Rod Fanni, Souleymane Diawara, Edouard Cisse, Steve Mandanda and, hopefully, Lucho Gonzalez, Marseille is the most complete team in all of Ligue 1. They have the dept to win a championship. Most of these players have been with the team for a couple of season now. And when it comes to coaching, Didier Deschamps is looking more and more like one of the best coaches in all of football.
I really cannot see anything that would hold back Marseille from winning the championship. All the issues they had in the past now seem to be solved. Lille did the double last year. Marseille could easily do it this year.