Ligue 1 Monthly Review: August

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The 76th edition of the new Ligue 1 season began in earnest in the month of August, with nouveau-riche AS Monaco joining current champions and billionaire friends Paris Saint-Germain, the Olympique giants of Lyon and Marseille and the rest to kick-off what could prove to be another stellar season of French football.

And the first month of competition lived up to that expectation more or less. Despite the low-scoring, distinct lack of controversy the last two weeks of competition brought, there were headlines to be written elsewhere, as Ligue 1 begins to live upto its new increased exposure to the worldwide masses.

The mercato front saw massive changes to the structure of play in Le Championnat, as has already been well documented, with Monaco totalling up a €160m spending spree. Unlike Manchester City before them, but more like Paris Saint-Germain two years ago, Les Monegasques mixed star signings with a couple of astute domestic names, who provide the future outlook for a club, like its owner, expected to fight to reach targets set for the short-term only. In the capital, that was not lost on the hierarchy looking on with envy, as they too managed to pull their own star striker, coupled with young, hugely talented defenders in Lucas Digne and Marquinhos

Monaco started the brighter, ending the month (including games upto September 1st) on top. A stunning 4-1 dismantling of former champions Montpellier, coupled with a come-from-behind win at Marseille saw them leap to the top, two clear of PSG. . But it was Emmanuel Riviere, and not Falcao who shone in the Principality, with five goals in four games – four coming against Montpellier and Marseille.

PSG who despite being notorious slow starters, huffed and puffed their way through August. Two draws to Montpellier and Ajaccio – including one of the great goalkeeping displays from Memo Ochoa saw the pressure alleviated only by narrow and indecisive wins over the promoted duo of Nantes and Guingamp. The pressure is off, for now for Laurent Blanc.

Over on the Canebiere, Marseille were planning a transfer overhaul with a different approach to that of the years gone by. Gone were the days of panic buying, the huge fees paid out to players who failed to ignite in their first season. If they were to really trouble the new, money-driven and glitzy players at the top of French football – Elie Baup and Vincent Labrune managed to arguably pull of the club’s best window in years. An outlay of €40m followed. In came two players who starred in Ligue 2 – and had refused English offers to come to the Stade Velodrome. In came two members of France’s U20 World Cup winning squad. And finally, a striker who was efficient and proven in Ligue 1, and a winger, a French international who was only beaten by Lionel Messi out of the players in Europe who recorded double figures in both goals and assists. A fantastic window, but time will tell if OM are the dark horses many tip them to be. In  August, that policy came to fruition from the off, as Marseille leaped to the top of the table, before ending the month in second. Three wins (Guingamp, Evian and Valenciennes) and one narrow loss (of their own undoing to Monaco) gives huge cause for optimism.

Elsewhere, Lyon’s failure to keep up with the top three was marred by exceptionally poor management off the field. The Bafetimbi Gomis saga rumbled on until the last day, as the former France international watched on (with a certain sense of smugness, one imagines) as Les Gones stumbled from a position at the top – with two stunning league wins over Nice and Sochaux where the young stars of Alexandre Lacazette and Yassine Benzia blossomed under the watchful eye of former youth director, now boss Remi Garde – to four consecutive defeats, including a double reverse to Real Sociedad and elimination from the UEFA Champions League. Gomis now returns to a Lyon side in crisis, without the talisman Lisandro Lopez and a team now in the Europa League, despite his 15 goal tally propelling them to third last year. A mess, one would agree, as Jean-Michel Aulas now faces the possibility of mending the club’s season in September.

The other top players of French football have, in stark contrast to Lyon, managed to elicit a sense of calm in what could’ve been an otherwise testing situation. On the pitch, both Lille and Saint-Etienne impressed with seven and nine points respectively after four games. Saint-Etienne were also beaten in the Europa League play-offs after a goal-filled frenzy against Esbjerg of Denmark. Off it, there was France’s answer to the Gareth Bale saga in Florian Thauvin – who after weeks of negotiations, rebuttals, angry statements, training absences, and threats of reserve team football – was finally sold to Marseille. For Sainte, the loss of Josuha Guilavogui to Atletico Madrid on deadline day prompted some concerns, but the prudent additions in Mevlut Erding, Franck Tabanou and Yohan Mollo does at least, give the impression that the Greens could yet have another prosperous season despite losing two key players over the summer.

Onto the best of the rest, then. Ajaccio, under divided figure Fabrizio Ravanelli have only conceded two goals – one of those to PSG in that stunning 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes, but a lack of attacking endeavour sees them occupy 17th. Rennes, after yet another fruitful mercato lie in a comfortable 5th position, above Reims, who continue to impress in their second season back in the top flight. But it is Toulouse who prop up the table. Le Tefece, who usually impress in August and September have only garnered two points. Having lost Capoue, Tabanou, M’Bengue – Alain Casanova has managed to find two good replacements in Aguilar from Hercules, as well as underrated PSG midfielder Clement Chantome, but a visit of Marseille awaits next, in what could be a testing September.

But that’s the story at the end of the first month in Ligue 1. It’s Monaco who have raced out of the blocks, along with Marseille. But PSG are slowly, but surely, gaining pace. With Champions League football to come, it remains to be seen whether France’s two entrants can juggle that competition with their league duties, especially now Monaco have started so brightly since. August is clearly no month to draw expectations after just four games, giving September the perfect month for clubs to utilise their new signings, who get to grips with the style, and tactical rigours of the French game.

So, until next month then. A bientot.

OVERVIEW: August 2013:

Top of the table: AS Monaco
Bottom of the table: Toulouse FC
Player of the month: Emmanuel Riviere
Top scorer: Emmanuel Riviere
Hero of the month: Dimitri Payet
Villain of the month: Nicolas N’Koulou
Best game: PSG 1-1 Ajaccio (week two)
Worst game: plenty of the 0-0 draws in Week 3 and 4

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