There have been ups and downs, but altogether the 2015/16 Ligue 1 season has been great fun, Philip Bargiel writes. So, what should you take away from the campaign?
Record season for PSG
Last summer didn’t offer much in terms of transfer movements for PSG but this squad will be remembered for being hungry for the 3 points on every single weekend. Reaching 96 points is unheard of, scoring 102 goals in 38 games is unheard of and winning yet another treble is, yes, also unheard of.
Beyond the facts and stats, the squad was rejuvenated by a hunger and determination to show that 2014/15 was a mere blip on the windscreen of PSG’s trajectory. Indeed, if last season will be remembered for their complacency, this one will be reminiscent of players with a new found motivation helped by the breath of fresh air that was Angel di Maria (who had a fantastic first half of the season).
Of course, things could have gone better. Kevin Trapp could have not made those bloopers against Bordeaux and Real Madrid, PSG could have played better against Rafael Benitez’s Real Madrid in the group stage thus avoiding finishing 2nd (something that certainly needs to be corrected in 2016/17); PSG could have played better – a lot better – in the 1st leg against Manchester City, PSG could have gone the whole season unbeaten…
But isn’t it great to still have things to aim for? PSG have progressed in 2015/16. They have shown that they are becoming a hungrier club even without the pressure of a competitive league contender, they have shown that Chelsea are no longer in the same league as them anymore (which was true a few years back but the other way around) and they have shown that they are ready to give their young manager time to build on his (failed or more trying) experiences.
Marseille: an entirely predictable fall from grace
Selling your best players is not a way to meaningfully progress, but such a strategy does not mean that the club has to run into a bottomless pit of mismanagement from board to coaching staff level.
Granted, when you let players of the quality of Payet leave (ask any West Ham fan), your overall excellence on the pitch may not be the same and attracting a good manager will not be an easy task.
In retrospect, it is almost logical that Michel has failed, as who in their right mind would join a sinking ship? Still Marseille fans could have expected a lucky break. After all, they still had players of the calibre of Mandanda, N’Koulou, Diarra, N’Koudou, Allesandrini and Batshuayi. That’s not bad for Ligue 1 standards.
Michel’s tenure started well enough. Two home wins against Troyes (6-0) and Bastia (4-1) were good foundations to build on. However, goals and soon wins started to dry out. Only one other home win was to come in the entire season, which was against Reims in the final home game of the campaign. This makes Marseille the 2nd worst home side of the 2015/16 season behind Troyes.
However, away from home, Marseille were only surpassed by PSG and Monaco in terms of collecting points. It may have been the added pressure of playing at home but surely a climate of complete conflict between both sets of ultra-groups and the board must have been felt on the players.
As the season wore on, it was clear that the fans wanted the board to sell the club to someone willing to spend money on transfers and improving the academy.
Now, another exodus of players is expected (Mandanda, N’Koulou, Diarra, Batshuayi) unless an investor quickly comes in and renews the contracts and promises to bring fresh talent. Too little too late?
Lyon: a season to forget
Last season was a spectacular one for Lyon. They challenged PSG to the title and their youngsters were regarded as the most sought-after in Europe. 12 months on, they didn’t challenge PSG this time around and you feel that they only played for half a season.
Clément Grenier and Nabil Fékir suffered lengthy injuries fairly early into the campaign and Hubert Fournier’s diamond-shaped 4-4-2 lost its allure as the matches went on.
The dressing room grew restless, Lyon went on a 6-game losing streak in November and were knocked out of any European competition for the rest of the season finishing 4th in their Champions’ League group (which was probably a good thing in hindsight).
This European catastrophe enabled new boy Laurent Génésio, a rather inexperienced manager on the whole but a man who knows the club very well, to focus on the club’s main objective: finishing 2nd thus avoiding the annoying Champions’ League play-off round (which French sides have made a habit of losing the last few years).
The swap in managers worked as Génésio resorted to a simple 4-3-3 using solid tactical nous against strong opponents (the pressing game against PSG was admirable) and finally dislodged Monaco off the runners-up spot.
This maybe a good time to mention that Monaco occupying the second spot for most of the season was down to them being the best of a bad bunch rather than an excellent brand of football on show. Lyon finished 2nd because they enjoyed playing football again, Monaco didn’t because they banked on Lyon waking up too late.
Granted, injuries played a major part in Lyon’s season but problems off the pitch were the main contributors to their downfall of what could have been a successful season.
Fournier’s stubbornness with a formation that worked so well last season lost him the dressing room. Thankfully, Lyon found a solution in-house but will he be able to deliver with the added pressure of the Champions’ League? Only time will tell.
Quality managers don’t grow on trees
Unlike in the case of Génésio and Lyon, several Ligue 1 clubs resorted to bringing in an experienced manager at some point during the season to ensure that their disappointing (for lack of a stronger word) first half of the season could be transformed into something else.
Lille enrolled Hervé Renard a year ago and the football on show didn’t improve much from the shambolic displays under René Girard in 2014/15. Come November, serious questions were being asked of Lille’s survival chances.
Frédéric Antonetti, an experienced manager with Nice and Rennes, came in and made Lille one of the best football sides to watch in 2016.
Boufal has played to his full potential (a van Basten goal of his against Gazélec Ajaccio is worthy of goal of the season), players like Obbadi and Benzia were playing out of their skin and Eder could not stop scoring. Lille’s last 10 games of the season read like a side en route to the title (8 wins from 10). They also managed a Cup final.
On a rather less impressive note, Rennes also swapped managers during the halfway point of the season. Philippe Montanier was less ousted for their league form and more for a rather inconsistent brand of football and Cup exits to lower-league opposition.
Under Rolland Courbis, Rennes actually regressed finishing the season 8th, in 5th when Montanier got the sack and the former Real Sociedad has a better points/games ratio (1,4 to Courbis’ 1,2).
Figures don’t always tell the whole story though: Rennes looked rejuvenated under Courbis and saw Young Player of the Year Ousmane Dembélé playing some great stuff which nabbed him a move to Borussia Dortmund.
We save the best for last with Toulouse. Infamy has recently surrounded this club for their President’s newfound love for chopping and changing managers. Last season, Alain Casanova left (or is sacked, who really knows with chairman Olivier Sadran’s questionable PR skills) and Dominique Arribagé is the messiah.
This season, the objective for Toulouse was to not being concerned about relegation. Unfortunately for up-and-coming Dominique, the season did not go as planned: in late February, after an 8th consecutive game without a win, Arribagé was sacked and replaced by Pascal Dupraz.
Dupraz is a manager with a lot of Ligue 1 relegation battle experience, perhaps Ligue 1’s answer to Tony Pulis. The ex-Evian man’s record was nothing short of phenomenal for TFC, the club on the brink: 10 games, 5 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats (against Lille and Lyon arguably the best two sides in the country in 2016).
Toulouse survived the drop thanks to a dramatic and emphatic 3-2 win at Angers while every expert, myself included, predicted them to go down regardless of who was left charge following Arribagé dismissal.
Ups and downs but all in all this season has been great fun.