For 2020/2021, France will be represented in European competition by Ligue 1 champions Lille and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, with third placed Olympique Lyonnais and Marseille, who finished fourth, competing in the Europa League. However, domestic dominance doesn’t automatically correlate with European success – just ask Liverpool, who won both competitions long before winning the Premier League title. So with that in mind, here are some considerations on which team is best equipped to go furthest.
The smart money says PSG – they’re the oddsmaker’s favourites to take the trophy. While their group involves two tricky ties against second favourites Manchester City, they have recent history with RB Leipzig; comfortably beating them 3-0 in last year’s semi-final. The question marks surrounding PSG are how the Harlem Globetrotter-esque squad fits together – will Neymar be happy surrendering some limelight to Messi? Will Mbappé not moving to Real dim his lightning pace? Will Sergio Ramos’ ability to avoid red cards the other 99% of footballers would be given, transfer with him from Madrid to Parc des Princes? When we look at the other groups it’s difficult to see any side with a definitive advantage over Pochettino’s men, and their biggest enemy may be the pressure to finally win it all.
Lille – the surprise winners of Ligue 1 last season – don’t have the colossal spending power of their Parisian counterparts, but they have a solid squad and a fantastic team ethos. Drawn with Sevilla, Wolfsburg and Red Bull Salzburg, this one may go down to fine margins. Sevilla would seem to be favourites with a fearsome European pedigree, where they’ve won the UEFA Cup/Europa League 6 times – more than any other club. The return of Ivan Rakitic, addition of Erik Lamela (with 3 goals in his first 3 games) and retention of Jules Koundé give Sevilla both consistency and freshness. The loss of Mike Maignan to AC Milan, whose 21 Ligue 1 clean sheets proved a huge factor in their title win is a big blow for Lille. Likewise, campaigns on multiple fronts will take their toll on older legs ¬– is it a bridge too far for 37-year-old Jose Fonte and 35-year-old Burak Yilmaz?
Lyon should be comfortable progressing through their group containing Rangers, Sparta Prague and Brondby – this time last year they were winning 3-1 in the Champions League quarter final over Manchester City at the Etihad. Finishing fourth in Ligue 1 and missing out on this season’s CL by only 2 points, they’re still ranked 12th in the UEFA club co-efficient standings. While Memphis Depay may have taken his goals to the Camp Nou and Moussa Dembele been loaned to Atletico, the addition of Jerome Boateng provides steel in defence, and a target for fellow newcomer Xherdan Shaqiri at set pieces. The midfield scheming of Paqueta (pictured) can unlock teams deep into this competition, and Jason Denayer’s prior experience at Celtic should help prepare OL for the lively atmosphere at Ibrox.
By contrast Marseille have a more daunting task – it’s hard to imagine three more hostile away trips than Lokomotiv Moscow (in December), Lazio and Galatasaray. Way off the pace domestically, they finished fifth with 60 points, well behind fourth placed Lyon with 78. There are causes for hope – Steve Mandanda in goal has seen it all before, Arkadiusz Milik has scored 9 in 15 since joining on loan from Napoli, and Dimitri Payet is… Dimitri Payet. Marseille are a difficult team to predict, which is reflected by the oddsmakers – Coral rank Marseille 11th favourite for the Europa League. Outside the three players mentioned, they’re a young side with lot of loanees; if they can bond into a solid unit and progress through the group then the sky may be the limit, but they have a very tough group and much will depend on their performances at the Stade Vélodrome.