The phrase “wide-open title race” isn’t usually associated with Ligue 1.
Since PSG’s 2011 Qatari takeover, the chasm in resources has often seemed insurmountable, but the gap between PSG and the rest has sometimes been narrower than claimed. Lens finished just one point behind Paris last season, while Lille and Monaco both usurped Paris to win the title in recent years, as Serie A and the Bundesliga suffered through far longer shutouts.
The 23/24 season, however, offers the narrowest gap in quality between PSG and the chasing pack for over a decade – a title race is expected rather than a possible surprise. With Lionel Messi gone, Kylian Mbappe almost gone, and Neymar (plus Marco Verratti) told to leave, PSG are moving into a deep transition.
Although sporting director Luis Campos’ ruthlessness should be commended, as such change is long overdue, the turnover in quality and leadership means PSG’s situation (and squad) will likely have to get worse before it gets better. Paris’ likely team may be looking younger and more dynamic week by week, but less experienced and domineering too.
As many as seven teams sense their chance. Lens may have lost lead striker, Lois Openda, to RB Leipzig, and their talismanic captain Seko Foana to Saudi Arabia, but they’ve added some smart acquisitions too. Franck Haise and the club’s elite recruitment department have made similar departures seem inconsequential before. Although Champions League football will be a distraction, a real title charge is very possible.
Lille’s underlying numbers have suggested an underperformance in the last two seasons. If Paulo Fonseca’s side can eradicate errors and overperform as they did in 2021, another title isn’t an unreasonable goal. Lyon and Monaco both boast big-name quality, coaches looking to make a point, and no European trips. Both will be dangerous again.
Bruno Genesio’s main problem will be keeping his boundless midfield and forward options happy. The return of Martin Terrier from injury could be the symbolic “signing” of the season, while Enzo Le Fee’s arrival from neighbours Lorient could become the season’s true marquee addition. Rennes might be best placed to challenge PSG.
Underrated president Pablo Longoria continues to keep Marseille roughly on course, a rare commodity for OM, and new coach Marcelino is a wily operator with a well-balanced squad at his disposal. Although the UCL qualifiers will have a major effect on their campaign one way or the other, the Velodrome will expect a charge too. An ambitious Nice may have been delayed by owners INEOS’ flirtation with Manchester United, but with former Lens sporting director Florent Ghisolfi orchestrating behind the dugout, Les Aiglons will be contenders again sooner or later.
Although this breadth of challengers is perhaps a title race’s worst enemy, the new 18-team format will make Ligue 1 even more hard-fought right across the division – every game will be tough. Strasbourg, fueled by their Chelsea partnership, impressive young coaches at Reims and Lorient, a Teji Savanier-led Montpellier, and the wise recruitment of Toulouse and Clermont, plus the return of Le Havre and their fabled academy, will all pose questions to the top eight.
PSG remain favourites, of course, but the gap is narrowing all the time. By May, it could disappear altogether.
Adam White | GFFN