This season in France’s top flight, whilst not throwing up many surprises when it comes to the title race or battle for Europe, has certainly provided the watching millions with plenty of highlights. The high-profile signing of Neymar has helped to re-establish Ligue 1 as one of Europe’s top leagues, with the Brazilian dancing across television screens and creating moments of magic at the Parc des Princes and beyond. Paris Saint-Germain certainly lead the way when it comes to attacking talent, with Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Angel di Maria all boasting an enviable set of skills that has fired the Parisians back to the summit of French football.
But those at the top become larger scalps. As seen in the Champions League, PSG were subject to another early knockout in the round of 16, this time exiting at the hands of reigning kings of Europe, Real Madrid. A limp performance at the Bernabeu placed more pressure on the shoulders of manager Unai Emery, and not even an improved second-leg performance could prevent PSG from another disappointing elimination. Change in the summer is now guaranteed.
Whilst PSG fly the flag for France at the highest level but continue to fall at the most significant stages, there will understandably be questions about whether Ligue 1 should be named in the same elite group along with the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Social media is rife with opinions about France’s top flight, the majority seeming to suggest that Ligue 1 simply isn’t competitive enough with PSG largely dominating at the summit. But is it any different to the Premier League, especially this season with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City strolling to the title in England?
Last season’s Ligue 1 campaign was a lot tighter until the halfway mark, when Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco side moved into first place and retained their position until they were named champions after 37 match weeks. Nice even led the way for 13 weeks before being toppled from the summit, with the underachieving Paris Saint-Germain never topping the table for the entirety of the season. But with Monaco’s high profile departures, and PSG’s extraordinary summer strengthening, Unai Emery’s outfit threaten to dominate French football once again.
This time around, the race for Europe began to catch the attentions of neutrals. Monaco, Marseille and Lyon all battled for the two remaining Champions League qualification spots, before the latter’s poor run of form saw them fall away into fourth. Monaco appear to have tightened their grip on second spot, with Marseille holding a slender gap over Lyon in third, but with eight fixtures left the race still has plenty of twists and turns remaining.
The battle to avoid the drop is also going down to the wire, with potentially more than six teams all fighting for their Ligue 1 credentials. This tends to be the case for most years in France, with the top flight constantly proving that most teams can defeat one another. This may be the same in the Premier League and certainly La Liga, but not all teams in Ligue 1 are extravagantly funded, save the teams constantly competing for the top places. The competition for league table standings can be construed for sides simply possessing poor standard players, as seems to be the case in many opinions about Ligue 1.
The standard of defending is very poor in some games, but the attacking talent is also some of the finest on display through Europe. The likes of Cavani, Neymar, Falcao and Florian Thauvin are all finding the back of the net on a consistently ruthless basis and entertaining the masses, playing a large role in keeping Ligue 1 as one of the continent’s elite leagues. France’s top flight should remain this way for the foreseeable future, with the promise of more money being injected into the league and the top four largest teams in the country continuing to perform at various levels in European competitions. It may not hold the same wonder and beauty of the Premier League, or the flair of La Liga, but Ligue 1 offers so much to modern football and should certainly be respected in the same way as the aforementioned divisions.