Ligue 1

Ligue 1 Talking Points: The winter break round-up

It’s that time of year where families will get together and look to put up with each other for longer than a few hours while sat round a table eating Christmas dinner. Even for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, the holiday period is a great time to consume far too much and relax watching the football. The matches are coming thick and fast in England, but in France it’s a very different story.

The winter break is here and while the French people anxiously await Ligue 1 action to return, here are some talking points from the first half of the season…

#1: Paris Saint-Germain lead the way

This will come as no surprise to anybody, but PSG are finally back on the Ligue 1 summit. They currently hold a nine point lead over their rivals, who are already most likely consigned in their battle for a European place.

The summer signing of Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona has certainly helped their cause, despite the underlying shadiness of the transfer negotiations. Either way, PSG look like a better team with him in it, and his 11 goals and nine assists have gone a long way in firing the Parisians to the top of the table. The acquisition of French wonder kid Kylian Mbappe has also strengthened PSG’s forward line, with the Monaco loanee chipping in from a wider position.

Despite Neymar’s exorbitant transfer fee, it is Edinson Cavani who has been stealing the majority of the headlines so far. The Uruguayan leads the top scorers chart for Ligue 1 with 19 goals – meaning he roughly finds the back of the net every 77 minutes. A high profile bust up with Neymar over penalty duties looks to be firmly in the past now, and the two are building a very prolific partnership.

The lack of a real title challenger hasn’t exactly damaged PSG’s cause, but the Unai Emery’s outfit must be shown respect for their marauding run towards lifting the title come the end of the season, bar any unlikely slip-up.

#2: The Champions League/Europa League dilemma

The Champions League is undoubtably one of football’s most elite competitions, with the best teams from around the world clashing regularly in the quest to lift the coveted trophy. Currently Ligue 1 offers three spots in next season’s Champions League tournament, with France’s top two teams qualifying automatically. The third place team in the top flight, however, must progress through a qualifying round before entering the group phase.

With PSG storming towards title glory once again, it comes down to the likes of Lyon, Monaco and Marseille to provide the real entertainment. As it stands, it will be the latter who will earn Europa League football next season. As prestigious as the Europa League can be, there can be no question that Marseille will continue to fight for second or third place as the season progresses.

Monaco don’t look like the confident and defensively sound title-winning side from last year, despite the high volume of goals scored by Falcao. Lyon perhaps are the great entertainers this year, and look favourites to pip Leonardo Jardim’s side to second.

#3 Marcelo Bielsa axed

The management career of Marcelo Bielsa is one of football’s greatest enigmas. Both Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have spoken highly of the wily Argentine, but Bielsa’s long list of achievements has been blotted by his failures at Lille.

In the summer transfer window, 22 players departed the Stade Pierre-Mauroy and 17 were brought in. This high-profile, drastic shake-up of the club’s playing staff was always going to demand time to gel, but the emphasis on an entirely new brand at the club meant that time wasn’t something spared to Bielsa. Results were demanded, and the head coach was simply unable to supply them – a run of nine games without a victory, and constant flirtation with a relegation scrap was enough to see him dismissed.

The sad photo that did the rounds on social media of Bielsa ensconced in a Lille cafe showed a different man to the one that began his project at Lille – and his team’s humbling 3-0 defeat on that day would have certainly rubbed salt in the wounds.

#4: Who will survive the drop?

Ridiculously there is only a nine point gap between Angers in 19th and Nice in sixth. To put this into context, Manchester City currently lead at the top of the Premier League by 12 points and Bayern Munich hold an 11 point gap over second-placed Schalke in Germany.

Bottom of the table Metz looked doomed to relegation, with only three wins since the start of the season and 11 points picked up. However, 19th place Angers are just one point away from safety and Lille, St Etienne and Bordeaux’s underwhelming campaigns are becoming more apparent as they slip ever closer to the drop zone.

With the January transfer window at every club’s disposal, the league table is sure to shift many times over before the end of the season and Ligue 1 is certainly one to keep an eye on when it returns mid-January.

Other points:

Ranieri’s Nantes – the high-flyers are just outside a European place and showing that the Italian has still got the spark.

Malcom – despite Bordeaux’s poor start to the season, Malcom’s performances have been a real highlight and the Brazilian is now being linked with a high-profile switch to Manchester United.

Mariano – the former Real Madrid man has been much maligned in the past, but looks at home in Ligue 1 with 13 goals scored so far.

Mario Balotelli – the controversial Italian is in fine goalscoring form and has fired Nice up the table. Why always him?

St Etienne – Jean-Louis Gasset’s side can’t buy a win at home currently, and are truly in relegation form. Big changes are needed in January.

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