This piece is part of a preview series where we speak to journalists covering Europe’s top leagues. In this edition, we speak to Jonathan Johnson, ESPN FC’s leading correspondent on all things French Football as he shares his thoughts on the upcoming Ligue 1 season.
Title winners and Champions League qualifiers:
Personally, I cannot see past Paris Saint-Germain as Ligue 1 title winners this coming season. However, it is pretty much the same thing each preseason. I think that Monaco could push Les Parisiens harder this campaign than last because of the cyclical nature of their project and subsequent success. At least on paper, though, Thomas Tuchel’s men are better equipped. I think that Leonardo Jardim’s Monegasque side are a strong bet to finish second, with Marseille and Lyon my other expected Champions League qualification challengers.
Best player and Golden Boot winner:
It would not surprise me if PSG’s Neymar is Ligue 1’s best player and top scorer in 2018-19. He might not want it to show much right now, but his debut season and this summer’s World Cup was as much, if not more, of a failure as it was a success. Neymar has plenty to prove and after unintentionally being shown up by teammate Kylian Mbappé on the international stage, so I expect to see a serious and focused campaign from the Brazilian.
Best players under the age of 23 to watch out for and those who could have a breakout campaign:
After his promising preseason with PSG, I think that Timothy Weah is one of the most exciting young players developing in Ligue 1 right now and one to keep an eye on in 2018-19. Le Championnat is the home of plenty of bright young gems and Weah is one of the brightest.
Another player I like and will be watching closely this term is Lyon’s Martin Terrier. He looked bright at times with Strasbourg on loan last season, has enjoyed a bit of opportunistic success in front of goal already this summer and should help to shape a new-look Lyon side. I have also heard many good things about Monaco’s Jonathan Panzo, so I hope that he will get some game time in the principality and I can see what all of the fuss is about. I am also curious to see how fellow Englishman Reo Griffiths gets on with Lyon, while you should look out for PSG’s Yacine Adli too!
Leo Dubois to Lyon from Nantes always struck me as good business and considering how light France are in terms of natural depth at right-back, a good season for Dubois with Les Gones could lead to international recognition. I am also a fan of his former teammate Valentin Rongier.
Both Nîmes and Reims have come up from Ligue 2, so it is natural to expect them to struggle. They may well go on to survive, but I think that it is realistic to expect a complicated season at this stage. Otherwise, Toulouse needed the play-offs to avoid relegation last campaign and have since lost important players.
Possible over and under achievers:
Saint-Etienne salvaged last term with a mid-season turnaround and if that momentum continues into this, then they will be in the reckoning for European qualification. Otherwise, Lille have done some good business as they seek to rebuild after the disastrous Marcelo Bielsa era and could be back in the top half of the table come the end. Elsewhere, things do not look promising for Bordeaux. Malcom is gone, Les Girondins are struggling to bring players in and coach Gustavo Poyet is already making threats… Not exactly ideal preparation for a shot at continental qualification.
Possible managerial revelation:
Bernard Blaquart has worked wonders with Nimes over the past few years. On paper, it will not be easy, but keeping Les Crocodiles in Ligue 1 would be an impressive achievement. Blaquart has been branded a ‘magician’ by some and retaining top-flight status after promotion would be some feat. I also think that Thierry Laurey with Strasbourg could come into his own this season after keeping Le Racing up last campaign.