PSG vs. Lens for the title, Lyon in trouble, historic four-team relegation picture: What to watch in Ligue 1
4: 13 PM ET
For the first time in 62 years, Ligue 1 played a round of fixtures on New Year’s Day, and it caused quite a stir. The league called it their “Celebration Week” — using this term in French and English — to help market this exceptional period, which saw the French league hosting games on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 for Matchday 16, before a round on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 for Matchday 17.
The majority of fans didn’t seem to like it, so most of the Ultras boycotted attending the matches and the ones who went displayed banners saying “football is for the weekend.” It wasn’t just fans who were upset, either: Rennes manager Bruno Genesio hit out at Ligue 1’s ruling body, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) for importing the idea of Christmas games from England. He told the media that he hopes LFP executives will attend the matches… and not be on vacation because they had this brilliant idea. “I don’t think the players are thrilled. Yes, it is in England, but it’s a completely different culture. It’s different. “
Nevertheless, Ligue 1 is back with a vengeance and 2023 should be a blast. Here is what to expect from the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
Do we actually have a title race? Yes!
On Jan. 1, Lens began their new year in incredible fashion with a sumptuous 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Stade Bollaert. It was a top-of-the-table clash — Lens are second, PSG is first — and the home team took full advantage of it. Not only did they lean on the incredible atmosphere (with over 38,000 in attendance), but they seized on the absences of Neymar (suspension) and Lionel Messi (still on holiday) and of the complacency of the league leaders, who were clearly not up for the fight and struggled to match Lens’ intensity and desire.
– PSG stunned by second-place Lens
PSG’s first league defeat of the season — and, in fact, their first in Ligue 1 since March 20, 2022 — means that there is now only four points between the two sides and it’s very much game on in terms of a title race. Lens has only lost one game this season. With no European participation, Lens has more time and ability than PSG to focus on the league.
Sunday’s result also means that Marseille aren’t too far back either! Igor Tudor‘s side are eight points behind the leaders, four back from second place, and they too have belief and momentum.
Gab Marcotti believes it makes sense for Lionel Messi to extend his PSG contract, but feels there is no need to rush a new deal.
Can Lyon salvage their season? Probably not
We’re not quite at the halfway stage of the season, but it’s been long enough to see how insignificant Lyon are in this campaign. Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Clermont at home, to an 87th minute penalty, saw them booed by their own fans. They are currently eighth in the table, twelve behind Marseille, with seven wins and seven losses this season. Their goal difference is a mere 6 after 17 matches, and they have changed managers — Laurent Blanc replaced Peter Bosz in October — and owners — with John Textor completing his takeover from Jean-Michael Aulas — this season as well. What they offer with the ball is varying from nothing to almost enough. Despite the returns of former stars Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, despite the departure of Bosz, who was never good enough for the job, and despite the emerging talents of Rayan Cherki, Malo Gusto and Castello Lukeba, Lyon has been frustratingly average. It would be a disaster for the club, and John Textor, the US businessman, if they miss Europe again.
Are Nice in trouble? Massively!
They are even worse than Lyon in the table and their season has been even more of a disaster. Nice, owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe via his company Ineos is having a shocking campaign. They’re languishing in 11th place, just eight points clear of the relegation zone.
It started badly with the return of Lucien Favre for a second spell on the bench, it continued with a terrible summer transfer window with old/subpar signings — Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsay and Kasper Schmeichel, to name just three — and the results have not been good enough, with just five wins from 17 games. This team is talented but has no direction or apparent soul. They managed to get Florent Ghislofi from Lens to be their sporting director to oversee their rebuild. This is the only good news. He is a top European professional in this role, and he is Nice’s only hope for brighter days ahead.
Is the battle to stay up going to be epic? Yes, it will.
For the first time in the history of the French top flight, there will be four clubs relegated at the end of the season as they shift from being a 20-team, 38-game league to an 18-team, 36-game one. The fight to stay up has never been more intense or tighter. Brest, Auxerre and Strasbourg are currently stuck in the bottom four positions.
There are just 10 points separating bottom side Angers and 13th place Troyes, and just nine points separating Brest and Auxerre, respectively 17th and 18th, and Clermont up in ninth. Two or three wins in succession could make you move up the table.
Strasbourg, who have not won at home yet this campaign, complete the bottom four, though it’s probable that these won’t be the quartet to be relegated at the end of May. Although they all have their own issues and styles, all they want is to get the other guys involved in their fight.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.