Ligue 1 becomes the first of Europe’s five major leagues to kick-off when Monaco host Nantes in the opening match this Friday evening (August 6).
Another exciting season is on the cards, so let us guide you through the teams you can expect to see at the top of the table – and those that are destined for a season of struggle.
The runaway favourites
It’s no exaggeration to say that failure to win the Ligue 1 title this time around would be an absolute disaster for PSG and club’s entire Qatari-funded project.
PSG finished second behind Lille last season and haven’t gone consecutive seasons without claiming the league crown since QSI took over as owners of the club a decade ago.
While clinching the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history may be the annual priority, domestic dominance is supposed to be a given, meaning that last season’s second-placed finish was deemed unacceptable.
The good news for PSG’s domestic and growing international band of followers is that Mauricio Pochettino and his players ought to make amends in the months ahead.
Paris are 1.222/9 to claim the title. Even if those odds are too short to tempt you to invest in the club from the French capital, there would be little point in looking elsewhere.
This is Pochettino’s first full season in charge (he was appointed in January this year) and as a great believer in the importance of pre-season, the ex-Spurs boss will be confident of shaping the team to his liking a lot more than he able to during his first six months in charge.
As you’d expect, PSG have been the heaviest hitters in the Ligue 1 transfer market, too, quickly identifying and then strengthening areas of the team where they rightly believed they needed to improve.
Achraf Hakimi has arrived from Inter for £54 million to become the club’s no.1 right-back, while Sergio Ramos will add experience to the back line, challenging Presnel Kimpembe for a place in the side.
Gino Wijnaldum is a smart signing, too, offering PSG the possibility of employing a 4-2-3-1 as well as their usual 4-3-3 thanks to the Netherlands international’s capacity to attack the box.
Expect normal service to be resumed: a powerful PSG should make far fewer mistakes than last season and ought to claim the title with the minimum of fuss.
Best of the rest
Lille were the surprise title winners last season but a repeat performance is not on the cards and they may even slip out of the Champions League places.
Inspirational manager Christophe Galtier has left to join Nice and replacement boss Jocelyn Gourvennec (ex-Guingamp, Bordeaux) is an uninspiring appointment with a limited CV.
Lille look weaker on the pitch, too: goalkeeper Mike Maignan – one of Ligue 1’s best last season – has joined AC Milan, while energetic midfielder Boubakary Soumare is now at Leicester City. There may be further departures before the window closes, too.
Marseille and Monaco are best-placed to take advantage of Lille’s likely demise. The former have embarked on Ligue 1’s most ambitious spending spree: William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal), Luan Peres (Santos), Gerson (Flamengo) and Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona) are among a host of new signings that give the side a more youthful look.
Dimitri Payet has returned for pre-season training fitter and fresher than for years and, like compatriot Pochettino at PSG, OM boss Jorge Sampaoli will have a better grip on his team having taken charge of pre-season for the first time. Marseille should improve on last season’s fifth-placed finish.
Monaco were an excellent third in last season’s final standings and have retained all their players. They have plenty of potential to improve as they have good young players that could get even better. Manager Niko Kovac and sporting director Paul Mitchell form a fiercely ambitious duo so there will be no easing off. Another podium finish beckons.
The big improvers
Nice are Ligue 1’s team to watch. They have tempted manager Galtier away from Lille, persuading him that he can develop and improve Nice on the pitch in exactly the same way he did Lille. With massive funding from owners Ineos, Nice have strengthened their team in several positions – Mario Lemina (Southampton), Pablo Rosario (PSV Eindhoven), Justin Kluivert (Roma) and Calvin Stengs (AZ Alkmaar) are new signings.
An immediate assault on the top-three positions is a realistic objective for Nice. Even if they fall short, a top-six finish looks close to a certainty given the calibre of player they have signed and the presence of Galtier on the touchline.
Reims finished just two points above the relegation zone last season. Star striker Boulaye Dia – who has netted 31 per cent of their goals at a rate of a goal every 227 minutes across the past two seasons – has left to join Europa League holders Villarreal without being replaced. That is a huge loss and condemns Reims to another season of struggle.
Brest finished 17th last season and can expect to end up in a similar final position this time around. Their starting line-up is weaker following left-back Romain Perraud’s move to Southampton, and further player departures may occur before the transfer window closes. Anything other than a relegation battle would be a surprise for the Brittany outfit.
Nantes’ lack of stability – fan protests and four different managers last season – suggests a troubled 2021-22 is on the cards. Several of their better players want to leave, so their already-moderate starting XI could be even weaker heading into the autumn.
Newly-promoted Clermont played some lovely football in Ligue 2 but have failed to sign any players that improve their starting line-up. They’ll enjoy less possession in Ligue 1 than they did in France’s second tier, and a defence that faced only moderate opposition last season will be severely tested by far better strikers in the months ahead. This is Clermont’s first-ever season in Ligue 1; if they survive to enjoy a second, they’ll have overcome the odds.
Top Three: Marseille, Monaco
Bottom Three: Nantes, Reims, Brest