Ligue 1 Winter Update

Nick Jehamy | January 6th, 2020 

The top French league, Ligue 1, has been absolutely dominated by Paris Saint Germain through the last eight seasons, winning seven of the last eight by a rather wide margin in most. Halfway through the 2019-2020 season, PSG is at the top of the table once again, will they hold their lead? Who will contend for the top spot as well as the rest of the cup qualifying positions? Let’s take a look at the clubs in that position right now. The top two clubs at the end of the season qualify for the Champions League group stage, third place qualifies for the Champions League qualifiers and the fourth-place club qualifies for the Europa League group stage.

Top Four in the Table

Paris Saint-Germain (1st Place, 45 Points)

Winner of seven of the last eight Ligue 1 titles, PSG has a seven-point lead on the second-place club Marseille, and a sizable 12-point lead from third place. If that alone isn’t impressive they also lead the league in both goals scored (43) and fewest goals against (10). The league seems to have become less of the focus for PSG in the sense of actual competition, they have lost three matches but there does not seem to be much worry at the moment sitting comfortably at the top.

PSG is statistically dominating the league across all categories; first in shots taken and percent of shots on target, first in passing percentage and passing percentage at every distance (short, mid, and long-range), second in save percentage, and second in percentage of dribbles completed successfully. If there is anything to criticize we can nitpick at the defensive play, PSG is last in interceptions and third from the bottom in tackles won, but they still have given up the least goals in the league so those statistics do not really mirror the performance.

Kylian Mbappe has performed at the highest level, easily placing himself in the conversation as one of the best in the world even at such a young age. Mbappe is second in goals scored in the league with 11 on the season so far. The pairing of Mbappe with Angel Di Maria has been just absolutely dominant for the club as Di Maria has six goals of his own and is tied for the league lead in assists with seven on the season so far. Mauro Icardi with nine goals and Neymar with seven the group of forwards at PSG is trying to hit a third straight season of 100+ Ligue 1 goals.

PSG comes back to Ligue 1 play on January 12th against rival Monaco. They will also head to Dortmund on February 18th for the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 series.

Olympique de Marseille (2nd Place, 38 Points)

In the last 20 seasons, Marseille has been one of the top competitors in Ligue 1 with only one finish out of the top ten since 2001. From 2006 to 2013 they finished in the top three all but one year, only one of those finishes though ending in a league title. After finishing in fifth place last year Marseille is looking to not only return to international cup play through league qualification but are looking to contend for the tenth Ligue 1 title in franchise history.

Marseille is currently seven points out of first and five points ahead of third-place going into the second half of the season. Marseille’s performance that has gotten them into this position has been a solid full team effort. On the offensive side, they are led by Dario Benedetto and Dimitri Payet who lead the club with seven and six goals respectively. They give up more goals than they would like, but their defensive play is above average in the league, placing top five in tackles, interceptions, and contested dribbles. Marseille’s goalkeeping has hindered their play this season, Steve Mandanda has a sub .700 save percentage on the season.

Marseille can be receiving help soon from 27-year-old forward Florian Thauvin. Thauvin has been sidelined by an injury that required surgery and has not been able to make an impact this season. The club is expecting the young forward to return some point in February to help on their Ligue 1 run.

Marseille have the first match of the second half of the season when they play against Rennes on January 10th.

Stade Rennais FC (3rd Place, 33 Points)

Rennes has not had a top-four finish since the 2006-2007 season. Currently, in third place, Rennes is two points ahead of fourth-place club Lille and four points ahead of fifth. Third in goals-against, Rennes’ defense has held together their domestic league performance keeping them in a cup-qualifying position. The defensive line is led by captain Damien Da Silva who is now in his second season with the club. Along with Da Silva on the backline are the clubs two African defenders Jeremy Morel and Hamari Traore who have been having a solid season as of late and are the only two to have appeared in all 18 of the clubs Ligue 1 matches.

M’Baye Niang is leading the club in goals for the second season in a row. After scoring 11 goals last season Niang is on pace to pass that this year with 7 goals on the season so far. Offensively the club has been slightly above average with 24 total goals scored on the season up to date. 

To round out the field, Rennes has received solid play at the midfield position as of late. Only at the age of 17, Eduardo Carnavinga has been a huge asset to Rennes this season. He has shown his ability to perform at the top level in France and this can be a double-edged sword for Renne who may lose the wonder kid to one of the bigger European clubs during the transfer window.

Rennes matches against third-place Marseille in their first game back from the break on January 10th. 

Lille OSC (4th Place, 31 Points)

Holding up the final spot of the cup qualifying positions in fourth place is Lille. After last year’s second-place finish the club is looking to repeat that performance again this season and make it back to the Champions League as they are only two points out of qualifying for the Champions League qualifiers. 

Lille has been doing just enough to hold on but needs a better performance offensively by their other forwards in scoring aside from Victor Osimhen. Osimhen is currently tied for third in the league in goals scored with ten on the season at the break. Those ten goals are almost half of the club’s total of 24. No one else for Lille has more than three goals scored up to this point. The loss of Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal has definitely impacted them, can someone else step up or will they be able to rely solely on Osimhen for the rest of the season?

That may be out of their hands with clubs like Liverpool interested in the forward. Lille most likely will not be able to keep him past this summer and will try to hold on to him at least throughout the rest of this season. On top of the possibility of losing Osimhen, multiple clubs are looking at Lille midfielder Boubakary Soumare. Will Lille hold on if they lose either Osimhen or Soumare?

Lille returns to Ligue 1 play on January 12th when they take on Dijon.

Who Else Can Contend?

Unlike many of the other top leagues in Europe, Ligue 1 is much more evenly matched throughout the middle of the pack. There is only a nine-point difference between fourth place and fifteenth. That being said realistically almost all of those 15 clubs have a chance to fall somewhere in the top four.

Nantes is the closest in contention statistically as they are currently only two points out of fourth and in fifth place. Nantes though is one of two clubs in the top ten with a negative goal differential and because of such will probably fall off as the season continues. Stade Reims is in sixth place and has only 16 goals scored on the season which is the third-worst in the entire league, even so, they are definitely one of the top teams to contend for the top four, Reims has given up a league-best ten goals so far on the season, if they can produce offensively just a little more they will be a tough club to compete with.

From 2013 to 2018 Monaco has finished in the top three in the league. After finishing 17th last season they are currently in 7th through the first half of this season. Second in goals scored and only three points out of fourth place Monaco has a strong chance of pulling in to the top four, even pulling back into the top three after last year’s disappointing season. Another historic Ligue 1 club to be careful of is Olympique Lyonnais. Lyon has not fallen out of the top five in the last 21 years and won seven straight league titles through the 2000s. Currently, Lyon is in 12th place, but even so, they are only five points out of the top four. Lyon has the third most goals scored on the season, if they can pick things up defensively they can jump back up into the top echelon once again. 

Fear of Relegation

After last season both Metz and Brest were promoted up into Ligue 1. Brest is in 15th place with 22 points and Metz just outside of relegation in 17th with 17 points.

Currently in the position of relegation is Nimes and Toulouse. Both clubs have only 12 points on the season, five less than any other club in the league. Nimes has a league-worst 13 goals scored on the season, whereas Toulouse has a league-worst 39 goals against on the season. Metz, Dijon FCO, and Amiens SC all are in fear of relegation but it will take Nimes or Toulouse showing some actual effort to actually have anyone else drop into the bottom two.

League Leaders

Five players have at least ten goals on the season so far and are in contention for the most at the end of the year. This group is lead by Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder who has 13 at the break, followed by PSG’s Mbappe with 11 and then a three-way tie for third with 10. Monaco and PSG also have leaders in assists with a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboards. Monaco’s Islam Slimani, PSG’s Angel Di Maria, and Brest’s Yoann Court all lead Ligue 1 with seven assists on the season to date.

Keylor Navas and Predrag Rajkovic lead the league’s goalkeepers in save percentage as the only two with +.800 statistics as well as the league leaders in goals-against per 90 minutes played. It doesn’t seem like anyone will be catching these two so it is a two-way battle for the best goalkeeper on the season.

PSG is the best passing club in the league and has four of the top five players in passing percentage with at least 1000 passes attempted, but the number one spot goes to Lyon’s Jason Denayer with 95.9%, closely followed by Thiago Silva at 95.8% and the most passes completed in the league to date.

Predictions for the New Year

First, the easier prediction, Nimes and Toulouse will hold their spots at the bottom of the table and be relegated at the end of the season. 

Paris Saint-Germain is too far ahead of anyone other than Marseille to make a run for first, they will keep their lead and win their third title in a row quite easily. After PSG Marseille will also hold their place and take second place in Ligue 1 by the end of the season as well, being the only club that ends within 12 points of PSG. 

Now is where things get more interesting, Rennes will just barely hold third place by one point and the only reason that will happen is because of their strength of schedule going forward. Fourth place is where we see a change, Lille will fall back between fifth and seventh along with Stade Reims and Lyon in the other two of those spots. The club that will jump into that fourth spot and just barely miss out on third place is the 2016-17 season champion, Monaco. Monaco has back to back matches against PSG where they may fall off a bit but afterward they will make a run into the cup qualifying position.

Make sure to catch up with Ligue 1 play when it returns on January 10th. Also, keep an eye on PSG in the Champions League, as the French club is one of the favorites to hold up the cup at the end.

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