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          France fills with big names to rival Mbappe & Neymar

          Ligue 1 review: Villas-Boas & Camavinga make Champions League

          2020/05/04 15:27
          By Connor Andrews
          E0

          To start the season, the story was all about Lyon.

          One of France’s most supported teams with the most talkative of presidents, Jean-Michel Aulas, decided to do things a little differently in an attempt to catch PSG and improve European form, by handing the reins over to club legend, and free kick master, Juninho.

          The newly installed sporting director then followed his presidents lead by going way off piste by giving the head coaching position to friend and former teammate, Sylvinho, for his first job in football.

          And it couldn’t have started any better, two wins to kick-off the season with an aggregate scoreline of 9-0 saw Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay on fire, and Lyon finally looked back.

          This season ended on a relative high, with a Champions League 1-0 first leg lead over Juventus that may well still be played out, but everything in between has been a relative disaster, with Sylvinho sacked by October, and ex-Marseille man, Rudi Garcia, bought in to supporters’ absolute disgust.

          PSG charged through in normal fashion before being handed the title, with summer signings Idrissa Gueye, Ander Herrera and Mauro Icardi all proving astute purchases, which is highly out of character for PSG, the real story though, is what happened behind them

          André Villas-Boas’ return from the wilderness of the Chinese Super League and Dakar Rally raised many eyebrows, as a former hot property who supposedly had little interest in football, picked one of the sport’s most challenging jobs.

          ©Getty /
          Villas-Boas has returned Marseille to the Champions League, whilst putting some pressure on PSG in the title race. He coaxed consistent performances out of Dimitri Payet and Kevin Strootman, whilst getting the most out of summer signing from Boca Juniors, striker Dario Benedetto.

          The only other coach making a name of themselves in such style is Nice’s Patrick Vieira, who, after missing out on the Arsenal job, continues to lift his side impressively up the table with the help of Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, putting together a strong team, despite his forwards letting him down more often than not.

          ©Catarina Morais / Kapta +
          Like Nice, Marseille’s management risk paid off big time, with a return to the Champions League for the first time in six years, while Lyon are set to end a 23-year run in European competition, with legal cases for the league’s ending sure to follow.

          Between them though, and following Marseille into Europe’s top tier next season, may be where the biggest name and story of the French season lies. 

          Rennes have carefully built an impressive young side, coupled with talented new coach in Julien Stéphan gaining consistency from internationals like Mbaye Niang and Steven Nzonzi, but the real attention has centred around the 17-year-old running the show in the middle of the park.

          While Kylian Mbappe has been worrying enough about Erling Haland taking his crown as the biggest young striking talent in world football, Eduardo Camavinga has yet to take his foot off the gas in his rapid accent as perhaps the best teenager in the game.

          ©Getty / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER
          In a league ripe for scouts due to its physicality and pace transferring to other leagues, it makes Camavinga’s achievements all the more impressive as he completely dominates men almost twice his age as the world’s biggest clubs look on.

          The only other player who has exceeded expectations to such a level was Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder, who finishes the season joint top of the scoring charts with Mbappe, his 18 goals keeping his troubled side steady, giving the 29-year-old’s career a late summer, and a chance of a move to a bigger team.

          Monaco ended up well clear of relegation despite a shaky start that prompted a change from Leonardo Jardim to Roberto Moreno, but below them, stuck at the foot of the table, with a miniscule 13 points from 28 games are the aptly named Toulouse. Their 17-year spell in the top flight ends in depressing fashion, joined by Amiens, who’s legal challenge over the season's early end may be much more valid, despite being seven points from safety.

          While the story at the top has been the same, there has been somewhat of a balancing out occuring in Ligue 1 this season, as teams get smarter in their attempts to challenge for the emently open Champions League spots at the top of the table.

          Clever coaching hires like Villas-Boas and Vieira can be a cost effective way of jumping up the table, while risks like Sylvinho and Thierry Henry often prove pointless.

          There’s one positive though, this isn’t quite a Bundesliga or Serie A, where the best team always buys up the league's best talent, PSG always seem to look elsewhere, Mbappe aside.

          And with the 2019/20 league winners more often than not having all their focus on the Champions League, while Mbappe and Neymar have their heads turned by Real Madrid and Barcelona, there’s increasing room for a side to combine a fruitful academy with smart management in an attempt to recreate Montpellier and Monaco’s upsets in recent years.

           

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