Nice in first. Monaco in second. PSG in third.
If one had to do a double take after looking at the current Ligue 1 table, it would be certainly understandable. At this juncture last season, Les Parisiens were already in first place. They had yet to lose a game; in fact, they were in the midst of an eight-match winning streak. And as we all know, they ultimately cruised to a fourth straight title, racking up 96 points in the process and establishing a 31-point lead over runners-up Monaco.
PSG also lost just two games during that amazing run. Two games in 38 matches. To date, no French side has ever completed a campaign sans defeat, but they came pretty close. This season, they have already equaled that number after eight rounds. Many observers had started grumbling that they were turning Ligue 1 into a one-horse race after the way they strolled to the league crown last term. Well, so far, they have been proven wrong, as after eight rounds, the table is looking a lot more interesting.
The question, is, can PSG’s challengers – which, based on the table’s standings, appear to be Nice and Monaco – keep this up? Will fans see a much more interesting title race this term?
Perhaps. And here are a few reasons why.
No Zlatan, no problems?
It took just under four seasons for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to become PSG’s all-time top goalscorer. Last season alone, the Swedish superstar netted 50 across all competitions and 38 in the league. All in all, the team plundered an eye-boggling 102 goals in just league play, whilst conceding a measly 19.
With him now off to Manchester United, Edinson Cavani is now in the position he has wanted to be: as the team’s main front man. So far, the Uruguayan has netted eight times, which is enough to see him on top of the goal-scorer’s charts. However, this output is perhaps skewed given he scored four in a 6-0 rout of Caen, and his lack of consistency still has not convinced everyone he can be the man to be the difference-maker for PSG as the season progresses.
PSG’s rivals, such as Monaco, certainly were not sad to see Ibrahimovic depart for the Premier League, as many feel that the team’s attack has been blunted in the absence of the big Swede. Still, Ibrahimovic’s departure means that not every attack has to go through him, which gives Les Parisiens a chance to mix things up in offense. As to whether that will pay off remains to be seen, but they have scored 17 goals – the same amount they had at this same point last season. But for now, Monaco and even Toulouse have reaped the rewards of an Ibrahimovic-less PSG side.
Marginalized and motivated…Balotelli keen on proving a point
At 26, time is running out for Mario Balotelli to resurrect his career. The mercurial Italian has led a nomadic existence, whilst managing to frustrate managers at Inter, Manchester City, AC Milan, and Liverpool. Some, in fact, have already written him off. We all saw this summer as his agent desperately offered him to clubs all over the continent before Nice finally opted to take a major gamble on him. Then again, they obviously viewed it as a win-win situation. Despite his notoriety, Balotelli brings a lot of publicity to the club, which, of course, equals a major commercial benefit. For the player, it’s a golden opportunity to redeem himself.
And so far, it’s paid off. Five goals so far for his new club – including a brace in a 4-0 demolition of title rivals Monaco as well as another double in a 3-2 win over Marseille – have already earned him accolades around the continent. There are even those, including some of his former teammates, mooting him for a potential return to the Azzurri. Should he continue in this same vein of form, there is really no reason why Giampiero Ventura shouldn’t gamble on ending the player’s two year international hiatus. For Nice, it’s paid dividends, and they will be counting on him to help them widen the gap by beating Lyon, whom they’re backed at at 19/10 to beat later today.
Last chance at redemption for Radamel Falcao
It’s shocking that only a few years ago, Radamel Falcao was rated as one of the top strikers in Europe. Unfortunately, things have gone sadly awry since making a major money move from Atletico Madrid to Monaco. A knee injury robbed him of the chance to feature at the 2014 World Cup, and since then, things have never been the same. The Colombian international, nicknamed “King of the Europa League” due to his exploits in Europe’s second tier competition, attempted to re-start his flagging career in England.
He failed. Twice. A frustrating spell with Manchester United was followed up by more humiliation at Chelsea due to struggles with form and fitness. And now he’s back at Monaco, 30 years old, and running out of time. Unfortunately, the injury bug hasn’t left him yet, as he has missed the last few games due to a concussion. Les Rouges et Blancs have netted 22 times – the highest in the league – and he’s only contributed one, but has reportedly recovered and is getting close to making his return. That being said, Leonardo Jardim’s side have looked quite promising. They have already beaten PSG, 3-1, and have drastically upgraded their defense with signings like Kamil Glik, Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.
Right now, Monaco sit just one point behind league leaders Nice, but can overtake them with a win over fourth-placed Toulouse. Les Pitchouns, who finished in 17th last term, have been quite impressive themselves, and so it’s no wonder that they’re backed at at 2/1 to cause Les Rouges-et-Blancs problems.
All in all, we are eight games into the new season, and things are certainly looking promising for Nice, Monaco, and even PSG, who have been in danger of becoming complacent after dominating for the past few campaigns.