Ligue 1 – Early season winners and losers

By Steve Mitchell

Top flight French football has been consumed by an absolute avalanche of goals in the opening months of the season.

In the 119 games played to-date, a staggering 307 goals have been scored averaging out at 2.6 goals per game. This statistic is made all the more incredible as, of the total number of times the ball has hit the net, only 22 of these were from the penalty spot.

Last season’s champions Bordeaux top the table again thanks largely to the outstanding form of inspirational midfielder Yoann Gourcuff and striker Marouane Chamakh. Under the tutelage of Laurent Blanc, Le Girondin have started this campaign where they left off last season, and as you would expect, having a World Cup winning defender at the helm, have the league’s best defensive record to-date.

Hot on their heels are Lyon, after almost a decade of domination the fans at the Stade Gerland feared the worst when Bordeaux broke their stranglehold last season, but the powers that be kept faith with Claude Puel and have been rewarded with some sparkling displays both domestically and in Europe.

Striker Lisandro Lopez has been brought in from Porto, and has proved to be an instant success with his new employers, forming a formidable partnership with Bafetimbi Gomis, French football’s hottest property at the moment. They are the division’s entertainers and last weekend’s 5-5 thriller at the Gerland against Marseille was testament to this.

Making up the top three are Auxerre, for so long associated with bringing through exceptional young talent under the watchful eye of Guy Roux. The club seems to be on the rise again under current coach Jean Fernandez. The firepower is being provided by striker Ireneusz Jelen, and the midfield trident of Kamel Chafni, Benoit Pedretti and Delvin Ndinga are adding steel to the spine of the team. If Fernandez’s side can improve their away form in the coming months, then they must be considered serious title contenders.

Two of French football’s heavyweights, Marseille and Paris Saint Germain are stuck in mid-table after an inconsistent start to the campaign. Former Marseille and France legend Didier Deschamps was brought in during the summer with one objective, win the championship at all costs after last season’s heartbreaking second place finish.

The quality at Deschamps’s disposal is not in question, Brandao and Mamadou Niang are outstanding strikers and Benoit Cheyrou and Hatem Ben Arfa are midfielders of exceptional quality, but poor home form has left the players drained of confidence.

The fanatical support generated inside the Stade Velodrome seems to strike fear into the squad and it will be up to Deschamps to address this problem sooner rather than later. PSG are stuck in 12th place as the pressure piles up on new coach Antoine Kombouare.

Veteran striker Ludovic Giuly and former Chelsea midfield star Claude Makelele have added experience to the squad but too many drawn matches have left the Capital club out of touch with the leaders. When Paul Le Guen left to take up his position as head coach of the Cameroon national side in the summer, he left the club as a work in progress. Kombouare needs to get the side back into the Champions League as nothing less will be accepted from the fans at the Parc des Princes.

Another of France’s great clubs Saint Etienne, have had an awful start to the campaign. Currently they sit just two places above the relegation zone and have lost seven of their opening 12 matches. This all seems a far cry from the late 1970s and early 80s when the club was synonymous with flair and style and Michel Platini enchanted the fans at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard with his artistic midfield performances.

Former Portsmouth coach Alain Perrin saw his side escape relegation last season by the skin of their teeth, if things do not improve soon, this time he may not be so lucky. Of the new additions to the top division this season, Montpellier are proving a force to be reckoned with.

Currently they sit in 6th place just two points from a Champions League berth. This is in no small way down to the excellent performances of their veteran defender Nenad Dzodic, who tops the club’s goal scoring charts with four goals so far this campaign, the most he has ever achieved in one season.

The other two newly-promoted sides are not fairing so well with Lens sitting in 17th place on their return to the big time, and Grenoble propping up the table with just a solitary point from their opening dozen matches. Ligue 1, whilst not matching the quality of La Liga, Serie A, or indeed the English Premier League, has produced some memorable moments in the first four months of the campaign.

What a pity that no British broadcaster has obtained the rights to showcase the best talent that France has to offer.

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