Two weeks ago there wasn’t going to be a whole lot to talk about in the Ligue 1, all signs pointed towards a down year for France’s top division. The league’s renowned biggest star Zlatan Ibrahimovic exited last summer for Manchester United and their most potent goal scorer that remained Alexandre Lacazette finally got the transfer he wanted making his way to Arsenal. AS Monaco the reigning champions have sold off notable pieces (Bakayoko, Mendy, Silva) to their title winning puzzle with little effort to replace them. They are continually engaged in fantasized transfer rumors regarding their 18 year old starlet Kylian Mbappe. But all of that was two weeks ago, Paris St. Germain changed everything when they decided to break a world record.

The Parisians did the unthinkable and triggered Neymar’s €222 million transfer clause from FC Barcelona. Yes nearly a quarter-of-a-billion just to have the privilege to sign him. His wages and bonuses and everything else go on top of that amount. It’s astronomical but PSG wanted to make a splash and Neymar wanted to get out of Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barcelona. It’s a perfect fit really for both sides. PSG is a well established club who continually win their league (except last season snapping a four year streak) and they normally advance deep into the Champions League except at the hands of Neymar and Barcelona last year blowing a 4-0 aggregate lead. Let’s just say that Neymar isn’t exactly walking into a renovation project, he’s there to be the piece that puts them over the top, exactly the notoriety that he desires.

Every single time that PSG plays all eyes will be on them and especially #10. When you shell out that kind of money, results are demanded. In my opinion PSG will win the Ligue 1 walking away this year. With the additions of Neymar and Dani Alves as well as having strong world class pieces like Cavani, Di Maria, Verratti, Matuidi and Thiago Silva, I don’t see lessened Monaco defeating them again.

My annual kiss of death for predicting who will be relegated is rarely ever a 3-for-3 perfect game but I’ll make my guesses anyways. I’m going with Caen who finished 17th and one spot about the chopping block last year. They only scored 36 goals the least among those who survived. Next I’m guessing Metz as they allowed 72 goals the most of any club in the league, that is a recipe for Ligue 2 every day of the week. Lastly I’m going to pick one of the newly promoted clubs to be sent back down. I wouldn’t know any club from another so I’ll guess SC Amiens is axed too.

ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES

+ Neymar – Barcelona to PSG

+ Dani Alves – Juventus to PSG

+ Steve Mandanda – Crystal Palace to Marseille

+ Wesley Sneijder – Galatasaray to OG Nice

+ Luiz Gustavo – VFL Wolfsburg to Marseille

+ Terence Kongolo – Feyenoord to AS Monaco

+ Marcelo – Besiktas to Lyon

 

– Alexandre Lacazette – Lyon to Arsenal

– Benjamin Mendy – AS Monaco to Man City

– Tiemoue Bakayoko – AS Monaco to Chelsea

– Corentin Tolisso – Lyon to Bayern Munich

– Maxime Gonalons – Lyon to AS Roma

PARIS ST. GERMAIN (PSG)

Last season by all accounts was a down year for Paris St. Germain, they snapped a four year streak winning Ligue 1 by finishing second behind AS Monaco by 8 points. I don’t think PSG really knew how to play without Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was their prime scorer for many years. In his last season at Paris, Ibrahimovic scored 38 goals which were complimented by his striking partner Edinson Cavani’s 19 goals. Last year Cavani stepped up big time and had a career year scoring 35 goals and filling Ibra’s shoes pretty damn well. The problem was there was no #2 behind him to contribute. Lucas had 12 goals and Di Maria had six. In total PSG dropped 19 goals year over year from 102 to 83.

The addition of Neymar is going to solve that dilemma. Last season for Barcelona he scored 13 league goals and 20 in all competitions. Those numbers should inflate with a weaker Ligue 1 and there aren’t those guys Messi and Suarez to compete for the ball. Anything less than 25 league goals would be a disappointment for Neymar in my opinion. This summer he’s looked in top form and his skill set should lend itself to some fantastic highlight reel finishes.

From a defensive standpoint PSG are as solid as they come. They only allowed 27 goals last year best in Ligue 1 and 19 the year before. On a free transfer PSG added Dani Alves who joins after a one year stop at Juventus. The former Barcelona man will fit in perfectly with Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Lucas and now Neymar as the Brazilian contingent grows. Alves showed the ability last year to push forward and become more of a right wing back and join the attack making him an even more valuable addition.

The only concern I will have for PSG, which there aren’t many because I do think they are head and shoulders better than anyone else in France, would be the moves they need to make in order to counter FIFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP). Spending €222 million on one world class player is all well and good but unfortunately there are rules that govern how much you can spend and sell. PSG doesn’t need to move anyone right away but in the next 11 months they do need to sell some players or ink some big money sponsorships to generate profits to offset Neymar’s expense. The players most likely to be moved are: Blaise Matuidi (final year of contract), Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Lucas.

AS MONACO

The reigning champions AS Monaco, who won league for the first time since 2000, won’t be as recognizable as they were last season. The Red and Whites have cashed in this summer selling a few players (more to be rumored) for some whopping price tags. Bernardo Silva (£44M) and Benjamin Mendy (£52M) were sold to Manchester City and Tiemoue Bakayoko (£40M) to Chelsea. All three were integral pieces to their magical run last season now all three will be playing in England.

With PSG locked and loaded I don’t see any way Monaco can repeat from last season. As of right now they still have their most important piece in Kylian Mbappe but continued rumors of PSG, Barcelona, Man City and Real Madrid keep surfacing so who knows what his fate will be until the transfer deadline passes. The number seems to be €180 million…that might be hard for Monaco to pass on.

With Mbappe headlining they still have a very talented team with a resurgent Radamel Falcao, Fabinho and Thomas Lemar on the wing. But again the consistent theme here has been Monaco selling players. Arsenal have been strong in their pursuit of Lemar and Fabinho was linked with Manchester United and PSG. They did add 20 year old Belgian Youri Tielemans who might be the club’s “new future”. But as their roster becomes thinner so do their chances of finishing in the top two in the league.

THE FIELD

If you are given the choice to bet on PSG, Monaco or the field your better option is to choose PSG. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some interesting or exciting things I’m looking forward to watching this season. Here are some additional thoughts around next year’s Ligue 1 campaign:

♦ Will Dimitri Payet do a damn thing for Marseille? After forcing his way out of West Ham United the French winger did nothing in his return to Marseille last season. In 17 games, just 5 goals and much less of a playmaker than what we saw during his stint with the Hammers. £25 million seems like a bargain on paper for Marseille but they’ll need him to step up in a big way.

♦ Unlike Payet who was brilliant at West Ham and underwhelming at Marseille, Memphis Depay was less than good at Manchester United but when Jose Mourinho had his fill and transferred him to Lyon he was a changed man. Depay had 5 goals in 18 games but for him that was a huge step in the right direction considering he was scoreless in 8 games with United that season. With Lacazette gone the scoring burden now lies on Depay. He’s only 23, but time at Old Trafford will age anyone, he has plenty of time ahead of him.

♦ Can Mario Balotelli stay engaged long enough to get OG Nice near the top of the table again? OG Nice finished third last year earning themselves a Champions League qualification and Balotelli was a big part of that with 15 league goals. We know how volatile he can be, he hasn’t lasted more than one full season in any of his last two stops (Milan and Liverpool)

PRE-SEASON STARTING XI

GK – Danijel Subasic, Monaco

RB – Ricardo Pereira, OG Nice

CB – Thiago Silva, PSG

CB – Kamil Glik, Monaco

LB – Leyvin Kurzawa, PSG

M – Marco Verratti, PSG

M – Riyad Boudebouz, Montpellier

M – Florian Thauvin, Marseille

F – Neymar, PSG

F – Edinson Cavani, PSG

F – Kylian Mbappe, Monaco