OBSESSIVE European football fan Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the brand new Ligue 1 season, picking out his favourite ante-post punts ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
WLB Season Preview 2018/19 | Ligue 1
The capital club clinched the Ligue 1 crown by 13 points, and while Les Rouge-et-Bleu flopped in European competition once more, they remained utterly dominant domestically as they amassed 93 points with 29 victories alongside a tally of 108 goals. And the margin of victory could have been more had PSG not eased off in the final furlong – triumphing just twice in their final seven outings.
Even so, Unai Emery was shown the exit door and the abrasive but talented Thomas Tuchel has taken up the reigns in Paris. Expect the runaway leaders to be more tactically flexible – the German has been trialling a three-man defence in pre-season – and to saunter towards another league title.
The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are only likely to improve on last season’s output and Les Parisians are rated as the second-shortest outright jolly in French football history. The last time they went off shorter – at 1/10 in 2016/17 – they were toppled by Monaco.
The chasing pack
Last term was always going to be mightily tough for Monaco to retain their title having lost the heartbeat of their team in the summer. Leonardo Jardim again proved himself a canny operator by guiding the principality club to second spot ahead of Lyon and Marseille with Les Rouges et Blancs losing only six games along the way.
However, the departures of Fabinho, Joao Moutinho and Thomas Lemar could easily catch up on Monaco now. The emerging Ronny Lopes, Keita Balde and new additions Aleksandr Golovin and Jean-Eudes Aholou will ensure they remain competitive but plenty of development is required if Les Monegasques are to mount a challenge.
Lyon were pipped by Monaco in the Without PSG market last time out and Les Gones could look like handy 10/11 (10BET) value for a Top Three Finish. At the time of writing, Nabil Fekir remains at the Groupama Stadium and his influence is key if the former dominant force of French football is to progress.
The captain scored 18 goals and made seven assists as Lyon plundered 87 goals. Along with Mariano Diaz, Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore, the Les Gones attack was a constant menace and should look even stronger following the returning Martin Terrier after a solid spell with Strasbourg.
Lyon beat each of their top-four rivals on home soil last season, and while Mouctar Diakhaby’s departure hits the defence hard, there’s more than enough talent to suggest this side are well capable of achieving a second successive top-three finish.
Marseille missed out on Champions League qualification by just a single point and concluded the campaign with a Europa League silver medal. Rudi Garcia’s group were held back by a series of draws and poor performances in the matches that mattered against Ligue 1’s leading lights.
Croatian centre-half Duje Caleta-Car is the club’s major addition with moves to sign Mario Balotelli still far from complete. Should Balotelli arrive, L’OM could also appeal at 10/11 (Betfred) for a Top Three Finish, although asking Florian Thauvin to repeat last season’s remarkable heroics – 22 goals and 12 assists – might be tough.
Nevertheless, more investment is required with Les Phoceens’ squad needing to be bulked out if Marseille are to avoid a repeat of the disruption from injuries and suspensions that hit them hard in the latter stages of last season.
The best of the rest
Fifth-placed Rennes earned a Europa League berth last term following a strong finish under the astute leadership of Sabri Lamouchi. Les Rouges et Noir suffered a sole reverse in their final 14 games and should Brittany boys enhance their record at their Roazhon Park home, the 19-point gap to fourth should be closed.
SRFC lacked a free-scoring striker and so the arrival of Jordan Siebatcheu has excited supporters after an excellent campaign in Ligue 2 with Reims. Joris Gnagnon’s big-money deal away is a blow but Damian Da Silva is a capable replacement and Clement Grenier a potential match-winner should he stay fit.
Rennes boast a talented starting XI and the squad to consistently compete towards the upper echelons of Ligue1 with experience, youth, pace and muscle in abundance. They look an excellent even-money shot with Unibet to scoop a Top Six Finish.
Saint-Etienne won just six Ligue 1 games going into deepest January but overcame a turbulent opening stanza under Oscar Garcia to finish comfortably in seventh under Jean-Louis Gasset. Les Verts were beaten only three times in the second half of the season and more serene progress is anticipated.
Sainte have impressively captured Timothée Kolodziejczak and Wahbi Khazri this summer, while Yann M'Vila has committed his future to the club. Promising right-backs Saidy Janko and Ronael Pierre-Gabriel have moved on and Remy Cabella has yet to return but a more consistent top-half effort should be on the cards.
Elsewhere, Bordeaux improved immeasurably under Gus Poyet’s watch although the Uruguayan has been embroiled in an ongoing internal feud with the club’s board. The new ownership has yet to significantly strengthen the squad and the sale of Malcolm makes Les Girondins a less threatening proposition.
Meanwhile, Patrick Vieira faces a tough introduction to management at Nice with key men Jean-Michael Serri, Alassane Plea, Maxime Le Marchand and very probably Mario Balotelli leaving the Allianz Arena this summer.
Under the excellent Lucien Favre, Les Aiglons failed to hit the heights of 2016/17 and struggled defensively. So with the likes of Wylan Cyprien, Pierre Lees-Melou, Allan Saint-Maximin currently called upon for goals, a campaign of regression could be around the corner unless Vieira proves his credentials from the off.
Relegation market offers big-priced value
The Ligue 1 relegation markets always appeal. With only two automatic spots up for grabs – third from bottom plays off over two legs with Ligue 2’s third-place team – there are often chunky prices to be had pre-season.
Newly-promoted Nimes (7/4 Bet365) head the betting but there’s little desire to support a side that’s expected to impress with their free-flowing, attacking football. Such an offensive approach is unusual in France’s top-tier and the Crocodiles have the ability to survive on their return to the top-flight.
Amiens (5/2 10BET) were chalked up as relegation favourites following their back-to-back promotions 12 months ago but finished eight points above the drop-zone. Losing Gael Kakuta and Harisson Manzala could prove fatal but the minnows are built from the back and their rock-solid defence makes them an unappealing punt at the prices.
Strasbourg followed back-to-back titles with survival although the famous French club finished just a point above the bottom-three as they completed their campaign with just three victories from 20 outings. A dreadful defence and awful away record proved their main downfall.
In the off-season, the Alsace club have lost their two standout stars – defensive midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou and winger Martin Terrier – and you have to now question where the dynamism and invention will come from. Stephane Bahoken was the team’s top scorer with seven but he’s also departed.
Meanwhile, Bakary Kone, Dimitri Foulquier and Kader Mangane have all moved on to leave the backline looking exposed. Stefan Mitrovic has arrived to plug a gap at centre-half, while Adrien Thomasson and Ludovic Ajorque flesh out the forwardline but it could be another tough term for Strasbourg.
Caen are also expected to toil towards the bottom end of the table and look far too big at 12/1 (SkyBet) to drop out of the top division. SMC survived by the skin of their teeth last season – by one point following a dreadful spell of seven defeats in 10 winless games to conclude the campaign.
Head coach Patrice Garande has departed after six years and incoming boss Fabien Mercadal has no previous Ligue 1 experience and gets the gig having led Paris FC in his previous role. The new manager has plenty of work to do with the squad losing a number of key elements in the summer.
Caen scored just 27 goals in 2017/18 – comfortably the lowest in the league – and top scorer Ivan Santini is no longer about. Nobody else scored more than five goals in the group and centre-half star Damien Da Silva has also headed to the exit, just two of five starters to leave SMC this summer.
The Normandy outfit have brought in Enzo Crivelli and Casimir Ninga to spearhead their challenge but neither are prolific, nor consistent performers in the top-flight. With problems mounting at the both ends of the pitch, Caen will do well to improve on their rotten displays last term.
Edison Cavani (5/4 Bet365)) is the market leader having scooped the prize in the last two Ligue 1 seasons but there’s little appeal at almost even-money.
The Top Goalscorer award has been won by a PSG player in six of the past seven seasons and so supporting Neymar at 7/4 (Betfair) looks a better value option.
The Brazilian brat is likely to dominate set-pieces and penalties, play more often for his club in 2017/18 and was scoring at an average rate of one ever 94 minutes when he did decide he fancied a game under Unai Emery.