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 2019/20 campaign.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | Ligue 1
Paris Saint-Germain picked up their sixth Ligue 1 crown in seven seasons last time out, taking top honours in France by 16 points. Thomas Tuchel’s troops were unbeaten until February before taking their eye off the ball with the title all but secured. Les Rouge et Bleu are unsurprisingly warm 1/7 (Bet365) favourites to repeat the feat in 2019/20.
The financial clout behind the capital club makes PSG tough to topple. Back in 2011/12 – before Les Parisians’ huge cash injection from Qatar – 80/1 outsiders Montpellier finished top of the tree. However, Monaco’s once-in-a-generation group three years ago are the only team to trouble the defending champions in their quest for domestic dominance.
Nevertheless, last term wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Tuchel received plenty of criticism for his role as PSG failed to make it four trebles in five French campaigns following unexpected defeats to Strasbourg in the Coupe de France final, as well as Guingamp in the Coupe de la Ligue quarter-finals. Another meek Champions League exit was also frowned upon.
Neymar continues to angle for a move away from PSG but his departure shouldn’t be deemed terminal. Injury and suspension issues have restricted the Brazilian superstar to just 37 appearances in Ligue 1 action, and in actual fact, Les Rouge et Bleu have worked hard in the summer to solve their lingering first-team concerns coming into the new campaign.
Returning sporting director Leonardo has brought in Idrissa Gueye, Abdou Diallo and Ander Herrera as solid (if unspectacular) acquisitions that should strengthen PSG’s soft underbelly. Pablo Sarabia is also an excellent addition after producing as many La Liga assists as Lionel Messi last season with Sevilla and give the capital club more options in forward areas.
With PSG locked and loaded once more, it’s difficult not to presume the title contest is a one-horse race. Therefore, it makes sense to overlook the general Outright Winner market and instead attack alternative ante-post markets for a slice of long-term value.
Best of the rest
Lille (40/1 Bet365) were the surprise package last term, finishing in second after being embroiled in a relegation battle in 2017/18. Les Dogues were 500/1 no-hopers before a ball was kicked but a spectacular season from Nicolas Pepe, who contributed an enormous 51% of Lille’s total Expected Goals (xG) output. The Ivorian has since been sold this summer.
Scouting supremo Luis Campos is a masterful operator in the transfer market and he’ll have his work cut out in trying to replace other leading Lille lights too. Youssouf Kone, Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes were pinched after impressive campaigns, and with Champions League football on the horizon, a regression is surely on the cards for Christophe Galtier’s group.
Lyon (12/1 William Hill) claimed third, concluding only three points adrift of Lille. Performance data pointed towards Les Gones as Ligue 1’s second-best side, although a lack of consistency in both boxes put paid to progression under Bruno Genesio’s watch. Following numerous fan protests, the club decided to axe the head coach in May.
First-time club boss Sylvinho is the new man in charge, appointed by returning legend Juninho Pernambucano, who takes over as sporting director. The Brazilian pair have seen Tanguy Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir move on but the aforementioned midfielder Thiago Mendes, left-back Youssouf Kone and centre-half Joachim Andersen are strong additions.
Sylvinho has expressed his desire to play an attacking 4-3-3 system this season and the Rhone-Alpes club should pack plenty of punch with the likes of Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembele, Bertrand Traore, Martin Terrier and Maxwell Cornet all battling it out for stars. Lyon are certainly best-placed to take the Without PSG market at 7/4 (Bet365).
St Etienne (100/1 Betfred) took fourth last time out, holding off Marseille’s challenge to seal Europa League group-stage football. Les Verts keep hold of highly-rated centre-back William Saliba on-loan and have seen Ryad Boudebouz return to replace Remy Cabella in the playmaking position. However, the departure of boss Jean-Louis Gasset is a bitter blow.
Assistant boss Ghislain Printant steps into Gasset’s shoes, hopeful that Yann M’Vila stays at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard beyond August. Denis Bouanga is an intriguing capture and the hugely influential Whabi Khazri is still in stiu after an eye-catching 2018/19, but St Etienne looked unlikely to be able to bridge the gap on the top three positions this term.
Marseille (30/1 Unibet) begin 2019/20 under the watch of Andre Villas-Boas. The Portuguese coach has been out of the game for two years and has little budget to work with L’OM undergoing a belt-tightening exercise following overspending previous seasons. Argentine striker Darío Benedetto is a headline signing as a replacement for Mario Balotelli.
Elsewhere, Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin remain, along with the ballast and experience of Kevin Strootman and Luis Gustavo. However, Les Phoceens have seen the reliable Lucas Ocampos depart and the squad also appeals smaller with the likes of Clinton N’Jie and Rolando leaving for pastures new. A could be a transitional year for Marseille and AVB.
Monaco (40/1 Betfred) were in a relegation battle for much of the 2018/19 season, spending 18 game-weeks in the bottom three, before dragging themselves out of trouble after Leonardo Jardim’s return as boss. The principality club were largely luckless at both ends of the pitch with advanced data metrics pinpointing their huge underperformance.
Gelson Martins has signed permanently, Keita Balde is back at the club and hope springs eternal that Stevan Jovetic can stay fit. Nevertheless, Les Rouges et Blancs are gearing up for the probable sale of Radamel Falcao and the skipper’s sale could be difficult to overcome – last season the El Tigre contributed 0.43 xG per-90 minutes when excluding penalties.
Montpellier, Reims, Nimes and Strasbourg all upset the odds to impress last season and Montpellier (225/1 Paddy Power) look best-equipped to push towards the European positions again. La Paillade tabled a sixth-placed finish but missed out on continental qualification due to Strasbourg and Rennes taking France’s two domestic trophies.
Michel Der Zakarian’s group are functional rather than flashy, preferring organisation and defensive structure to attacking flair in a gritty 3-5-2 formation. Montpellier’s process remained strong throughout the campaign – only PSG and Lille allowed a greater xG against figure – and the club have moved to enhance their efforts in the final-third this summer.
Last season’s top scorer, Andy Delort, joins permanently to continue a clinical partnership with Gaeten Laborde in attack. Elsewhere, Montpellier have snapped up playmaker Teji Savanier from Nimes, a player who the league in assists (14) and expected assists (10.2). His impact, when back from injury, means a 3/1 (Unibet) top-six finish is again possible.
Rennes (250/1 Bet365) will also feel a top-six berth is within reach. Les Rouge et Noir finished in mid-table last time out, but performance data marked the Bretons out as the division’s fifth best team. Regardless, Coupe de France glory over PSG, plus a run to the Last 16 of the Europa League meant it was a memorable nine months for Rennes supporters.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s contract was not renewed but M’Baye Niang has made his loan move permanent. With the highly rated Ismaila Sarr still around, former reserve coach Julien Stephan still has the ammunition at his disposal to make a splash. However, skipper Benjamin Andre has moved on and key creator Benjamin Bourigeaud remains in-demand.
Nantes’ (500/1 Bet365) season was marred by the Emiliano Sala tragedy in January. A major contributor on-and-off the pitch at the Pays de la Loire club, his sad loss understandably had a major effect on Les Canaris. FCN did rally in the later stages of the season to steer clear of the drop and there was hope the club could kick-on after the summer break.
Diego Carlos’ departure at centre-half is a blow but Nantes the resignation of head coach Vahid Halilhodzic on the eve of the new season is a major distraction. Patrick Collot picks up the pieces; the bulk of the squad has been kept together with Kalifa Coulibaly again expected to shoulder the attacking burden. Expected Goals (xG) data pointed towards Les Canaris as a top-10 team in 2018/19 but the upheaval and coaching change is likely to stunt progress.
Metz (1000/1 William Hill) are back at Ligue 1 level after romping to the Ligue 2 title last season by seven points. Les Grenats conceded only 23 goals en-route to top spot and there’s an expectation the Lorraine outfit can consolidate this time around having kept the bulk of their promotion-winning squad together over the summer.
Alexandre Oukidja is a decent goalkeeper, Thierry Ambrose and Kevin N'Doram should make an impact on-loan, whilst John Boye, Stoppila Sunzu and captain Renaud Cohade are all worthy top-flight players. Top goalscorer Habib Diallo will be looking to continue his hot-streak in attack whilst Frederic Antonetti continues to bark his orders from his base in Corisca.
Looking over their shoulder
Despite notching only 30 goals, Nice somehow tabled a seventh-placed finish last erm. Patrick Vieira’s side were involved in a catalogue of dour, low-scoring contests with goalkeeper Walter Benitez the club’s standout star. Les Aiglons were tough to breakdown and defensively astute, although very little excitement was offered in the final-third.
Available data suggests Nice could and should have conceded much more than their 35 goals against, whilst their chief creator Allan Saint-Maximin has moved away. Wylan Cyprien is also being linked with a potential departure and with the club still in takeover limbo, there’s been minimal incoming transfer business which has to be of concern.
Supporters will be questioning where the goals are going to come from – right-back Youcef Atal was the team’s joint-top scorer last season with six – whilst an 8-1 defeat to Wolfsburg and 6-1 loss to Burnley in pre-season also rings the alarm. Nice should be OK but 20/1 (Paddy Power) on Relegation looks a little too big at the time of writing.
Bordeaux endured a forgettable 2018/19. Les Girondins collected the third-fewest points in the second half of the season (W4-D4-L11) to end in the lower reaches of mid-table having seen Paulo Sousa parachuted into position in March following the sackings of Gus Poyet and then Ricardo Gomes earlier on in the campaign.
The 2009 champions struggled in attack throughout the season and often seemed unable to stem the flow in defence. Performance data marked Bordeaux out as the division’s fourth worst and their squad is undoubtedly weaker on paper with young defender Jules Kounde joining Lukas Lerager at the exit. They’re overpriced at 16/1 (Paddy Power) for the drop.
Unfashionable Angers are again backed to find safety in mid-table with Stephane Moulin staying on, Reims are also rated to steer clear of trouble following their fine backline performances following promotion, whilst Strasbourg should also be safe with or without Europa League commitments thanks to the astute leadership of Thierry Laurey.
Toulouse have often struggled to keep their heads above water and 2019/20 could be another campaign entrenched towards the lower end of the Ligue 1 standings. Alain Casanova continues in the dugout and the club have kept hold of top goalscorer Max Gradel, a move that ensure their top-flight status with little Relegation appeal.
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.
Dijon were deserving of the drop according to Ligue 1 performance data. The mustard men survived via the relegation/promotion play-off after only defeating Toulouse 2-1 on the final day of the regular season. Similar struggles are anticipated, although 15/8 (Bet365) quotes on Relegation don’t standout from an ante-post perspective.
Amiens (3/1 Bet365) finished 15th in Ligue 1 last term despite rating as the third-worst in the division. Les Licornes were appalling in attack – managed just 31 goals and an average of just 0.83 Expected Goals (xG) per-game. Highly-rated young coach Luka Elsner takes charge and so there’s optimism surrounding the Picardy-region posse this time around.
Nimes were arguably the neutrals favourite in their first top-tier campaign since 1993. Les Crocodiles’ carefree approach under Bernard Blaquart saw the newcomers pierce the top-half despite operating under the league’s smallest budget. However, numerous key players have left in the summer and a season of regression is surely on the cards.
Jordan Ferri, Sada Thioub, Baptiste Guillaume, Umut Bozok, Denis Bouanga, Téji Savanier and Rachid Alioui have moved away, robbing Blaquart of seven of Nimes’ top nine contributors according in the Expected Goals (xG) column. The 7/2 (William Hill) available on Relegation is a live threat.
That leaves Brest (7/4 Bet365) who are back after a six-year absence. The new boys are very fair favourites for the drop with head coach Jean-Marc Furlan resigning after leading the team to second last term, as well as topping the goalscoring charts. Olivier Dall'Oglio is the new boss and La Team Pirate have yet to make any major moves in the transfer market.
Keeping hold of 27-goal forward Gaetan Charbonnier was a priority for Brest, mind. The 30-year-old has Champions League experience but has never really produced the goods at the top-level in France and so Stade supporters will be desperate their leading marksman can find his range in 2019/20. However, quality is thin on the ground elsewhere in the squad.
Edison Cavani (13/2 William Hill) scooped the prize in the two of the last three Ligue 1 seasons but was usurped as 5/4 favourite last term by the brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, who grabbed 33 goals from 29 outings and finished 11 goals clear of his nearest rival.
The Top Goalscorer award has been won by a PSG player in seven of the past eight seasons and the young superstar Mbappe has been made a ridiculously skinny 2/5 (William Hill) to successfully defend his crown. With Brazilian brat Neymar unlikely to play a prominent role under Thomas Tuchel, it looks a straight shootout between Mbappe and Cavani.
With no each-way terms offered, it makes sense on value terms to support Cavani at the prices, although doubts surround the Uruguayans long-term future at the Parc des Princes so punters may understandably wish to swerve the Top Goalscorer market altogether.
Ligue 1 – Lyon to win Without PSG (15/8 Bet365)
Ligue 1 – Montpellier to finish in the top-six (3/1 Unibet)
Ligue 1 – Nimes to be relegated (7/2 William Hill)