After narrowly missing out on the Ligue 1 title last season, Paris Saint-Germain are the overwhelming favorites to win a first French crown since 1994 this time around.
The bottomless pockets of the French capital club have allowed them to build one of the strongest squads ever seen in Ligue 1, at a time when the rest of the country has been busy tightening its belt.
There have been five different champions in the past five seasons and few would bet against PSG making it six in six after a summer spending spree that has seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi further bolster an already impressive squad.
So the question is, can anybody stop Carlo Ancelotti’s side from romping to the title?
When Montpellier Herault deservedly pipped PSG on the final day of last season, there was a feeling that the southern club’s success was something unique, never to be repeated.
Montpellier are a modest club and they had never been champions before. Their success was built on solid foundations, but it is hard to see how they can compete with the men from the capital in the years to come.
They have lost Olivier Giroud, the 21-goal top scorer from their title-winning campaign, who has been sold to Arsenal.
However, other key men, such as playmaker Younes Belhanda, captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Henri Bedimo all remain, for now, and coach Rene Girard is hoping to push PSG all the way.
“It is up to us to make things as hard as possible for PSG,” Girard said. “When you look at them on paper, their possibilities are limitless. They are the big favorites.”
Despite losing Eden Hazard, Ligue 1’s player of the year in each of the last two seasons, to Chelsea, 2010-2011 double winners LOSC Lille Metropole appear the best-equipped to challenge PSG in the coming years.
The 40 million euros (US$50 million) recouped for Hazard has allowed Lille to invest money in new players such as Sochaux-Montbeliard’s France playmaker Marvin Martin and Ivorian winger Salomon Kalou, whose contract at Chelsea had expired.
No amount of money can replace a player of Hazard’s ability, but it is Lille’s move to a brand new 50,000-seat stadium that gives them hope for the future.
The venue will allow Lille to vastly increase gate receipts and it helps make Rudi Garcia’s side an even more attractive proposition for potential new signings.
Olympique Lyonnais are not the force they once were and they are still looking to offload some of their bigger earners before they can make any new signings.
Question marks continue to surround the future of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in particular, although coach Remi Garde can still call on the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro Lopez.
“We’re not going to be jostling with PSG, we have to be reasonable,” OL president Jean-Michel Aulas said. “Our aim is to qualify for Europe.”
These are troubled times at Olympique de Marseille, too, with France’s best-supported club still picking up the pieces following a desperately poor last campaign.
Didier Deschamps departed the Stade Velodrome at the beginning of last month and promptly took over the reins of the national team, but there was to be no marquee name coming in to replace the man who led OM to the title in 2009-2010. Instead, Elie Baup has returned to management from his role as a television pundit.
“This will be a season of rebuilding, there is no fixed objective,” said Baup, who led Girondins de Bordeaux to the title in 1998-1999. “We are not lacking in ambition, but we are realistic.”