Ligue Un Preview: It's PSG, Monaco And...

...a few other clubs of very little import in a division that has prided itself on having six champions in six years. Now there's little point in looking past two behemoths...

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If one of the qualities of a league is its element of competition, France's Ligue Un has topped the bill in recent years. No other division in Europe has had six different winners in as many seasons, with Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille, Montpellier and Paris St Germain following Lyon's spell of dominance throughout most of the last decade.

However, this summer marks the passing of such unpredictability and intrigue. Champions PSG and new financial heavyweights Monaco have established a new 'big two' that promises to extend far beyond the forthcoming campaign. It may have remained relatively untouched of late, but substantial foreign investment is now part of France's footballing future. Just don't mention Financial Fair Play.

PSG, champions by 12 points last season, are the understandable odds-on favourites to lift the title again this time around. Edinson Cavani has been recruited from Napoli in Europe's most expensive transfer of the summer thus far, and should be expected to be Ligue Un's top scorer. 78 goals in three seasons in Serie A whilst playing for a side that were never title favourites is an enviable record, and a strike partnership between the Uruguayan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be a fervent source of footballing pornography. Add in Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Blaise Matuidi, Jeremy Menez and Marco Verratti and my jeans are already starting to twitch.

It is not just in attack that PSG have improved. Lucas Digne is a fine young left-back recruited from Lille, and whilst there is no doubt that the Parisiens have overpaid for Roma's central defender Marquinhos, when money seems no object this is fine business.

Without labouring the point, you could pick a starting XI of Sirigu, Digne, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Gregory van Der Wiel, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore, Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi, Ibrahimovic and Cavani and still be omitting Jeremy Menez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Mohammed Sissoko and Mamadou Sakho. Theirs is now a squad to rival any other in Europe, and only one of the above players is older than 28. Sheesh.

Winning the league may be a step too far, and there must also be doubts about the long-term retention of world-class footballers attracted by a tax break, but Monaco will see anything lower than second place as a disaster this season. At the point such a scenario looks likely (and probably long before), coach Claudio Ranieri will surely have been shown the door, with his employment already appearing less than secure. The enlistment of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Jeremy Toulalan and Eric Abidal indicates the serious ambition of owner Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Whether or not you agree with the manner of Monaco's ignorance of UEFA's FFP rules, and I wrote here about the club's relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes, there is no doubting the club's ambition. It seems inevitable that at some point the club will be unable to meet the economic regulations to compete in Europe (an average crowd last season of less than ten League Two clubs doesn't help to create a viable revenue stream), but for now Monaco are seemingly shrugging their shoulders whilst writing the cheques. One complication for Les Rouge et Blanc comes in the form of an immediate two-point deduction for crowd trouble during celebrations of the Ligue 2 title in May.

Below these two, a similar picture emerges in the battle for the Europa League places, clubs forced to scrimp and save and expenditure limited to the reinvestment of talent sold abroad. Such is life without a bumper new television deal.

Marseille, who kept pace with PSG in the early months of last season, have used their Champions League qualification to invest in their squad at a greater level than any other outside the nouveau riche. Talented teenager Benjamin Mendy arrives from Le Havre, whilst winning the race for Lille winger Dimitri Payet is a notable fillip. The only player to register more assists in Ligue Un than Payet last season was Marseille's own Mathieu Valbuena, and the pair should provide excellent service for Andre-Pierre Gignac and Jordan Ayew. The two strikers need to improve if the club are to have any chance of breaking the expected duopoly, with relegated Troyes scoring more league goals that L'OM last season.

Lyon, for so long the dominant force, now appear to have fallen to their knees. £3million spent on new faces simply isn't sufficient given the money raised by the departure of Dejan Lovren to Southampton, Fabian Monzon to Catania and Michel Bastos to Al-Ain, but nothing sums up the club's stagnation more than (the frankly beautiful) Yoan Gourcuff. After joining for close to £20m from Bordeaux in 2010, the attacking midfielder has started just 45 league games in three seasons, scoring a measly eight goals. There are substantial rumours that Lyon may accept a £5million bid from Lorient for Gourcuff to join up with his father.

Elsewhere, Bordeaux have brought in just one player for a fee whilst losing Benoit Tramoulinas and Anthony Modeste, St Etienne have been comparatively busy but only in response to losing star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the positivity Lille supporters may have at a bargain deal for Simon Kjaer from Wolfsburg is counteracted by the departure of Aurelien Chedjou alongside the aforementioned Payet and Digne. Nice finished fourth last season, will be playing in the Europa League, and yet have signed just one player, a free transfer. It may be different in many other leagues but, in France, staying still may not be moving backwards.

Whilst the title race may be fairly predictable, Ligue Un's relegation battle could potentially involve any of eight or nine clubs, but the most at risk appear to be Monaco's second-tier rivals last season. Guingamp may have finished just six points adrift of the principality club, but their summers could not have been different. This is just their eighth season in the top flight, but whilst names have been brought in, only Steeven Langil (from Auxerre) appears immediately to be of the necessary quality to aid a survival bid.

For Nantes, the picture may be even more bleak. FIFA have ruled that the club's move for Ismael Bangoura last January broke contract agreements and imposed an incoming transfer embargo on the club. The ban has since been suspended by a Swiss court, but the only signings have been both cheap and Venezuelan, an interesting football combination. Expect significant struggles at the Stade de la Beaujoire.

Of the other strugglers, Evian only survived relegation by just two points in 2012/13 and have lost forward Yannick Sagbo to Hull City, and although Stade Reims survived the drop against all odds last season following promotion, it would be fair to say that the club have not looked to build on such achievement.

The final word deserves to go to Ajaccio, for their ingenuity if nothing else. Surviving relegation by one place in May, the club has released 11 players and signed eight without a single Euro changing hands. They have also rather bizarrely handed Fabrizio Ravanelli his first managerial job, and have a certain 34-year-old Adrian Mutu as their principle attacking threat.

Predictions:

Top 3: PSG, Monaco, Marseille

Relegated: Guingamp, Nantes, Reims

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