Ligue 1 review: Part 1 – Racism, Relegation & Romance

Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer. Here is Part 1 of his epic look back over what was an incredible season of football in Ligue 1. Settle in and enjoy.

Everything has finally been decided. The Champions League Final saw a powerhouse club retain their title, the relegation playoffs are complete and it’s time to sit down with a Yann Tiersen record playing (not really) and go over the season of French football that was.*

It very much feels that this season was a return to form and relevance for Ligue 1. After years of Paris St. Germain being the only team afforded wider attention by the English-speaking media – and even then as some sort of sideshow attraction or transfer rumour factory – the sparkling performances of young, exciting French teams on the domestic stage and beyond caught the eye and imagination of football watchers everywhere. Whilst the focus was undoubtedly on the top sides, there was good football played all the way to the bottom of the league table, which is where we start with SC Bastia.

Finishing 20th out of 20 will get you one thing in football; relegated (not now, MLS fans) Frankly, after a season of racism and fans and stewards attacking opposition players, it’s a case of so long and good riddance for the troublesome club. The fact that their best player and scorer of at least two great goals – Allan Saint Maximin – was a loanee from Monaco means their departure will not be widely mourned. Enzo Crivelli, whom I didn’t particularly rate when I watched them, will also be returning to his home club of Bourdeaux, which leaves the old warhorses of Sebastian Squillaci and Yannick Cahuzac – a walking red card, by the way – the task of dealing with this mess in the second tier.

AS Nancy finished one point and one position higher than Bastia, but still found themselves relegated after a single season in the top flight. The squad was pretty much exactly the same as the one that got itself promoted the season prior, and just seemed to get to the limits of their talent. There were a few good players on this team – Issar Dia popped in eight goals from the wing, and left back Faitout Maouassa played his way onto the U-20 World Cup squad that went to South Korea this summer. The team only scored 29 goals over the season, however, and even in the notoriously goal-shy Ligue 1, that wasn’t enough.

Image 2

Lorient’s Majeed Waris

France has a relegation system that is gaining in popularity around the world, involving the 17th placed team playing against the 3rd place team from Ligue 2. This year Lorient found themselves in the two-legged fight for survival against Estac Troyes. Lorient were hit hard by the loss of several key players over the course of the year, Dider N’Dong went to Sunderland and played below the standard he’s capable of, Benjamin Moukandjo and Majeed Waris were busy for part of the year helping Cameroon win the Africa Cup of Nations (Waris found the time to score this absolute beaut of a goal, though) and the diminutive winger Jimmy Cabot only really came to the fore at the end of the year. All of this aside, they should have had enough to see off Ligue 2 opposition, even after losing the first leg 2-1 at Troyes. The 0-0 scoreline of the second leg is as damning as it appears, the misfiring attack unable to bail out the leaky defence and Estac Troyes find themselves in Ligue 1 at Lorient’s expense.**

Our poetic friends Stade Malherbe Caen were the first team to stay out the relegation zone. I feels as if their survival was less because of their ability, and more because there were three teams that were somehow worse than them. If it wasn’t for the stellar goalkeeping of Rémy Vercoutre and the 15 goals of Ivan Santini, this team would almost certainly found themselves below Lorient in the table.

The newest team in the league, Dijon FCO find their league position standing in testament to an old truism – “Score enough goals and you can survive in the top tier of French Football”. I’m sure we can all remember our grandparents imparting this sage piece of advice along with a Werther’s Original and the board at Dijon appeared to remember it as well. They bought well last summer, bringing in top Ligue 2 talent as well as some more quality Ligue 1 cast-offs, and the augmented squad always felt like they would have what it takes to stay up. The play of Loïs Diony was particularly noteworthy, the youngster bringing a relentless energy to the game that retained a cutting edge – his 11 goals led the team and have made him a likely candidate to move to a bigger club in the summer.

Montpellier finished in 15th following a season that can only be described as disappointing. A poor away record and a squad that looked to be stagnating meant they couldn’t put together a good run of results at any point, despite Steve Mounié having a good year in bagging himself 14 goals. The sale of Morgan Sanson to Marseille in January was a short term loss, but the hope will be that the several players they brought in with the proceeds work out better than Anthony Vanden Borre and Nicolas Saint-Ruf did. The women’s team had a much better year, finishing second in the league and pushing PSG into third and out of the Champions League spots as a result.

*If you’ve a few hours to spare, the season reviews from Get French Football and French Football Weekly – are terrific. Indeed, they’ve been invaluable resources all season long.

**Highlights for both legs from the excellent Ligue 1 Youtube Channel here – Leg 1 and Leg 2.

Part 2 of Colin’s Ligue 1 review will be up tomorrow, in which we learn about Metz’s problems, Toulouse’s youngsters, Angers’ valiance, and the season that led Lille to Marcelo Bielsa. Keep an eye out!

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