By Andrew Gibney | Gibfootballshow
Unlike most of the top European leagues there was no runaway winner in Ligue 1. The title was only decided in the second last week. Lille’s draw at the Parc des Princes saw them lift their first title since 1954 completing a league and cup double that hadn’t been achieved by Les Dogues since 1946.
It wasn’t clear from the start that Lille would be one of the title favourites. Four draws and only one goal in the first four games of the season wasn’t exactly the form of champions, it took a 4-1 away win at rivals Lens to kick start their charge.
After eight games without defeat Rudi Garcia’s men stumbled when up against Lyon and Marseille. A Lisandro Lopez double was enough for Lyon to won 3-1 at home and then at the Stade Metropole after going 1-0 it was Loic Remy with the double that sparked L’OM’s come back and a 3-1 away win.
Two defeats against two of the top clubs in France seemed to be the spark the northern side needed. They would only lose two more games in the entire season, eight draws and eighteen wins one of which was the 2-1 win over Marseille in the Stade Velodrome. Eden Hazard’s 30 yard left foot strike and a 90th minute winner from Pierre-Alain Frau gave the away side a vital three points and people began to believe that this side might actually win the title.
A few slip ups followed; defeat to Montpellier and Monaco away saw Marseille charge back to the Ligue 1 summit. Lille bounced back with two crucial away wins first a solo Hazard goal just before half-time was enough to beat Nancy and then a spirited fight-back from a goal down with Rio Mavuba scoring only his third ever career goal was enough to beat St-Etienne.
Days before Marseille were beaten 3-2 away at Lyon, one of the games of the season. Coming from 2-0 to level the scores Marseille were stunned when Lyon captain Cris volleyed home the winner with four minutes remaining. In the end Marseille could only managed one win in their last six games. We’ll never know if Lille would have handled the pace if the race had run right to the finish line.
Down at the bottom it was clear after 4/5 weeks that Arles-Avignon would not add much to the season. With only three wins to their name two of them coming in the last three weeks. It is quite a surprise they managed to muster as much as 20 points. They conceded 70 goals, 12 more than the next worse defence it was a dismal effort for the newly promoted side. Hopes are they can rebuild in Ligue 2 and come back in a few years with a stronger campaign.
RC Lens were the next team to find themselves on the chopping block. A poor season overall. The change of manager to Romanian Laszlo Boloni didn’t have the impact they would have hoped. Lens lacked the 15 goals striker that Caen, Montpellier and Valenciennes posses that leads your team to safety. Emerging talents Raphael Varane and Serge Aurier weren’t enough to keep Les Sang et Or in Ligue 1 and the drop to Ligue 2 will see their top prospects depart the Stade Felix Bollaert. A massive loss for the league as Lens fans are some of the most passionate and vocal in the country.
The final relegation spot went down to the wire. The last day of the season saw France have its very own “Survival Sunday” or “Demotion Dimanche” if you will. Monaco started the day in 18th spot but knew that with a win they could actually finish the season 10th and one of the other six teams unsure of their future would make the drop to Ligue 2.
A final day full of excitement and entertainment beckoned but in the end all the action was found in the places above Monaco. The club from the principality had trouble breaching the Lyon defence. Claude Puel the man in charge when Monaco won their last title in 2000 would be in charge as Lyon clinched a 2-0 victory securing Champions League football for Les Gones. And condemning Monaco to a place in Ligue 2 next season. It is not a foregone conclusion that they will bounce straight back, the squad is full of too many mediocre players and they do not have the fans cheering them on like at Lens next season.
Lyon’s win secured their 3rd place finish and entry into the Champions League qualifiers. Paris St-Germain in the end finished short in their pursuit, draws against Nancy and Lille ended their hunt for a place at Europe’s top table. Ludovic Obraniak’s injury time goal in the Stade de France brought scenes of joy for the Lille fans but great disappointed to the fans from the capital. A trophy-less season twinned with second place and the Coupe de la Ligue for Marseille is just too much for the Parisians to take.
On a plus not only this week saw 70% of the club purchased by unknown Qatari business men that should in the next few season give PSG the foundations to become one of the leading clubs in France again. Gregory Coupet has retired and Rennes’ Nicolas Douchez will take his place between the sticks. It will be another crucial summer at the Parc de Princes for Antoine Kombouare and his staff.
With the cups going to Lille and Marseille this opened up two extra Europa League spaces via the league and Rennes and Sochaux jumped at the chance to play in European competition next season. Rennes target for most of the season had been the Champions League but a very bad run of games that saw them only win one of their last twelve games took them out of the top three and nearly down towards mid-table.
Sochaux on the other hand have had a fantastic season. Relegation favourites before the season began they have been a revelation, free flowing attacking football the old Newcastle United mentality of we’ll score more goals than you. Only the top three scored more goals but Valenciennes, Monaco and Auxerre conceded less.
Behind their great season have been the majestic passing skills of midfielder Marvin Martin. The 22-year olds play has been a joy to watch and one of the main reasons behind Mobido Maiga and Brown Ideye’s 15 goals each. Leading Ligue 1 with 17 assists most of Sochaux’s summer will be spent hanging onto Martin rather than adding to the playing squad.
The 2011/12 season starts in the beginning of August and it looks like the two months without football are going to be just as busy as the previous ten. Will Lille’s trio of Hazard, Sow and Gervinho return for another season at the Metropole? With Claude Puel set to leave can Lyon become a major force in France again (without Jeremy Toulalan). Marseille will again spend big to fills some gaps in their team will it be enough to regain the title?
So many players that have played well this season are heavily linked with moves away Kevin Gameiro, Morgan Amalfitano of the impressive Lorient side. Romain Hamouma and Yousef El-Arabi of the Caen side that stayed up.
New managers at Bordeaux, Sochaux, Auxerre, Lyon and Nancy could bring new thinking and new styles to established teams. It will be hard to have a season full of as much excitement as this year. However if it’s half as good it will be another cracker.
Au Revoir 2010/11……….Bonjour 2011/12