At the beginning of every season in Ligue 1 ever since the takeover of Qatari ownership of Paris Saint Germain, the running gag in France isn’t who will win the Ligue 1 title, but when will PSG clinch it and how many points will they win it by.
It’s a blessing and a curse to have a club who talent wise are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Sadly one of the curses is that the domestic races involving PSG have involved the Parisian club finishing on average 10.5 points ahead of second place over the past two seasons.
Which is why the 2014-15 season broke the mold from the past couple of years. For the first time since 2011-12 when Qatari ownership in PSG was in its infancy, Ligue 1 experienced a fantastic title fight that rivaled any other title fight in the European domestic leagues.
Sure the league tables shows that PSG are eight points up on Lyon but that belies what’s actually happened as two contenders at various points emerged as legitimate threats to the Ligue 1 crown.
Olympique de Marseille
What do you get when you add a flawed genius as a manager plus a talented but combustible squad plus underlying conversion data that was bound to return back to normalcy?
Well you get the 2014/15 Olympique de Marseille season. Marseille have been perhaps the best circus attraction in Ligue 1 this season.
Backed by their conversion rate jumping from fourteenth to second place plus a added emphasis on high pressing play, Marseille’s attack has been one of the best attacks in Ligue 1 this season and it fueled their early-mid season run as Ligue 1 title contenders.
At one point the club won eight games on the trot, providing endless entertainment, but it always felt like the bubble would eventually burst with how shaky the club were defensively, and eventually it did.
After 19 weeks, Marseille were top of the table over second place Olympique Lyon, they never returned to 1st place and their grip on a top three position got more loose as the weeks went by.
Now as we sit here currently and Marseille have a realistic shot of finishing fourth and missing out on the Champions League, a result that would carry huge significance for the club financially.
What started out as a fairytale type of story has quickly turned into a nightmare, the epitome of a Marcelo Bielsa managed club.
In comparison to Marseille, Lyon struggled to start the year but picked up steam just at the time where Bielsa’s Marseille side started to petered out.
With numerous academy graduates playing roles in Lyon’s starting eleven alongside the terrific forward duo in Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, Lyon were first place after Week 20 and held onto top spot in Ligue 1 until week 29 when PSG finally took control for good.
Though not the high octane show that Marseille exhibited, Lyon too were a very fun club to watch as they combined possession laden football with quick counter attacks through Lacazette, Fekir and forward Clinton N’ie.
Plus they also had one of, if not the best Ligue 1 goalkeeper this season in Anthony Lopes. He’s made spectacular saves night in and night out this year, looking like a younger version of Hugo Lloris. Sadly a lot like Marseille, Lyon couldn’t sustain the charge and eventually gave way to PSG.
PSG were the best team in Ligue 1. They had the highest shots on target ratio, expected goal ratio, expected points and team rating according to my data but both Marseille and Lyon made PSG dig deep into their bag to get this title.
One could argue that the turning point in the Ligue 1 title race was PSG’s 3-2 win against Marseille at the Stade Veledrome where they exploited Marseille’s defense time and time again, proving that their A game still was much better than anyone else’s A game.
If there was an apt description to be had for PSG’s season, it would be that they bended but didn’t break when there were times throughout the season where they could’ve folded.
Of course there was to more to Ligue 1 this season than just the title fight.
There was the moment where Brodeaux manager Willy Sagnol may or may not have said racist things about African players, Lille putting the D in depressing football throughout the majority of the season, Monaco remaking their club on the fly and looking like they’ll be back in the CL for a second straight season and the emergence of numerous young stars in different positions like Raphael Guerreiro, Diego Rolan and Jordan Amavi.
As the league goes into its last weekend of games for the season, there’s not much left to be decided other than who gets the final CL spot in Ligue 1 between one of Marseille, Monaco and Saint Etienne as the relegation positions are official.
Monaco are two points up on both Marseille and Saint Etienne but Marseille hold the edge in GD by a good seven goal margin. It would be typical Marseille to have blown what should’ve been an automatic top finish but rescue it on the final day of the season.
It’s been a great season for French football. We’ve had numerous classic matches including Le Classique, the coming out party for youngsters like Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, a three way title race for the majority of the season and clubs like Lorient and Caen proving that attacking football can help keep clubs from relegation.
Who knows what will happen in 2015-16 but it can be safely said that the 2014/15 Ligue 1 season was a success for French domestic football.