Ending the Ligue 1 season leaves us with as many questions as answers

So ends the 2019-20 Ligue 1 season. The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, announced on Tuesday that team sports would be banned until September – even if they were played behind closed doors – meaning that Ligue 1 became the first of the so-called “big five” leagues to end its season.

Critics of Ligue 1 will be quick to offer jibes about another procession to the title for PSG but, other than the leaders and bottom side Toulouse, this season has been incredibly competitive. This premature end will come as a bitter blow to the league’s various surprise packages.

The LFP, the governing body of professional football in France, is yet to determine matters relating to relegation and European places (France’s two domestic cups are also yet to be concluded), and was taken off-guard by the government’s decision. The night before Philippe made his announcement they had been finalising medical protocols for a return to first-team training on 11 May.

Two French clubs are still in the Champions League – PSG booked their place in the quarter-finals with a convincing victory over Borussia Dortmund in Paris and Lyon hold a slender 1-0 lead over Juventus before the second leg of their last-16 tie – yet now feels like a good time to look back at the various breakthroughs, disappointments and storylines that have defined the domestic season.

PSG are, of course, streets ahead of their league opponents. On the whole, they have enjoyed a rather impressive season. Neymar has been in some of the finest form of his career, playing with a motivation and focus that often seemed lacking in his first two seasons in France. Ángel Di María has been in similarly scintillating form, his energy, passing and vision key to the success of Thomas Tuchel’s team. He will be 33 at his next birthday and, along with Thiago Silva – who turns 36 in September – may feel the hardest done by after this early stoppage, even as the club’s investment in Idrissa Gueye and Abdou Diallo has given the squad a badly needed dose of players who are willing to get stuck in.

PSG were going well in the Champions League. With holders Liverpool eliminated and a host of other big clubs struggling for form before the shutdown, PSG will feel as if they missed a great opportunity. If the Champions League does return later in the summer, PSG may end up facing teams who have played league games and developed far superior match fitness.

Marseille, who sat second in the table behind PSG, will be hoping for dear life that the miracles André Villas-Boas produced from his paper-thin squad this season will count for something. The club signed Dario Benedetto and Valentin Rongier last season but, with FFP a concern, they had to remain tight-fisted. Villas-Boas did extremely well to guide them to second place in the league, especially considering that Florian Thauvin – perhaps their most important attacking player – missed most of the season through injury.

Like Tuchel at PSG, Villas-Boas will also be concerned about ageing players in his Marseille squad. Dimitri Payet and Steve Mandanda have rolled back the years spectacularly this season, but they are now in their mid 30s. They have never been the most consistent players, so it is a shame to see their campaigns cut short.

A rung below Marseille, Rennes and Lille have emerged as the chief competitors for the third Champions League place. Rennes have continued to impress under young manager Julien Stéphan, having signed an impressive selection of talent from around the country. Their young midfielder, Eduardo Camavinga, has promised to stay if the club reach next season’s Champions League. It looks as if his wish will be granted. Rennes were third in the table – a point and a place above Lille – when the action was stopped.

Lille reacted superbly to the departures of key players such as Nicolas Pépé, Thiago Mendes and Youssouf Koné. Their success has been built on swashbuckling attacking play and youth, with the irrepressible Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen forming an impressive strike partnership with Loïc Rémy. They underwhelmed in a difficult Champions League group, but are a young group and look capable of contending for trophies in time. If the current league table is used to decide which three clubs go into the Champions League next season, it will be a terrible shame for them.

Lyon, meanwhile, will be delighted if the season is annulled. Their campaign has been disastrous – from the disappointing, albeit brief spell of Sylvinho as manager, to season-ending knee injuries to captain Memphis Depay and young creative midfielder Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, the latter of whom seemed to be finally making good on his promise. Lyon appear poised to miss out on European football for the first time in 25 years. Yet, they can take comfort from the emergence of exciting academy products Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki, as well as the impressive start that box-to-box midfielder Bruno Guimarães has enjoyed at the club.

You would think that bottom club Toulouse, whose potential sale to former Nice owner Chien Lee recently collapsed, would also be praying that nothing would be decided on the back of an incomplete season, yet the club’s president Olivier Sadran appears to be resigned to relegation: “Football wins by not continuing,” he said on Tuesday night after the government made their announcement. “The country is currently suffering from a health crisis. It will shortly face an economic crisis. It would have been very frowned upon to dissociate ourselves from this.” Perhaps he is right, but the decision leaves as many questions as answers.

This is an article from Get French Football News
Eric Devin and GFFN on Twitter

source: theguardian.com

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