The Ligue 1 players in great form before the winter World Cup | Ligue 1

Although the timing of this controversial World Cup is unorthodox, it will arrive at the right moment for many players. They have not just experienced the fatigue of a 60-game season and will be helped by the intensity and freshness of recent league fixtures, so the pace and standard at the World Cup in Qatar, heat permitting, could be at their highest for some decades. An energetic, buoyant, on-form Lionel Messi, now 35, will be helped more than most, having struggled with tiredness in the last two tournaments. But he’s not the only Ligue 1 player who may benefit from a winter World Cup.

For France, the timing has aided Monaco midfielder Youssouf Fofana’s late charge into Didier Deschamps’ squad. He has been Ligue 1’s most improved player in 2022. Before Monaco sacked Niko Kovac a year ago, the manager had become frustrated with Fofana’s erratic form and laid-back, class-clown off-field persona, dropping the midfielder. New head coach Philippe Clement, however, has put his faith in Fofana and is helping him become one of France’s best midfielders.

Fofana is both a destroyer and a creator. There are few greater sights in Ligue 1 than seeing the physical-yet-elegant 22-year-old jinking away from an opponent in midfield before breaking lines to barrel towards the penalty area. With Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté injured, Fofana might even start for the world champions in Qatar. With Deschamps set to return to the asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 that proved successful four years ago, the Monaco man could partner his former teammate, Aurélien Tchouaméni, in the France engine room. The pair have a nuanced understanding, an underrated trait at international level, and that could be key for France.

Lille striker Jonathan David is always important for Canada and he is hitting form at the right moment before the tournament. Signing him from Gent for £25m in 2020 was a mammoth outlay for Lille and his time in Ligue 1 started glacially. He was close to being dropped after scoring just two goals in 25 games. However, David proved decisive as Lille became shock champions last year, scoring 13 goals, including pivotal winners against PSG. David then rattled home another dozen after the summer break, giving him a better league minutes-per-goal ratio than Cristiano Ronaldo, Mo Salah and Kylian Mbappé in 2021.

However, he started painfully slowly in 2022, scoring just one goal in 18 games and scaring off Europe’s leading clubs after he had signalled his intentions to leave Lille. David’s extended stay in France has, however, seen him return to his best just in time for Qatar, scoring nine goals in 15 games so far this season.

Often an intelligent and precise finisher, David grew up training in the tight spaces of Ottawa’s sports facilities, as youth clubs vied for space during the freezing winter. As a result, his close control and snappy interplay is some of the best in France. His record of 22 goals in 34 caps underlines his importance to Canada.

Perhaps no other player is more fortunate to travel to Qatar than Rennes’ Belgian winger Jérémy Doku. The £25m Rennes paid Anderlecht for the now 20-year-old in 2020 was a club record and, despite fluctuating end product, the prodigiously skilful winger made a late run into Roberto Martínez’s squad for the Euros last summer.

Rennes' Jérémy Doku, seen here against Marseille in September, has been frustrated by injuries.
Rennes’ Jérémy Doku, seen here against Marseille in September, has been frustrated by injuries. Photograph: Daniel Cole/AP

After impressing for Belgium, he was linked with Liverpool and expected to enjoy a breakthrough season. However, a catastrophic run of injuries meant last season was a non-event for Doku. He struggled through a depressingly persistent cycle of injury, recovery and relapse, suffering a new issue just a few weeks after the last, returning only to quickly break down again.

Doku is the league’s most exciting dribbler outside PSG, boasting the ability to present the ball to a defender before having it magically disappear like a sleight-of-hand magician. Doku has been sorely missed during his injuries. However, he has put together three substitute appearances since his last injury and his manager has continued to show confidence in him. Doku has managed to sneak into Belgium’s squad again and the World Cup could be perfectly timed for him.

Few players have made as big an impact in Ligue 1 this season as Rennes midfielder Lovro Majer. The graceful, creative midfielder effortlessly tore many a French team apart last season, most memorably Lyon on his debut. Bearing more than a striking resemblance to countryman Luka Modric, Majer is not the quickest but he is able to drop a shoulder nonchalantly and drift past opponents, orchestrate intricate interplay around the box and unpick deep-sitting defences with his innovative passing. Rennes have reportedly set a €60m asking price after Atlético Madrid showed interest in signing him this summer.

Majer led a riotous Rennes team to fourth place last season as Bruno Génésio’s side scored 82 goals (30 more than fifth-places Nice). Consistency has since become an issue for the 24-year-old, however, and he has often been sacrificed in the name of balance this season by Génésio. Nevertheless, Croatia may have a potential successor to Modric in their squad. Some good performances at the World Cup could re-establish him as Rennes’ creator-in-chief and attract the interest of sporting directors around Europe.

The Croatian is not alone in that regard. Poland’s flying, technical wing-back Przemyslaw Frankowski has produced some of his best form, helping Lens go into the the break second in the Ligue 1 table. Frankowski could be a World Cup breakthrough name. His Lens teammate, Silas Abdul Samed, has also ably replaced Cheick Doucouré – now at Crystal Palace – at the base of midfield and could be key to stabilising weak defensive lines in the Ghana squad.

Meanwhile, Marseille forward Bamba Dieng will be a threat for Senegal. France midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi, Reims’ Japanese attacker Junya Ito and the USA international Timothy Weah, currently playing right-back, have all turned heads in Ligue 1 of late and are set to do the same in Qatar. For all, like Messi, a winter World Cup could be perfectly timed.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


PSG 5-0 Auxerre

Brest 2-1 Troyes

Lille 1-0 Angers

Montpellier 1-1 Reims

Nantes 2-2 Ajaccio

Strasbourg 1-1 Lorient

Monaco 2-3 Marseille

Lens 2-1 Clermont

Rennes 2-1 Toulouse

Lyon 1-1 Nice

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Talking points

Laurent Blanc’s tenure at Lyon continues to underwhelm. They needed a late penalty from Alexandre Lacazete – his ninth goal of the season – to rescue a point at home to a disjointed Nice team on Friday night. He was initially keen to partner Lacazette with fellow striker Moussa Dembélé, but Blanc has already given up on his 3-5-2 solution and shifted to a 4-2-3-1, dropping last season’s top scorer, Dembélé. With Houssem Aouar installed as the creative fulcrum but badly underperforming, and lacking options at centre-back, Blanc has much to do before Ligue 1 returns on 28 December.

Laurent Blanc watches his Lyon team draw 1-1 with Nice.
Laurent Blanc watches his Lyon team draw 1-1 with Nice. Photograph: Laurent Cipriani/AP

Strasbourg’s 1-1 draw with Lorient this weekend means they enter the World Cup-imposed break with just one win in their 15 league games and sit second bottom. Having finished sixth last season, missing out on European football on the final day, Julien Stéphan’s team have struggled for the same ruthless intensity and boisterous physicality that made them both difficult to beat and an effective attacking unit last term. Injuries have been a constant caveat but, with four teams going down, Stéphan is under considerable pressure not to let his tenure fatally lose impetus as it did at Rennes.

Marseille beat Lyon and bounce back from crushing Champions League exit | Ligue 1

Marseille were the hosts but not necessarily the favourites in this Olympico – the nickname for matches between Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais. They started the game four points above Lyon in the Ligue 1 table, but the visitors had been showing some renewed attacking verve under new manager Laurent Blanc, who replaced Peter Bosz last month and enjoyed an uptick in results after bringing in Jérôme Boateng and Houssem Aouar from the cold.

Lyon had looked more solid in their recent wins over Lille and Montpellier, especially against Paulo Fonseca’s attack-minded Lille team. A win at the Vélodrome would have taken them within a point of Marseille, and above Lille on goal difference, putting them within touching distance of the top six before the World Cup, no mean feat given their abject run of results in September.

While Lyon’s form had improved, though, Marseille’s own results had taken a nosedive. Igor Tudor’s side had won just one of their previous nine matches – and that was against a Sporting side who finished the game with nine men. Their confidence must have been sapped even further after their heartbreaking defeat to Spurs in the Champions League in midweek.

Marseille produced an enterprising display and took the lead in the first half, but the night went from bad to worse as Spurs equalised through Clément Lenglet before winning the game in the 95th minute thanks to a goal from Pierre-Emile Højberg. At one point in the evening Marseille were on course to reach the last-16 stage of the Champions League, but by the end of the night they had been knocked out of Europe completely. Given their charitable draw, finishing last in the group was an embarrassment. And, to make matters worse, their league form has suffered while they have been competing on two fronts.

The elimination put pressure on Tudor. The Croatian’s bold decisions to bench Dimitri Payet, Bamba Dieng and Gerson looked more suspect by the minute and, with a dangerous Monaco team to come next weekend, the former Verona boss needed a result against Lyon. L’Équipe’s headline for their match preview put it bluntly: “Maximum Pressure.”

Marseille players react to their elimination from the Champions League.
Marseille players react to their elimination from the Champions League. Photograph: Valerio Pennicino/Uefa/Getty Images

Lyon have had Marseille’s number in recent years, even doing the double over them last year despite finishing well below Marseille’s second place. On the night, Tudor was given a rough welcome by fans but, to his credit, he kept to his principles tactically and personnel-wise.

The match was a scrappy affair, with Samuel Gigot’s goal towards the end of the first half enough to secure all three points for Marseille. There was only one booking, but neither side – urged on by a baying Vélodrome crowd – was willing to give much in the duels. It was a deserved win for the hosts, who moved to within a point of the top three after Rennes could only draw in Lille.

Tudor was quick to say it had been a team effort, while also reminding the media that Marseille have not had the rub of the green lately. “It was an important, special match, especially in a period when we haven’t really got what we deserved,” he said. “We really dominated in the first half. We had a second half where we showed plenty of heart. It was difficult. We had to fight for it. There was a desire to take the three points at all costs – among the starters as well as the players who came on.”

Marseille’s wing-backs, Nuno Tavares and Jonathan Clauss, were both eager to get forward. Clauss is usually the more natural outlet but Tavares – who is on loan from Arsenal – made several fine crosses and added balance to the attack. The player deserving of the most praise, however, was unquestionably Alexis Sánchez.

The club’s decision to sign him in the summer was pilloried by some as he seemed to be on the wane after falling out of favour at Inter. He has, however, become a fulcrum for the team both on and off the pitch, winning the hearts of the Vélodrome faithful, even as most of them pine for Payet’s return to the side. His unending running unsettled a Lyon defence that looked uncomfortable playing in a back four for the first time under Blanc. The 33-year-old showed admirable effort, battling hard to win headers and drag defenders out of position. Like Lionel Messi, Sánchez looked to be in decline last season before adopting a slightly different position and improving this year.

The frustration of Marseille’s elimination from Europe will still sting, but there is plenty of football to play this season domestically in France. With the resolute Tudor and the diligent Sánchez leading the way, Marseille should return to that competition sooner rather than later.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Lorient 1-2 PSG

Clermont 1-1 Montpellier

Nice 1-0 Brest

Reims 1-0 Nantes

Toulouse 0-2 Monaco

Lille 1-1 Rennes

Marseille 1-0 Lyon

Ajaccio 4-2 Strasbourg

Angers 1-2 Lens

Troyes 1-1 Auxerre

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Talking points

Neymar was excellent for PSG in their 2-1 win over Lorient.
Neymar was excellent for PSG in their 2-1 win over Lorient. Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

After winning eight of their first 10 matches this season, Lorient have recently been on a bad run, failing to win any of their last four. Injuries to top scorer Terem Moffi and influential midfielder Laurent Abergel have played their part, with the team also realising that competing with the top teams in the league is a bridge too far. Playing PSG – who were missing Lionel Messi and were coming off a midweek match in the Champions League – at home gave Lorient a chance to right the ship. Neymar had other ideas though, scoring the opener and assisting Danilo Pereira for the second as the visitors won 2-1. The Brazilian has scored or set up a goal in all but one of the league matches he has started this season. If Brazil were not already World Cup favourites, his form makes a convincing argument.

Rennes continued their stunning unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw at Lille. Their goal came from a soft penalty given against Jonathan Bamba on Christopher Wooh. How Bamba was left to mark a player eight inches taller than him is more of the problem but, with Steve Mandanda on form, the Bretons secured an ugly point against another European hopeful, despite the absence of Martin Terrier. The Champions League was just beyond their reach last season but, with an extended break and a deeper squad, could Bruno Génésio drag his side back into Europe’s top competition?

Monaco won 2-0 at Toulouse to move within a point of the top three. Manager Philippe Clement set about improving his team’s defence after their 4-3 defeat to Lille last month and they have now kept two clean sheets in a row. They are moving in the right direction as they prepare to face Marseille on Sunday.

Attack is proving the best form of defence for Lille and Paulo Fonseca | Ligue 1

It’s been an uneven campaign for Lille, but have things turned a corner after their 4-3 win over Monaco on Sunday? The last couple of transfer windows have been tough on the club as they have lost many of the players who helped them win the title in the 2020-21 season. To make matters worse, their marquee signing this summer, Mohamed Bayo, was sent to the doghouse by new manager Paulo Fonseca after he was photographed in a nightclub the night before their game against PSG in late August. Lille were subsequently thrashed 7-1 by PSG, with defeats to Nice and Marseille following. They have since grown into the season, putting together a run of three wins in four matches before facing Monaco this weekend.

Monaco were in fine form themselves, having gone six games unbeaten in the league. Lille have looked vulnerable in defence this season – they kept their first clean sheet of the campaign in their derby win over Lens, their 10th game of the season – and were without the suspended Benjamin André and José Fonte for the visit of Monaco.

Their defensive troubles continued on Sunday, but their attack continues to go from strength to strength. The 4-3 win summed up where their season is going. Only PSG have found the net more often in Ligue 1. Fonseca’s teams have never been well acquainted with the handbrake, but Ligue 1 provides a different challenge to Portugal and Ukraine, where he enjoyed most of his success – at Paços de Ferreira, Braga and Shakhtar Donetsk. His only previous experience in one of the top five leagues, at Roma, was less successful. Despite a considerable outlay before his final season, Fonseca failed to take the club back into the Champions League and was replaced with José Mourinho.

Fonseca’s preference for his teams to keep the ball and play in an open, attacking 4-2-3-1 formation seemed to be an issue for Lille earlier in the season, so the manager experimented with a three-man defence to bring more solidity at the back. It’s only when he went back to doing what he does best, doubling down on an attacking style, that Lille found their feet. In recent weeks they have been winning games by playing fearlessly – only Lyon and PSG have had more possession in France this season.

Speaking after the win over Monaco, Fonseca was unequivocal in his praise for his players: “I think we deserved to win. We played very well. Even when we conceded goals, the team played with a lot of ambition. We scored four goals, but we could have scored more. We made mistakes, but the important thing was how we reacted. I have a lot of confidence in the team.”

Playing in the Champions League last season stretched Lille’s limited squad but the absence of European football this time around has helped Fonseca, whose side have now won four of their last five matches. Their dealings in the transfer market – aside from Bayo – have also worked out brilliantly. Bayo is not yet back in Fonseca’s good graces, but their other acquisitions have looked comfortable in the manager’s 4-2-3-1.

Adam Ounas has supplanted Edon Zhegrova on the right, lending an air of technical verve and unpredictability to the team’s attack. Defender Bafodé Diakité is not as accomplished going forward as his predecessor, Zeki Çelik, but he has been solid. Brazilian left-back Ismaily, who joined from Shakhtar Donetsk – where he played under Fonseca for three seasons – took a little bit of time to acclimatise to the faster pace in France, but he looks like the answer to a position that has been a problem for Lille since Reinildo moved to Atlético Madrid in January. In midfield, André Gomes has added some class, and the veteran Jonas Martin is a consummate professional who is an ideal presence in the dressing room.

The real gem of the window, though, has been Rémy Cabella. He moved to Krasnodar in Russia three years ago and started brilliantly before being struck down by a cruciate injury. He returned to Ligue 1 with Montpellier last season but was poor. He now looks back to his effervescent best, with three goals – including a brace against Monaco – and four assists in his last six appearances.

It’s not just the older players who are looking sharp under Fonseca. Jonathan David cut a frustrated figure in the second half of last season, scoring just three times after December. But he has been reinvigorated by the attacking talent around him and is again thriving. Only Kylian Mbappé has scored more goals in Ligue 1 this season.

English youngster Angel Gomes, who was an afterthought under previous manager Jocelyn Gourvennec, has shone as a central midfielder. His workrate and passing ability help the Lille midfield to retain the ball and build attacks patiently, key elements in Fonseca’s tactical approach.

While Gomes and David have been the clearest beneficiaries of Fonseca’s tactical revolution, the manager also deserves credit for showing faith in youngster Lucas Chevalier. The academy product did not have his best day on Sunday against Monaco, but he has been a marked improvement on Léo Jardim this season and was arguably man of the match in Lille’s win over Lens in the Derby du Nord earlier this month.

As other clubs have lost patience with their managers and opted for a more conservative approach, Lille are reaping the benefits from – as Fonseca puts it – “playing the type of match the supporters need”. They are now just one point off the European places. Their matches against Lyon and Rennes in the next few weeks will be stern tests, but a sustained tilt at the top five looks increasingly likely.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Angers 1-2 Rennes

Clermont 1-3 Brest

Reims 2-1 Auxerre

Toulouse 2-2 Strasbourg

Troyes 2-2 Lorient

Nice 1-1 Nantes

Lille 4-3 Monaco

Montpellier 1-2 Lyon

Marseille 0-1 Lens

Ajaccio 0-3 PSG

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Talking points

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring for Lyon against Montpellier.
Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring for Lyon against Montpellier. Photograph: Sylvain Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

Lyon picked up their first win since 3 September, beating Montpellier 2-1 on Saturday thanks to an Alexandre Lacazette strike in the fifth minute of added time. In a match marred by red cards for both sides, it was only an impressive display from Montpellier goalkeeper Bingourou Kamara – who had come for the injured Jonas Omlin – that stopped Lyon from winning by a more comfortable margin. Lacazette was again imperious, having scored a brace last week against Rennes. Houssem Aouar, who scored the opening goal – his first this season – was also brilliant, having returned from an ankle injury. Aouar is likely to leave the club at the end of the season, but in the meantime he looks set to have the sort of creative impact the team has lacked since the departure of Lucas Paquetá.

Reims also had their own new-manager bounce, beating Auxerre 2-1 thanks to goals from Junya Ito and Folarin Balogun. Between them, they have scored 11 of their team’s 14 goals this season. Most of those goals came as a product of former manager Óscar García’s counterattacking style, however, the team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 against Auxerre, dominating the ball with Arber Zeneli pulling the strings from the left. Granted, Auxerre are not the strongest opposition – and the absences of Marshall Munetsi and Andreaw Gravillon also may have played a role in the tactical switch – but Reims offered as much going forward as they have all season without sacrificing solidity.

Finally, Rennes kept up their stunning form, beating Angers 2-1 thanks to a last-minute penalty from Lovro Majer. Angers are not the sternest opposition, but Rennes are now 12 matches unbeaten across all competitions. A big test looms against Lille in a fortnight’s time, but Bruno Génésio’s side continue to look like Champions League contenders.

Ligue 1 table

Sacking season hits Ligue 1 as four managers lose their jobs in a week | Ligue 1

Lyon’s decision to sack Peter Bosz has generated the most headlines in France, but three other Ligue 1 clubs have changed managers in the last week. The merry-go-round is in full swing, but none of the four clubs enjoyed much of a new-manager bounce at the weekend.

Granted, Laurent Blanc’s debut as Lyon manager, away to Rennes, was never going to be easy and it became more difficult when Corentin Tolisso picked up an injury in the first half that will likely keep him out until after the World Cup. Blanc’s rejigged 3-4-1-2 formation looked solid going forward, but the team struggled at the back, with Sinaly Diomandé and Jérôme Boateng looking far from match fit, the German playing his first match in five months. Houssem Aouar also returned to the team, having been an afterthought for Bosz.

The hope for Lyon is that, given their individual talent and the chance they have to refocus during the World Cup – only Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi and Argentina full-back Nicolás Tagliafico are likely to be away – they will be back in the mix for a European place sooner rather than later.

Michel der Zakarian was the next to go, losing his job at Brest after a run of just one win in 10 games left them bottom of the table. Der Zakarian had been hamstrung by injuries to Steve Mounié and Jérémy Le Douaron, and a lack of form from Franck Honorat, but his dismissal made sense. His team at Montpellier had played some fantastic football, but he did not achieve the same at Brest this season.

Brest finished 11th last season and did not lose any major players in the summer yet they looked dour this season, like his Nantes sides of last decade, with Islam Slimani a lumbering targetman. Their only win was against Angers, who were down to 10 men and may be the only team in the league who have shown less quality than Brest this season. Der Zakarian had to go, especially given the small margin for error this season with four teams facing the drop.

Bruno Grougi, a club legend with more than 300 appearances, has taken over. His first match ended in a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a Nantes side who have hardly been at the races themselves. Honorat spoke after the match about feeling liberated and more comfortable in a 4-3-3, but Brest now have the worst goal difference in the league and are still four points from safety. Grougi’s inexperience makes him a big gamble, even if he seems to be far more of a players’ manager than the steely Der Zakarian.

Auxerre parted ways with Jean-Marc Furlan after a run of six games without a win. They did little in the summer transfer window and still look like a Ligue 2 side, especially in defence. Their goalkeeper, Benoît Costil, has been their best player this season, which tells the story of their campaign. Furlan hardly helped his cause by showing the middle finger to rival fans after he was sent off during Auxerre’s defeat to Clermont last weekend. More importantly, his style of play – while efficient in the second tier last season – was simply beyond the players at his disposal in the top flight, something that became more apparent with each passing week.

Nuno Da Costa celebrates after scoring for Auxerre in the 1-1 draw with Nice.
Nuno Da Costa celebrates after scoring for Auxerre in the 1-1 draw with Nice. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Auxerre also made an interesting choice of manager, bringing in Michel Padovani. A long-time assistant at clubs such as Troyes and Bastia, he knows his team will need to adopt a hammer-and-tongs style to progress up the table. That was on full display when Nice visited on Sunday, the return of Julien Jeanvier helping the hosts to earn a deserved 1-1 draw. Sterner challenges will come, but Padovani seems to know how to get the best from this limited squad.

Finally, a word for Óscar Garcia, who was sacked by Reims last week. He struggled with a raft of injuries (Thomas Foket, Azor Matuswia), his goalkeeper Patrick Pentz looking like a fish out of water following his summer arrival, and also unimaginably poor discipline, with six red cards. Another two followed on Sunday against Lorient, as Reims earned a vital point, but it remains to be seen if Garcia’s replacement, the young Belgian manager William Still, has anything approaching his tactical nous.

The Spaniard’s attempt to play possession-based football at Saint-Étienne fell flat, but his system made sense for Reims, allowing the team to remain solid defensively with Junya Ito and Folarin Balogun looking dangerous on the counter. The outlay on Ito was a serious statement of intent from the board and their desire for better performances on the back of a club-record arrival is understandable. But Garcia’s sacking could look the worst of the four come the end of the season.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Toulouse 3-2 Angers

Auxerre 1-1 Nice

Nantes 4-1 Brest

Rennes 3-2 Lyon

Troyes 1-1 Ajaccio

Monaco 1-1 Clermont

PSG 1-0 Marseille

Lorient 0-0 Reims

Lens 1-0 Montpellier

Strasbourg 0-3 Lille 

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Talking points

PSG beat Marseille 1-0 on Sunday to go three points clear at the top of Ligue 1.
PSG beat Marseille 1-0 on Sunday to go three points clear at the top of Ligue 1. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Another Classique, another PSG win. Their 1-0 victory at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night was their 10th in 12 matches against Marseille. Since the start of the QSI era, PSG have lost just twice to their southern counterparts. Igor Tudor has done far better than expected this season, both domestically and in Europe, but the gap in finances between PSG and the rest of the league remains as wide as ever.

That being said, the competition below PSG looks mouth-watering. Second-placed Lorient will be gutted to have only drawn against 10-man Reims. Lens took full advantage by beating Montpellier and are now up to third, a point above Marseille, with in-form Rennes hot on their heels. A sustained title race looks unlikely, but there is still plenty of intrigue and quality football in France this season.

Some of that quality was on display as Rennes beat Lyon 3-2 on Sunday afternoon thanks to a goal from Amine Gouiri and a brace from Martin Terrier. It was a disappointing result for Laurent Blanc in his first game as Lyon manager. Rennes have struggled at times to avoid the nearly men label, especially given their largesse when compared to much of the rest of the league. But even with Warmed Omari and Baptiste Santamaria missing, they once again seem to be clicking into gear, with the departure of Gaëtan Laborde now balanced tactically with Arnaud Kalimuendo fit.

Laurent Blanc will need all of his defensive nous to succeed at Lyon | Ligue 1

Despite being known as a stoic and intelligent centre-back, Laurent Blanc is Montpellier’s all-time top goalscorer. After graduating from the club’s youth system as a midfielder, Blanc scored 84 goals for the club between 1983 and 1991. Blanc retreated into defence as his career progressed, winning trophies for Auxerre, Barcelona, Manchester United and the France national team.

Now Blanc the coach has been appointed by Lyon to bring about a defensive revolution at the club. Blanc’s task is to add solidity to an attacking approach that was haphazardly installed by Peter Bosz, the man he replaces. Blanc is a calming influence, but repeating the defensive transition he achieved during his playing days will be a difficult task.

Bosz’s style never truly fit Lyon, or Ligue 1. His previous successes with Ajax and, briefly, Bayer Leverkusen were achieved in more entropic divisions. Despite a recent tactical revolution, Ligue 1 remains a physical league full of powerful, well drilled defences and Lyon’s attacking approach under Bosz was easily exposed by more results-oriented teams.

Finding the right balance was a constant concern. Bosz tended to stick to his principles stubbornly, which gave the team a soft centre. There were gaps in midfield; the team often lacked a true holding player; and their defensive lines were eagerly exploited by less talented teams who were able to counter swiftly. Although Ligue 1 is moving away from the slow, defensive attitudes that were popular a decade ago, compact teams still know how to defend against stronger foes and Lyon regularly struggled to overwhelm opponents.

Lyon scored an impressive 66 goals last season – only Rennes and PSG scored more – however they also conceded 51, more than any other team in the top half of the table, slumping to a borderline-disastrous eighth-place finish, meaning no European football. Bosz was lucky to keep his job in the summer but was helped by a positive end to the season. There were signs that his ideas were finally starting to coalesce, but their 3-0 win at an off-colour Marseille and an intense 2-0 victory over Nice proved to be unrepresentative.

Lyon began the season brightly, winning four of their first five league games. However, they were exposed once they faced the league’s tougher opponents and quickly went on a four-game losing streak. This season’s surprise package, Lorient, embarrassed Lyon 3-1 in early September before PSG and Lens edged to 1-0 wins either side of a defeat to Monaco. Their 1-1 draw at home to newly promoted Toulouse on Friday night was Bosz’s final game.

Rarely did Bosz’s philosophy and Lyon’s performances match. After the Lorient defeat, the frustrated manager complained: “We defended very badly and played very badly with the ball. At half-time, I would have liked to change eight players.” A poor first half against Troyes prompted him to complain: “We can’t go on like this. We were late every time, badly placed on the pitch, we lost balls too easily.”

The players were not always clear about what their manager wanted. Alexandre Lacazette, the captain, reportedly confronted Bosz earlier this year about the team’s tactics as he and his teammates supposedly struggled to understand the Dutchman’s approach.

Whereas Bosz’s reign felt experimental, Blanc’s appointment is a traditional Lyon move under president Jean-Michel Aulas, in that he’s French (Bosz was only Lyon’s third foreign coach) and, in theory, a safe pair of hands. The situation mirrors what happened three years ago at the club, when Lyon appointed Rudi Garcia after the decision to appoint the untested Sylvinho – who was brought in by sporting director and fellow Brazilian Juninho – backfired.

Garcia took over in October 2019 and was charged with stabilising the club and taking them back into Europe. Lyon initially improved under Garcia, who led them to a Champions League semi-final but was moved on when the club only finished fourth in the 2020-21 season, despite playing the best football in France for much of the campaign.

Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc hold the World Cup in 1998
Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc hold the World Cup in 1998. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

Blanc has had a mixed managerial career. Having memorably won Ligue 1 with Bordeaux in 2009, his two years in charge of the France team only offered an underwhelming Euro 2012 quarter-final exit to Spain. However, his three-year reign PSG has improved in hindsight, especially compared to the Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino eras. Both had less success with stronger squads and played less attractive football than Blanc, who won Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue in all three of his seasons, and twice lifted the Coupe de France.

Stylistically, Blanc is a typical 21st-century French coach: pragmatic and adaptable but with a hint of finesse. His peers include Garcia, Christophe Galtier (who is now coaching PSG), René Girard (who led Montpellier to the 2012 title) and Didier Deschamps, who succeeded him as coach of the national team. However, the recent tactical revolution in Ligue 1 – led by young, dynamic coaches such as Franck Haise, who continues to challenge for Europe at Lens; Régis Le Bris, whose Lorient side sit just a point behind PSG; and Julien Stéphan, who led Strasbourg to sixth last season after winning the Cup at Rennes – has changed much.

Four years out of the game and two coaching Al-Rayyan in Qatar will have done little to prepare Blanc for this new Ligue 1, which is producing an average of 3.09 goals per game, the joint-most of Europe’s top five leagues. Teams that once played pragmatically and parked the bus now press and break lines, employing a more vertical style. In Blanc’s last season at PSG, there were just 2.53 goals per game in Ligue 1, the least in the big five leagues.

Although French football may have moved on, Blanc has much to work with at Lyon. Only PSG and Monaco boast more impressive squads. The returns of Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso are major coups and the club’s academy remains as prolific as ever. Mobile midfielder Maxence Caqueret, graceful centre-back Castello Lukeba, and Malo Gusto, a Trent Alexander-Arnold-esque right-back, are all leading young players in their positions. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, left-back Nicolás Tagliafico, and forwards Moussa Dembélé and Karl Toko-Ekambi are all reliable performers who ought to be playing in the Champions League.

Blanc will quickly rein in Bosz’s naivety, solidify the midfield and, with a strong squad unburdened by Europe, challenge for the top three in the league. But realising the club’s longer-term aims of winning trophies while being competitive in Europe every season – which Aulas is desperate to see at his beloved Lyon – will be tricky. The club could end up simply replicating Garcia’s reign.

Blanc’s transition towards his own goal during his playing days catapulted him into European football’s elite, but he may not be able to achieve the same shift at Lyon in the long term and in a much-changed French footballing landscape.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Montpellier 0-2 Monaco

Angers 2-3 Strasbourg

Brest 1-2 Lorient

Clermont 2-1 Auxerre
Nice 3-2 Troyes

Rennes 3-0 Nantes
Lille 1-0 Lens

Marseille 1-2 Ajaccio

Reims 0-0 PSG

Lyon 1-1 Toulouse 

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Talking points

Lorient players celebrate after beating Brest
Lorient players celebrate after beating Brest. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

After Marseille’s shock 2-1 defeat at home to struggling Ajaccio, Lorient are now PSG’s closest challengers at the top of the table. Lorient have already accrued 69% of last season’s points tally in just 10 games. They were tipped for relegation, but rookie coach Régis Le Bris has re-energised powerful striker Terem Moffi – who scored twice in Sunday’s win at Brest – got the best from the talented but slight creator Enzo Le Fée, and helped 20-year-old winger Dango Ouattara become Ligue 1’s breakout young player. After six wins in a row, beating Lyon, Lille and Rennes already, Lorient show no signs of slowing down.

PSG are undefeated this season but, after successive draws with Benfica and Reims, Galtier is reportedly concerned about his team’s form and the effectiveness of the 3-4-3 set-up instigated by sporting director Luís Campos. Despite some riotous early season form, especially from Neymar and more recently Lionel Messi, PSG look less fluid now that opponents have learned how to combat the new system. Galtier is concerned that moving to a 4-3-3 would destabilise his attackers, who are thriving individually in a narrower set-up, by demanding more from them defensively. However, if their results do not improve, his hand may be forced.