Monaco push PSG off top spot

Ti­tle tri­umph puts an end to the do­mes­tic dom­i­nance of the wealthy cap­i­tal club

World Soccer - - Euro Season Review -

French foot­ball is bask­ing in the warm af­ter­glow of a sea­son where two sig­nif­i­cant things hap­pened: the Paris Saint-Ger­main hege­mony fi­nally came to an end, af­ter four sea­sons of the cap­i­tal city club run­ning away with the Ligue 1 ti­tle; and the per­for­mances of Monaco and Lyon, in reach­ing the semi-fi­nals of the Cham­pi­ons League and Europa League re­spec­tively, showed that the do­mes­tic game is in far bet­ter gen­eral health than it has been for a long time.

PSG’s Europe-ob­sessed Qatari own­ers got rid of Lau­rent Blanc at the end of last term be­cause they had limped out of the Cham­pi­ons League to a not-par­tic­u­larly strong Manch­ester City. This was de­spite the for­mer na­tional coach pre­sid­ing over a do­mes­tic clean sweep. But his re­place­ment, Unai Emery, has per­formed worse than Blanc.

Al­though he led the cap­i­tal club to a dou­ble tro­phy haul of League Cup (4-1 against Monaco) and French Cup (1-0 against Angers), the Spa­niard failed to es­tab­lish PSG on the Euro­pean stage.

Emery was pow­er­less to stop Barcelona over­turn­ing a 4-0 deficit in Paris in Fe­bru­ary as PSG buck­led in the re­turn and were beaten 6-1, go­ing out in the round of 16 in hu­mil­i­at­ing fash­ion, hav­ing made the quar­ter-fi­nals the pre­vi­ous year.

Do­mes­ti­cally, things were even worse for a club with lofty am­bi­tions. Hav­ing

Neu­trals were de­lighted to wit­ness the emer­gence of Monaco as cham­pi­ons – and ar­guably the most ex­cit­ing side in Europe

won the 2016 Ligue 1 ti­tle by a whopping 31 points, PSG could only fin­ish sec­ond, eight points adrift of Monaco, and with nine points fewer than the 96 they achieved in the pre­vi­ous cam­paign.

Change is in the air, al­though Emery’s job looks safe af­ter he re­ceived the “200 per cent” back­ing of club pres­i­dent Nasser Al Khe­laifi. How­ever, Pa­trick Kluiv­ert’s role as di­rec­tor of foot­ball ap­pears un­der threat as PSG look to su­per­charge their re­cruit­ment once again – fol­low­ing a sea­son in which the loss of Swedish striker Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic was keenly felt – and for­mer Porto man An­tero Hen­rique was ap­pointed sport­ing di­rec­tor at the end of the cam­paign.

But while PSG sup­port­ers lick their wounds, neu­trals all over the coun­try were de­lighted to wit­ness the emer­gence of Monaco as de­served French cham­pi­ons and ar­guably the most ex­cit­ing side in Europe. Un­der Por­tuguese coach Leonardo Jardim the

Prin­ci­pal­ity out­fit were a joy to watch all cam­paign and rightly fin­ished up as cham­pi­ons. The sta­tis­tics are im­pres­sive. Monaco earned 95 points, los­ing just three matches, and their hunger for goals saw them score an in­cred­i­ble 107 times in their 38 league games and end up with a goal dif­fer­ence of plus 76.

Of course, most of the head­lines were made by 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe, whose prodi­gious tal­ent was there for all to see. His haul of 15 league goals in just 29 matches – and none from the penalty spot – was fan­tas­tic for a young­ster who has ex­cited all of Europe. And Mbappe’s ma­ture per­for­mances in help­ing Monaco to the semi-fi­nals of the Cham­pi­ons League, with five goals in eight matches, has made him one of the hottest prop­er­ties in Europe right now.

Monaco had many other in­di­vid­ual suc­cess sto­ries though, and per­haps none was more of a fairy tale than that of Radamel Fal­cao. The 31-year-old Colom­bian looked all washed up when he came back to France af­ter a dis­as­trous loan spell in Eng­land, with Manch­ester United and Chelsea. But he then con­founded all his crit­ics, scor­ing an im­pres­sive 30 goals in 42 matches and pro­vid­ing a wise old head on the pitch for a vi­brant young Monaco team.

Thomas Le­mar, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakoyoko, Fabinho, Kamil Glik and Je­mer­son all per­formed ad­mirably in an en­ter­tain­ing team, and nat­u­rally the big fear for Monaco is that big­ger out­fits will come knock­ing. Monaco’s best player of the sea­son, the Por­tuguese mid­fielder Bernardo Silva, has al­ready been signed by Manch­ester City and it would be ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble if no­body else left. Un­for­tu­nately, the like­li­hood is this team will now break up and we’ll never know just how good they could have be­come.

Nice look less likely to lose all their key as­sets, but no doubt en­vi­ous eyes will still be cast at mid­field­ers Jean-Michael Seri and Wy­lan Cy­prien, as well as for­ward Alas­sane Plea, who were all key to the south-coast side’s im­pres­sive third-place fin­ish. With­out ever be­ing as free-flow­ing as Monaco, Nice were none­the­less hard to beat un­der Swiss coach Lu­cien Favre, and any side that fea­tures Mario Balotelli is go­ing to catch the eye from time to time. De­spite the odd dis­ci­plinary is­sue, the Ital­ian scored 15 league goals to make his sign­ing look like good busi­ness and, over­all, Balotelli seemed to en­joy life in France. If he re­mains at Nice next sea­son he’ll par­tic­i­pate in the Cham­pi­ons League third qual­i­fy­ing round.

Lyon’s fourth place means Bruno Ge­n­e­sio’s side qual­ify di­rectly for the Europa League, al­though it looks highly likely that they will go into that cam­paign with­out striker Alexan­dre La­cazette’s im­pres­sive fire­power. The 26-year-old has only ever played for one club and weighed in with an­other 28 league goals this sea­son, to take his Ligue 1 tally to

PSG and Monaco may not have it all their own way when it comes to at­tract­ing the best tal­ent to France next sea­son

100. But the French in­ter­na­tional has dropped the big­gest hint yet that it’s time to move on and Atletico Madrid seems his most likely des­ti­na­tion.

Marseille also grabbed an au­to­matic Europa League slot, al­beit for the third qual­i­fy­ing round. This may not seem like much to shout about for the French giants, but given they were lan­guish­ing in 12th place when Rudi Gar­cia took over from Franck Passi in Oc­to­ber, they will con­sider it a de­cent re­turn.

Gar­cia’s team fin­ished the sea­son un­beaten in their last 11 games and thrashed Saint-Etienne 4-0 on the last day. With funds now be­ing pumped in by owner Frank McCourt, Marseille will surely be chal­leng­ing next sea­son.

Not so long ago Lille were one of the shin­ing lights of Ligue 1 but times have been tougher lately for Les Dogues. Af­ter fin­ish­ing an unin­spir­ing 11th this term, the club have hired Marcelo Bielsa, who lasted just two days as Lazio boss in July of last year. Hav­ing been taken over by busi­ness­man Ger­ard Lopez in early 2017, Lille should have money to spend, so PSG and Monaco may not have it all their own way when it comes to at­tract­ing the best tal­ent to France next sea­son.

At the bot­tom, Nancy and Bas­tia were rel­e­gated. Not many will be sad to see the back of the lat­ter out­fit af­ter the dis­grace­ful scenes at their home game against Lyon in April, when op­po­si­tion play­ers were at­tacked by home fans, re­sult­ing in the match be­ing aban­doned.

Lori­ent lost over two legs in the rel­e­ga­tion play-off and are re­placed by Troyes, who fin­ished third in Ligue 2. Strasbourg go up as Ligue 2 cham­pi­ons, af­ter hold­ing off Amiens, who are also pro­moted, by a sin­gle point.

Sil­ver...Edin­son Ca­vani of Paris Saint-Ger­main with the French Cup

Sale...Alexan­dre La­cazette looks set to leave Lyon

Ap­ Rudi Gar­cia and his team ac­knowl­edge Marseille’s fans

Team­work...Mario Balotelli helps Nice to clear a cor­ner

Re­strained...Lyon goal­keeper An­thony Lopes is held back by Bas­tia se­cu­rity staff

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