Having dominated Ligue 1 for the past two years, Paris Saint-Germain will once again assume the role of favourites for the 2014/15 French title.
To maximise their chances of defending their crown, the club’s Qatari owners have dug deep to bring in defensive reinforcements, such as Brazilian centre-back David Luiz and Ivorian right-back Serge Aurier, one of the revelations of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
While hopeful of topping the table again, the capital outfit are also keen to make a significant impact on the UEFA Champions League, and for that they will require their Swedish star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to keep shining brightly. Ably supported by his Uruguayan strike partner, Edinson Cavani, the two-time leading goalscorer in Ligue 1 will no doubt provide his adoring fans with yet more spectacular moments from his endless box of tricks.
Among the chasing pack, Monaco are likely to be the best equipped to give the Parisians a run for their money, while Marseille, Lille, Lyon and Saint-Etienne will all fancy their chances of securing European football.
Runners-up to PSG in May, Monaco appear to have the best chance of denying Laurent Blanc’s men a third successive league triumph. The recent loss of Colombian livewire James Rodriguez is offset by the retention of his compatriot Radamel Falcao, anxious to make up for several months spent on the sidelines through injury. In addition, Les Rouges et Blancs are expected to add to their squad before the transfer window closes.
“Although PSG are big favourites to win Ligue 1, that shouldn’t limit our club’s sense of ambition,” said Leonardo Jardim, the Portuguese coach who has replaced Claudio Ranieri at the helm of the principality outfit.
Marseille also have a new man in charge, placing their trust in Marcelo Bielsa to bring success back to a team that failed to get its hands on silverware during the previous campaign. The wily Argentinian looks set to rely heavily on the trio of young starlets – Florian Thauvin, Giannelli Imbula and Benjamin Mendy – that were recruited last summer but have not yet fully lived up to expectations.
Also at his disposal will be winger Romain Alessandrini, newly acquired from Rennes, and promising forward Michy Batshuayi, but not French international Mathieu Valbuena, who has just signed a three-year contract with Dynamo Moscow.
For Lille, the focus is on stability. Les Dogues, who finished third last season, have performed consistently well in Ligue 1 over the past few years. With a practically unchanged squad, their principal challenge will be dealing with an increased number of games, taking into account their participation in European competition this term.
An additional mid-season obstacle awaits the northerners in the shape of the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which will doubtless deprive them of a handful of crucial players, including Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria), Salomon Kalou (Côte d'Ivoire), Pape Souare and Idrissa Gueye (both Senegal).
Fourth last time around, Saint-Etienne will attempt to continue along the upward trajectory that has previously seen them finish tenth in 2011, seventh in 2012 and fifth in 2013, a year during which they also lifted the French League Cup, but they will also have to combat the pressures associated with a European campaign.
Their great rivals and neighbours, Lyon, have been gradually moving in the opposite direction in recent years, but a team containing high-quality players such as Yohann Gourcuff and Alexandre Lacazette can never be discounted entirely.
Players to watch
Overshadowed by stars like Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Luiz and Thiago Silva, a number of PSG’s talented youth academy graduates are being tipped to establish themselves in the starting XI, among them midfield man Adrien Rabiot and striker Hervin Ongenda.
Monaco, meanwhile, may turn to their own contingent of highly-rated youngsters this season, the most promising of which include attacker Anthony Martial, left-back Layvin Kurzawa and defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, a high-profile purchase from Rennes in July.
Scorer of Belgium’s winning goal against Russia at Brazil 2014, pacey Belgian front man Divock Origi has been loaned back to Lille by Liverpool after signing for the Reds during the summer. If he can strike up a solid understanding with 19-year-old Portuguese playmaker Marco Lopes, himself on loan from Manchester City, the pair have the potential to make waves in French football this term.
Saint-Etienne have also gone down the loanee route, acquiring the goalscoring services of Dutchman Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Norwich City.
Judging by his confident pre-season performances, the aforementioned Michy Batshuayi could be one of Marseille’s key men during the 2014/15 campaign. The 22-year-old Belgian, transferred from Standard Liege in June, has already hit the back of the net six times in friendly matches.
One forward who will no longer appear on the scoresheet for L’OM is Jordan Ayew, despite hitting a rich vein of form for Sochaux during a six-month loan spell last season. The Ghanaian marksman has put pen to paper with Breton side Lorient, where his striking partnership with Cameroon international Vincent Aboubakar should generate a significant number of goals.
Elsewhere, fans of Rennes will be hoping Swedish attacker Ola Toivonen, who bagged seven goals in 15 league encounters following his arrival in January, can continue where he left off.
Finally, Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette and Montpelier’s Benjamin Stambouli, both on the fringes of the French national side, should also feature heavily in Ligue 1 this season. The same applies to up-and-coming goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, the hero of the penalty shoot-out that saw France claim the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2013, who has been sent out on loan to Bastia by PSG.