Three-horse race in prospect

After reigning supreme for seven seasons, Lyon eventually relinquished their crown last season and finished behind Bordeaux and Marseille. Given the hive of summer transfer activity in Ligue 1, the competition's return to action tomorrow has been eagerly anticipated to say the least.

Encouragingly, French clubs have largely been able to prevent an exodus of their leading players to England, Italy and Spain for the first time in a number of years, as well as importing a host of experienced performers sure to have a positive impact on the standard of play.

The champions
Bordeaux have laid the foundations for a successful defence of their crown by keeping hold of the backbone of their squad, including France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff. For Laurent Blanc, who begins his third campaign as a top-flight coach looking to build on runners-up and first-placed finishes in 2007/08 and 2008/09 respectively, progression from the group stage of the UEFA Champions League would represent a notable success.

Though not the kind of club to lavish vast sums on new faces, Bordeaux have purchased wisely in the shape of goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso and Czech Republic midfielder Jaroslav Plasil. This policy of evolution rather than revolution could prove effective, particularly in the championship's opening stages, with pre-season friendlies having shown that Les Girondins' machinery is already running smoothly.

The challengers
Looking to reclaim their title, Lyon first bade farewell to two of their biggest names, with Brazilian set-piece wizard Juninho joining Qatar's Al Gharrafa and lethal striker Karim Benzema moving to Real Madrid. Following their departures, coach Claude Puel spent around €70m on reinforcements, including another Brazilian free-kick specialist in the form of Lille's Michel Bastos and imposing Saint-Etienne forward Bafetimbi Gomis.

Also boosting the Lyon squad are flying left-back Aly Cissokho, who went from Gueugnon reserves to gracing the Champions League with Porto in less than three years, and another member of the Portuguese giants' recent title-winners, prolific Argentinian attacker Lisandro Lopez.

Marseille have endured a topsy-turvy close season. Though it started steadily with the appointment of Didier Deschamps, the new man in charge has witnessed the exit of club president Pape Diouf followed three weeks later by the passing of main shareholder Robert Louis-Dreyfus. Despite the upheaval, L'OM have been able to sign players of the calibre of Lucho Gonzalez (Porto), Fernando Morientes (Valencia) and Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid), as well as proven domestic performers such as Cameroon's Stephane M'bia (Rennes), Fabrice Abriel (Lorient) and Souleymane Diawara (Bordeaux). Could this be the season Marseille finally win the league title for the first time since 1993?

The outsiders
Behind this trio we find a clutch of seasoned dark horses, with Paris Saint-Germain appearing best-placed to challenge for a podium berth. Under new coach Antoine Kombouare, PSG have added experienced keeper Gregory Coupet and forward Mevlut Erding, from Atletico Madrid and Sochaux respectively, to an already strong squad, with much expected of fellow frontrunner Guillaume Hoarau, who took Ligue 1 by storm last season.

Rennes, always there or thereabouts without yet passing the post first, will expect to be a force next season under new coach Frederic Antonetti, while Toulouse supporters are desperate for the transfer window to close without the departure of last season's divisional top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac. It remains to be seen, however, how Lille deal will with the loss of driving force Michel Bastos, while new Monaco coach Guy Lacombe, charged with bringing a more attacking style to the 2004 Champions League finalists, also has a challenge on his hands.

Players to watch
Expectation levels continue to build surrounding an up-and-coming crop of youngsters which includes Eden Hazard (Lille), Miralem Pjanic (Lyon) and Loic Remy (Nice). Another emerging gem under the microscope will be Gourcuff, under pressure to help Bordeaux retain their league crown.

Also sure to catch the eye is the strategic tussle between Blanc and Deschamps, who were team-mates in France's triumphant 1998 FIFA World Cup™ campaign and have shown quite different footballing philosophies in their relatively short careers at the reins. Adding extra spice is that both men are seen as potential France coaches, with the post expected to be vacant after South Africa 2010.

Have your say
Will Didier Deschamps be able to match tactical wits with Laurent Blanc? Can Bordeaux retain the title? Which club is most likely to spring a surprise this season? Is Lisandro Lopez the right man to make Lyon fans forget Karim Benzema? Click on 'Add your comment' to make your opinions known.