Lyon eyeing eight in a row
The coach and the players may have changed over the years, but for the past seven seasons Lyon have treated the Ligue 1 title as their own personal property. The bookmakers' favourites to collect a remarkable eighth successive crown, Les Gones can expect a fierce challenge from the assembled chasing pack.
Heading this group of hopefuls are Bordeaux and Marseille, France's two other UEFA Champions League representatives, both of who appear to have strengthened wisely in a bid to end Lyon's hegemony and make strides in Europe. As far as potential surprise packages are concerned, Michel Platini's former club Nancy will be keen to underline the progress made last campaign, while Paris Saint-Germain have put their faith in experience in a bid to avoid a repeat of recent relegation dogfights.
Flying in the face of the accepted wisdom of never changing a winning team, OL President Jean-Michel Aulas moved swiftly to axe double-winning coach Alain Perrin in favour of bringing in Claude Puel from Lille. The latter, a fierce believer in the importance of the squad over the individual, signalled his intentions early on by allowing wing-wizard Hatem Ben Arfa, judged not enough of a team player, to move to Marseille. Another fixture of the club's success, in the shape of keeper Gregory Coupet, has packed his bags and joined Spanish big-spenders Atletico Madrid. His replacement is up-and-coming custodian Hugo Lloris, signed from Nice.
Fellow new arrivals are the doughty defender John Mensah, tireless midfield ball-winner Jean II Makoun, promising young winger Miralem Pjanic and forward Frederic Piquionne, Les Gones thus strengthening their already formidable spine. And having kept hold of striking prodigy Karim Benzema, Lyon look in good shape to successfully defend their domestic title, despite an early slip-up against Bordeaux in the Champions Trophy.
Headed by their charismatic coach Laurent Blanc, as elegant and exacting off the pitch as he was on it, Bordeaux are more ambitious than ever before. Le Président has kept the core of his Ligue 1 runners-up squad intact, while ensuring he has adequate cover for every position.
After playmaker Johan Micoud decided to hang up his boots, Blanc moved to tie up a loan deal for AC Milan's French U-21 international Yoann Gourcuff. The new creator-in-chief will be expected to supply the ammunition for Les Girondins' exciting forward line, which should be led by former River Plate striker Fernando Cavenaghi.
Marseille, meanwhile, have compensated for the loss of home-grown star Samir Nasri to London giants Arsenal by poaching Ben Arfa from their championship rivals. The flying winger's arrival should keep the Stade Velodrome faithful on their edge of their seats; particularly as part of coach Eric Gerets' favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Allied to further notable additions in Ivorian attacker Bakary Kone and Brazilian defender Vitorino Hilton, and Marseille will hope they have what it takes to build on last season's third place and knock Lyon off their perch.
Also keen to throw their hat into the ring are Saint-Etienne, who return the European stage after a 26-year absence, and Nancy, who will need to overcome the loss of key men Kim and Sebastien Puygrenier. Rennes appear well-placed to mount a challenge, Paris Saint-Germain's injection of old blood should serve them well, and lesser lights Le Mans, Nice and Lille will all fancy their chances of battling out in the upper reaches of the table. Nantes, fresh from a season in the second tier, will also be aiming to make an impact on their return to the top flight.
Experienced internationals Claude Makelele and Ludovic Giuly have said goodbye to Chelsea and Roma respectively as they look to wind up their careers in the capital with PSG. Nancy defender Sebastien Puygrenier has opted to try his luck in Russia with UEFA Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg, and rising goalkeeping star Hugo Lloris is tasked with filling the gloves of Lyon legend Gregory Coupet. Going the opposite direction is Hatem Ben Arfa, aiming to swap his role as impact sub at Lyon for a regular starting berth with Marseille.
The transfers of forward Yoann Gouffran to Bordeaux from Caen, Croatia's Ivan Klasnic from Werder Bremen to newly promoted Nantes and experienced Argentinian Diego Placente from San Lorenzo to Bordeaux also number amongst the biggest moves in the domestic market. So far this summer, the outlay has been €165m and counting.
Players to watch
After a two-year spell as understudy to no less a talent than Kaka of AC Milan, Les Girondins have handed Yoann Gourcuff the opportunity to prove he is worthy of a place in the French national team. Another exciting player to have swapped Italy for France is Ghanaian forward Gyan Asamoah, the former Udinese man being brought in to boost Rennes' attacking threat. Last but not least is the United States' eternal star-in-the-making Freddy Adu. Burdened as the 'New Pele' when starting out at just 14, Adu now has another chance to live up to his billing after joining Monaco on loan from Benfica.
Have your say
In your opinion, will Lyon defend their title? Can Karim Benzema continue his exceptional form from last season? Do Laurent Blanc and Bordeaux have what it takes to take over at the top? Can Eric Gerets follow in the footsteps of Raymond Goethals, who led OM to victory in the first ever edition of the Champions League in 1993? Will PSG be back competing at the right end of the table after two seasons flirting with relegation?