For the first time in 62 years, Ligue 1 played a round of fixtures on New Year’s Day, and it caused quite a stir. The league called it their “Celebration Week” — using this term in French and English — to help market this exceptional period, which saw the French league hosting games on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 for Matchday 16, before a round on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 for Matchday 17.
The majority of fans didn’t seem to like it, so most of the Ultras boycotted attending the matches and the ones who went displayed banners saying “football is for the weekend.” It wasn’t just fans who were upset, either: Rennes manager Bruno Genesio hit out at Ligue 1’s ruling body, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) for importing the idea of Christmas games from England.
“I hope [LFP executives] will be at the matches… and that they won’t be at the beach on vacation, because they’re the ones who had this brilliant idea,” he told the media. “I don’t think the players are exactly delighted. In England, yes, but it’s a different culture. It’s different.”
Nevertheless, Ligue 1 is back with a vengeance and 2023 should be a blast. Here is what to expect from the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
Do we actually have a title race? Yes, we do!
On Jan. 1, Lens began their new year in incredible fashion with a sumptuous 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Stade Bollaert. It was a top of the table clash — Lens are second, PSG first — and the home side took full advantage. Not only did they lean on the incredible atmosphere (with over 38,000 in attendance), but they seized on the absences of Neymar (suspension) and Lionel Messi (still on holiday) and of the complacency of the league leaders, who were clearly not up for the fight and struggled to match Lens’ intensity and desire.
PSG’s first league defeat of the season — and, in fact, their first in Ligue 1 since March 20, 2022 — means that there is now only four points between the two sides and it’s very much game on in terms of a title race. Both sides have only lost once this season and with no European participation on their schedule, Lens have much more time and ability to focus on the league compared to PSG, for whom the Champions League is the primary objective this season.
Gab Marcotti believes it makes sense for Lionel Messi to extend his PSG contract, but feels there is no need to rush a new deal.
Can Lyon salvage their season? Probably not
We’re not quite at the halfway stage of the season, but it’s been long enough to see how insignificant Lyon are in this campaign. Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Clermont at home, to an 87th minute penalty, saw them booed by their own fans. They are eighth in the table, twelve points behind third-place Marseille, with as many wins as defeats (7) this season. Their goal difference is a mere +6 after 17 matches, and they have changed managers — Laurent Blanc replaced Peter Bosz in October — and owners — with John Textor completing his takeover from Jean-Michael Aulas — this season as well.
What they offer with the ball varies from nothing to just about enough. Despite the returns of former stars Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, despite the departure of Bosz, who was never good enough for the job, and despite the emerging talents of Rayan Cherki, Malo Gusto and Castello Lukeba, Lyon has been frustratingly average. If they miss out on Europe again, it would be a disaster for the club and the new boss, US businessman John Textor.
Are Nice in trouble? Massively!
They are even worse than Lyon in the table and their season has been even more of a disaster. Despite being owned by one of the richest men in the world, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, via his company Ineos, Nice are having a shocking campaign. They’re languishing in 11th place, just eight points clear of the relegation zone.
It started badly with the return of Lucien Favre for a second spell on the bench, it continued with a terrible summer transfer window with old/subpar signings — Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsay and Kasper Schmeichel, to name just three — and the results have not been good enough, with just five wins from 17 games.
This team has talent, but no direction and seemingly no soul. The only good news is that they managed to attract sporting director Florent Ghislofi, from Lens, to help oversee their rebuild. He is one of the best in Europe in this role and right now, he’s Nice’s only hope for a brighter future.
Is the battle to stay up going to be epic? Oh yes, it will!
For the first time in the history of the French top flight, there will be four clubs relegated at the end of the season as they shift from being a 20-team, 38-game league to an 18-team, 36-game one. As a result, the fight to stay up as never been so tense or so tight, with Brest, Auxerre, Strasbourg and Angers currently stuck in those four positions.
There are just 10 points separating bottom side Angers and 13th place Troyes, and just nine points separating Brest and Auxerre, respectively 17th and 18th, and Clermont up in ninth. With margins that fine, two or three wins in a row could propel you from doomed to mid-table.
Strasbourg, who have not won at home yet this campaign, complete the bottom four, though it’s probable that these won’t be the quartet to be relegated at the end of May. They all have different issues and styles, but all they want right now is to drag the others into their fight.