Not that long ago, in a French accent at a similar level on the cringeworthiness scale to Steve McClaren’s “Ja I can do that”, Joey Barton commemorated his Ligue 1 debut by describing France’s top football league as “a little bit boring” as a result the apparent one-sided nature of a division that often finds the quality of its football under scrutiny.
This season however, things are different. Barton has since returned across the channel, and it would seem that he has taken his perception with him, because heading into the final stretch of the season, the 2014/15 edition of Ligue 1, has been anything but boring. And with just ten games remaining, the Ligue 1 title race is considerably the closest of Europe’s Big Five leagues, with three clubs set to provide a spectacular finish one or another.
That top end battle sees big spending pre-season favourites Paris Saint Germain are joined by perennial top end challengers Marseille and current league leaders Lyon. Just four points cover the three sides, with Lyon one ahead of PSG and Marseille a further three behind, meaning all three clubs are in with a shout at glory, though this weekend could have a significant impact on that.
This Sunday sees Lyon go head to head with Marseille at the Stade Velodrome in what could be a decisive encounter in the destination of this season’s championship. Lose and Marseille will be seven points from top spot, win and the gap drops to one. It is a match made all the more appetising by the fact that both sides will by high on confidence after huge victories at the weekend.
For Marseille, the 6-1 thrashing of Toulouse was the perfect way to bounce back after giving up a 2-0 lead to go down 3-2 to Caen, as Belgian starlet Michy Batshuayi showed that he has finally arrived as the perfect partner or stand in in for main man Andre Pierre Gignac, with a dominant performance at the head of Marseille’s attack.
At the back though issues clearly remain, even if manager Marcelo Bielsa appears to have ditched his three at the back system. They may have been missing Rod Fanni, Brice Dja Djedje and Nicola N’koulou, but a defence including Jeremy Morel and Benjamin Mendy should have been better than to give Aleksandar Pesic two guilt edge chances in little over two minutes that would have brought Toulouse right back into the contest.
If Marseille’s win was emphatic but unconvincing, then Lyon’s 5-1 riot in Montpellier was proof that Hubert Fournier’s side are the real deal in the challenge for the title. Coming back off a disappointing defeat to Lille, the league leaders were then faced with the set back of going a goal down early on to one of the season’s surprise package, and the seven times champions responded brilliantly. Perhaps the most promising aspect of the performance for Lyon fans will be that this victory was not one delivered courtesy of an individual masterclass from the talismanic Alexandre Lacazette (though the France forward did chip in with a brace), but a team performance led by this season’s breakout star Nabil Fekir, ably assisted by the likes of Yoann Gourcouff, Jordan Ferri and Lacazette,. Contrary to any beliefs, Lyon are not a one man team.
At the time of writing, PSG have more to play for than either of their rivals, Laurent Blanc’s side are heading for a Champions League tie with Chelsea, and are the only one of the of the three involved in the Coupe de Ligue Final and Coupe de France Semi’s. The defending champions however have more than enough strength in depth to fight on several fronts, but with a run deep into the Champions League the only thing that will prove PSG are a force to be reckoned with on the international stage, you have to wonder just where their main focus will be.
So with PSG facing other distractions and Marseille the only one of the three who has to play both of the other two competitors with a vulnerable defence, the ball is firmly in Lyon’s court. Ten more wins will secure Lyon their first title since 2008. Slip up though, and you can be sure that PSG and Marseille will be waiting to capitalise. It may be too close to call, but one thing is certain: it’s going to be worth the watch.
Article written by: @brfctoby96