Who’s number one in Ligue 1? Not who you think

The foregone conclusion of PSG’s dominance has turned into an enthralling question

(PSG/Twitter)

For the last four years in Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain has been the Secretariat and the rest of the league has been the bunched Belmont Stakes field behind it. But look at the current standings, and you’ll find that the inevitability of another PSG title is very much in question—in fact, PSG is third, and one of the most critical matches in determining the season’s victors, happening this Saturday between Monaco and Nice, doesn’t even involve them.

Americans wanting to see the match between Ligue 1’s top deux live (at 11 am ET) will have to take to obscure subscription channels or sketchy livestreams, but will get to follow PSG live a little deeper into Saturday (2 pm ET, BeIN) and their journey to the unknown as they face mid-table Dijon.

Ligue 1 is full of redemption stories for attack-minded players this season. For PSG, of course, it’s Edinson Cavani, answering the question of “What will he do, finally unshackled from Zlatan?” with 21 goals to lead the league. League-leading Monaco, thanks to its astounding +43 goal differential, has accumulated that in part to Radmael Falcao, who would probably like you to forget that his Manchester United and Chelsea loans ever happened. (Though he may never be the same Falcao who suffered an ACL injury to start a 2014 that might have held a World Cup victory, he’s closer to that pre-injury form than he ever was in the Premier League.)

Marseille, the new home of the once disgruntled Dimitri Payet, has been captained this season by loanee Bafétimbi Gomis, whose rights are still owned by a swooning Swansea—yet he looks to be enjoying France more than Wales, with 13 goals scored for the sixth-place Phocéens. And Nice, of course, has been a good and giving home to Mario Balotelli. Though he’s still attracting media attention from time to time—his tweet about transfer deadline day, in which he admired Sky Sports Calciomercato’s female presenters while bemoaning the lack of transfer action, resulted in a predictable, titillated Daily Mail reaction—he’s made the most of his one-year deal with a solid 9-goal, low-drama season so far. His agent, Mino Raiola, speaking on Italian radio earlier this week, hinted that Balotelli will wait until season’s end to decide whether he might return to Italy or seek his fortunes in the Chinese Super League, which seems a special sort of preordained.

PSG, meanwhile, finished second in its Champions League group to Arsenal, and while Arsenal was “rewarded” for winning by drawing Bayern Munich in the Round of 16, PSG fared perhaps even worse by drawing Barcelona. The reigning French champions still have a talented roster, made more talented with the recent addition of fitting-right-in Julian Draxler, but in three months’ time, they’re not only likely to be watching the Champions League final in Cardiff from across the Channel, but may not even be able to call themselves the reigning French champions anymore.


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