PARIS: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has gone after four prolific years in France but a Paris Saint-Germain side now coached by Unai Emery are again expected to dominate as the new Ligue 1 season begins.
It is now five years since PSG were taken over by Qatar Sports Investments and they will be looking to win a fifth consecutive league crown, albeit with a new look.
Despite overseeing clean sweeps of the domestic honors in each of the last two seasons, Laurent Blanc was sacked for failing to take Paris beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Spaniard Emery was named as his replacement, arriving from Sevilla where he won the Europa League in three straight seasons.
Ibrahimovic, whose contract had expired, has gone to Manchester United but there has been no megastar signing made to replace him.
The new sporting director, Dutchman Patrick Kluivert, has however overseen the arrivals of Jese Rodriguez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Thomas Meunier.
“PSG called me when I was very happy in Seville, but I think I can go a bit further yet with PSG,” Emery told sports daily L’Equipe.
“This club with its current owner is young. With what I have done before I should be able to help them grow.”
Last season, Paris finished a ridiculous 31 points ahead of Lyon in second but there is hope for neutrals that the gap to the rest will be just a little tighter this time.
Lyon are now settled in their spectacular new stadium and coach Bruno Genesio was rewarded for taking OL to second spot with a new three-year contract.
So far he has held on to coveted midfielder Corentin Tolisso and star striker Alexandre Lacazette. Samuel Umtiti has gone to Barcelona but Cameroon international Nicolas Nkoulou has arrived from Marseille to replace him.
Lyon look well-placed to establish themselves as the best of the rest but president Jean-Michel Aulas has been busy criticizing PSG for what he deems to be “killing the competition” in France.
“PSG are pursuing an excessive policy of investment that will reduce the competitiveness of our Ligue 1. Too much is too much,” Aulas tweeted last week.
Monaco faded to finish third last season and will hope to improve this time while also returning to the Champions League group stage.
They missed out in the play-offs last year and should history repeat itself they may be compelled to cash in on some of their best players before the transfer window shuts.
For now, Monaco have strengthened, including in attack. There, Radamel Falcao is back after two disappointing seasons on loan in England and will partner Valere Germain, who starred on loan at Nice last season, up front.
“My experience in England was difficult. But it helped me grow as a player and as a person. I hope everything I learned will help me now at Monaco,” said Falcao.
Elsewhere, Marseille are a club in disarray and could be in for more struggles after finishing 13th last season.
Captain Steve Mandanda and star striker Michy Batshuayi have both been sold, season-ticket sales are slow and owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus is looking to sell the club.
One of the curiosities elsewhere will be Lille forward Eder, the man who scored Portugal’s winning goal against France in the Euro 2016 finals.
His presence could not stop Lille being eliminated from the Europa League by opponents from Azerbaijan, but Nice will be in the group stage of that competition after coming in fourth last season.
Things have changed on the Cote d’Azur since then, however, with coach Claude Puel leaving for Southampton and Nampalys Mendy, sold to Leicester City, following Germain and Ben Arfa out the door.
The Swiss Lucien Favre has been appointed as Puel’s successor.
Among the other coaching changes is the appointment of Jocelyn Gourvennec at Bordeaux, who have signed two familiar faces in Jeremy Toulalan from Monaco and Jeremy Menez from AC Milan.
One innovation for this season is that only two teams will go straight down, with the third-bottom side going into a play-off against the third-placed team in the second tier.