STORY OF THE SEASON –The final curtain has now fallen on a Ligue 1 campaign that, while rich in key moments and dramatic events, ultimately delivered few surprises. There were certainly no eyebrows raised when Paris Saint-Germain came back out on top, the capital club securing their fourth title just a year on from their third – nothing like the 19-year wait they had to endure after wrapping up their second. Already boasting star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Motta, PSG made sure not to rest on their laurels during the summer, luring highly rated forward Edinson Cavani to the Parc des Princes.
The real question was whether new coach Laurent Blanc would be able to get the best out of his stellar squad. The former French international defender delivered his answer in style, and even managed to outshine his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti. Not only did Blanc lead PSG to glory, his troops set records for both points gleaned (89) and victories recorded (27) in a single Ligue 1 season. Adding to the euphoria, they also swept up the League Cup trophy along the way.
For much of the season, Blanc's men were nonetheless put under pressure by Monaco, who ended the race as runners-up. Not bad for a promoted side, except that the principality outfit also spent huge sums on player transfers, with their efforts bolstered by the likes of Eric Abidal, Ricardo Carvalho, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan, Dimitar Berbatov and Falcao. Coach Claudio Ranieri did well to get so many new faces gelling in a short space of time, and although they failed to deny PSG, the signs all look encouraging for the future. Monaco will head into next season a year stronger and a year wiser, and no doubt with fresh recruits added to the mix to help their UEFA Champions League tilt.
In the tussle for the third and final berth in Europe's premier club competition, Lille sealed their return under Rene Girard, who steered Montpellier to the title in 2011/12. Two African players at opposite ends of the pitch proved particularly crucial to the northern club's bid, with Ivorian forward Salomon Kalou leading the line and Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama inspired between the posts. Saint-Etienne pushed Les Dogues all the way but had to settle for fourth spot and the UEFA Europa League, while fifth-placed Lyon also sealed a place in the tournament along with the Coupe de France winners, promoted side Guingamp. Lyon's season was a testing one, however, and the same was true for Marseille. While Les Gones will console themselves with European football, OM now hope to put their similarly dispiriting year behind them under new boss Marcelo Bielsa.
At the bottom of the table, finally, Sochaux, Valenciennes and Ajaccio all bade farewell to the elite. They will be replaced by Metz, Lens and Caen, three teams with solid experience of the top division.
*No record and no regrets for Enyeama: *Lille's podium place owed much to their strength at the back, and with Enyeama marshalling their efforts they finished with the second meanest defence, conceding 26 goals to PSG's 23. Strikers up and down the land grew to curse the club's in-form Nigerian custodian, whose reflexes and composure took him to the verge of the Ligue 1 record for minutes without conceding a goal – Gaetan Huard having gone unbeaten for 1,176 with Bordeaux in 1993. Enyeama was closing fast on that benchmark when Lille travelled to face Huard's old team on 8 December, but his run was stopped at 1,062 minutes when Landry N’Guemo found the net via a deflected effort. The 31-year-old quickly picked himself back up, however, making two vital saves shortly afterwards and dozens more throughout the remainder of the campaign as Lille booked a place in UEFA Champions League qualifying. His form is good news for the Super Eagles too, of course, who will head to Brazil 2014 with a goalkeeper high on confidence.
Renard and Ayew keep the faith: *Poor results convinced Sochaux that change was needed last October, and they duly took action by replacing coach Eric Hely with Herve Renard, the man who led Zambia to the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations crown. Renard had never previously coached a French club, but he saw no reason to be intimidated and announced soon after arriving that Sochaux would claw their way to survival. With Zambian internationals Nathan Sinkala and Stoppila Sunzu brought on board and Jordan Ayew signed on loan from Marseille, *Les Lionceaux slowly began racking up important points. Ayew's goals turned out to be especially crucial, and Sochaux went into their final fixture against rivals Evian Thonon Gaillard knowing victory would keep them up at their visitors' expense. With light at the end of the tunnel, though, the goals finally dried up for Ayew and Renard was unable to keep his promise, Evian coming away with a 3-0 success that consigned Sochaux to the second tier. Those heady six months nonetheless did wonders for Renard's reputation in his homeland and allowed Ghana striker Ayew to find form in front of goal ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™.
*Monaco wonder what might have been: *It was a case of mission accomplished at the Stade Louis II as second spot guaranteed Monaco's return to the Champions League, the goal laid out by club officials last summer. Still, having kept PSG within their sights for much of the campaign, Ranieri's men could perhaps have hoped for even more had they not suffered a devastating blow during the winter. Taking on amateur side Chasselay during a Coupe de France tie, Monaco were left reeling when star marksman Falcao fell to the turf with a serious injury. Scans later revealed anterior cruciate ligament damage in his left knee, ruling the Colombian out for approximately six months – and bringing his season to a sudden end. Monaco lost inevitable momentum without the man named in the 2012 FIFA/FIFPro World XI, and supporters were left to ponder what might have been. Colombia fans are still unsure whether they will be posing the same question after Brazil 2014.
Sirigu inspired by Classique conquest: *When PSG and Marseille faced off in the first *Classique *of the Ligue 1 season in October, both teams were level on points. The Stade Velodrome faithful were in typically passionate mood and they had plenty to cheer as the visitors fell a goal behind and had a player sent off inside the first half hour. OM were unable to exploit their advantage, however, and began looking to hold onto their lead instead of putting the game to bed. Salvatore Sirigu made several key saves for PSG and Maxwell headed the sides level ahead of the break, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck the winning goal from the penalty spot halfway through the second period. "Le Classique* is a game in a category of its own," said Sirigu after the capital side finally clinched the title. "We managed to get a hard-fought win, with ten players against 11 and having conceded the opening goal. It's my favourite memory of the whole season." Within a few days of sewing up the league, Sirigu was then named goalkeeper of the year for the second consecutive campaign and called up by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli for Brazil.
2– Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished top scorer in France for the second year running, and also collected his second straight title as best player. The Swedish national team captain rattled in 26 strikes and served up 11 assists this term – equalling his combined tally of 30 efforts and seven assists from 2012/13, though the depleted number of goals can surely be explained by the fact that team-mate Edinson Cavani came joint second in the scoring charts with 16 of his own, along with Toulouse's Wissem Ben Yedder, André-Pierre Gignac of Marseille and Lorient forward Vincent Aboubakar.