Season Review: The dawn of a new era for PSG?
By A. Scott
Paris Saint-Germain saw off the challenges of their big-city rivals to become champions for the third time in their history in 2012-13, while the race for European qualification and the battle to avoid relegation both went down to the wire.
PSG were heavy odds-on favourites at the season's outset, and ultimately won by a comfortable margin from Marseille in second. However, it was not always plain sailing for the capital club, as they started with three consecutive draws and only spent two weeks at the top of the table in the first four months of the campaign.
Indeed, Marseille were the standout team of the opening weeks, as they put a traumatic summer behind them to win their first six matches, a feat no club had achieved since Monaco in 1960. Unfortunately for them, that run would not last.
For PSG, crisis was in the air at the start of December following a 2-1 defeat to Nice at the Stade du Ray. That result meant Paris had collected just four points from five matches and coach Carlo Ancelotti's future at the club was seriously called into question.
Ancelotti promised to make "radical changes", and he was immediately rewarded for doing so. PSG switched to a 4-4-2 formation and embarked on a run of 13 games without defeat in all competitions. A 1-0 home win against Lyon at the Parc des Princes on December 16 took them back to the summit, although 2012 ended with PSG top only ahead of Lyon and Marseille on goal difference. At that point, a three-horse race for the title looked a distinct possibility.
"We were at the point where things were either going to break down or there was going to be a reaction," said Ancelotti in the wake of the win against Lyon. "And there has been a reaction."
The prospect of a three-horse race quickly faded after the winter break, however. Marseille won just two of their first seven matches in 2013, while Lyon won just twice in nine games from the start of February through to the start of April. PSG remained consistent, and a 1-0 win at Lyon on May 12, achieved thanks to a solitary Jérémy Menez goal, finally clinched the title.
"We played well and showed that we deserve to win the title," said Ancelotti. "I always had lots of confidence because, objectively, the individual quality of the players is the best there is."
PSG certainly were worthy champions. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ancelotti's side boasted the most prolific striker seen in France for more than two decades, while they conceded just 23 goals. No team had been so mean defensively since Lyon in 2005. Along with eventual winner Ibrahimovic, captain Thiago Silva and Blaise Matuidi were also nominated for the Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize.
PSG will hope their title win marks the start of a new era of domination over the rest of France to rival Lyon's remarkable run of seven straight titles in the last decade. The capital club are the fifth different champions in five seasons since OL last won Ligue 1 in 2008, but few would bet against them retaining their crown next season.
Meanwhile, OM enjoyed a better season than anyone expected, claiming second place and automatic qualification for next season's Champions League group stage.
"We have had a great season, staying on the podium virtually from beginning to end. It is actually incredible that Paris got more points than we did," said OM coach Elie Baup, whose team recorded 12 1-0 wins over the course of the season.
The battle for European qualification went right down to the wire, with Lyon holding off the chasing pack to take the third Champions League place, while Nice qualified for the Europa League. Inspired by the goals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Saint-Etienne lifted their first silverware in 32 years in the shape of the Coupe de la Ligue and finished in the top five for the first time since 2007-08.
After disappointing seasons for their teams, though, Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti and Montpellier's René Girard decided to move on, with Philippe Montanier and Jean Fernandez to be their respective replacements.
Meanwhile, at the bottom, a record run of 11 consecutive defeats at the end of the season condemned Brest to relegation, while a fine recovery from a disastrous first half to the season was not enough to save Nancy. Troyes became the third club to go down to Ligue 2 after a dramatic final day. They will be replaced by Monaco, Nantes and Guingamp in 2013-14.