Ligue 1 Conforama: Who will challenge PSG?
By I. Holyman
Paris Saint-Germain will start as favourites to claim the 2018-19 Ligue 1 Conforama title but the reigning champions cannot expect to canter to the domestic crown with their rivals poised to push them all the way.
AS Monaco's stunning 2016-17 triumph showed PSG and the rest of the football world that the French top flight is not a one-horse race, and the capital club's freshly appointed new coach, Thomas Tuchel, will be fully aware nothing can be taken for granted on home soil.
Still, the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund boss will not be expected to endure the same destiny as predecessor Unai Emery in the first of his two seasons in charge at the Parc des Princes with the PSG squad still - on paper - the strongest in the division.
The key elements of last season's title winners, who finished 13 points clear of the field, remain. Kylian Mbappé will return from the FIFA World Cup with his reputation as a future world great reinforced. The teenage France international will once more form a devastating front three with Edinson Cavani and Neymar Jr, who - it should be highlighted - missed most of the second half of last season having plundered a spectacular 19 goals and 13 assists in just 20 league matches.
While the loss of Thiago Motta to retirement is a blow, the emergence of Giovani Lo Celso last season suggests the young Argentine will play a more significant role this time round, while Motta's insatiable will to win will be matched by that of Gianluigi Buffon, a heavyweight summer arrival whose aura and reputation speak for themselves.
With Tuchel's squad a season older and emboldened by last term's clean sweep of domestic silverware, PSG remain the team to beat, but their rivals will firmly believe that is possible.
Jardim rebuilds once again
AS Monaco emerged as the closest challengers to PSG last season. As was the case in the aftermath of the 2016-17 title win, coach Leonardo Jardim has seen some major components of his squad depart in Thomas Lemar and Fabinho, heading for Atletico Madrid and Liverpool respectively.
But the principality club have retained the predatory services of Radamel Falcao, who struck 18 goals in 26 top-flight outings last season, their back four remains intact, and they will look to the likes of Youri Tielemans, Rony Lopes and highly rated summer signing Willem Geubbels to help them - as they did last season - be just as effective with new faces.
OL on the up and up
But for his move to the principality, Geubbels, just 16 yet billed as one France's hottest properties, might have been helping Olympique Lyonnais close the gap on the team that pipped them to runners-up spot last season.
Bruno Genesio's side played some of the most exciting football of any club in Ligue 1 Conforama last term with their quartet of ultra-talented players, Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, Mariano Diaz and Bertrand Traoré all firing in thrilling fashion. More fireworks are to be expected in the new campaign when the seven-time champions will again surely be one of the most dangerous teams to face on their day.
Marseille return to form
Olympique de Marseille, under the sure-handed stewardship of Rudi Garcia, have become a force to be reckoned with once again. The run to last season's UEFA Europa League final underlined what a good side the ex-LOSC Lille boss has at his disposal.
Playmaker Dimitri Payet and 22-goal forward Florian Thauvin were the chief architects of that exploit, and the pair will be required to play another stand-out role if OM are to force their way onto the top-flight podium, which they missed out on by a single point last term.
Will someone come out of the pack? OGC Nice perhaps with Patrick Vieira in charge, Girondins de Bordeaux resurgent under Gustavo Poyet and Stade Rennais, one of the most impressive performers in the second half of last season, could all upset the established order. Come next May, we'll find out whether they have.