France: Fans gripped by most open championship in Europe
France’s domestic championship may not contain any of the likely contenders for the UEFA Champions League this season but, as a competition, it is proving one of the more compelling races in European football at the moment. With only 10 points separating Lille OSC at the top of the table from Racing Club Lens in 19th place there isn’t much of a gap between virtually all of the teams in Ligue 1 and it is feasible that anyone who can put together a good run of wins can go on to win the championship.
The current situation is in stark contrast to most of the last ten championships in which Olympique Lyonnais were a dominant force for many of those campaigns, winning the Ligue 1 title seven years in a row from 2002-2008. In that time it was common for OL to win the league with quite a few games to spare although there was one one campaign in 2002-03 in which the top seven teams were separated by just six points at the season’s end. Things have balanced out in the last two seasons with Olympique Lyonnias losing their dominance following title wins for Girondins de Bordeaux (2008-09) and Olympique Marseille (2009-10) and the hope is there for virtually every team that the league can be just as tight as it was in 2002-03.
OK, it’s early days so perhaps I’m getting carried away. Nonetheless there is a counter argument in which people believe that a situation like the one gripping France right now shows a clear lack of quality teams. Whether that’s true or not at least the action is unpredictable unlike in most other championships in which, if you’re lucky, three teams might make a decent attempt at a title challenge. More often than not, though, it is usually a straight fight between the same two teams every year with the rest of the league lucky to be fighting it out for UEFA Europa League places – just like what has happened in countries like England, Italy and Spain in recent years.
So for now we must say vive la différence! With five matches to go before the halfway point anyone who puts together a run of three or four wins will have a good chance of establishing their title credentials in the long term. On current form it is no surprise to see that five of the six teams to have won three of their last five games – Lille OSC, Montpellier HSC, Olympique Marseille, Olympique Lyonnais and Auxerre – are in the top half of the table where the gap between those teams is only five points. Therefore anybody who can maintain such winning momentum in the games leading up to the Christmas break stands a good chance. Even in the bottom half of the league a run of three wins in five for AS Nancy has got them out of relegation trouble lifting them up to 14th place and even they are closer to the top of the table, in terms of points won, than they are to the bottom. Such is the margin for error in the league and the closeness of the competition within it that it is anybody’s guess who will be where at the end of the season.
On Matchday 15 the top match sees joint top Lille OSC travel to 7th place Girondins de Bordeaux, a win for the hosts would take them above the league leaders. Other matches include 5th place Olympique Marseille against 2nd place Montpellier HSC and Olympique Lyonnais (8th) welcome Paris Saint Germain (3rd) in one of the classic matches in the French football calendar.