Ligue 1 season in review: PSG crowned champions again, Ben Yedder stars and Reims surprise
It is a season that will forever be etched in the history books, but unfortunately for the wrong reason. Paris Saint-Germain were crowned the 2019-20 Ligue 1 champions, but there will always be a little asterisk alongside that honour. That is because the league campaign was halted in March by the coronavirus outbreak and officially ended -- nine games short of completion -- on April 28, with PSG eventually confirmed champions based on average points per game.
Even though the season ended prematurely, Ligue 1 still provided us with some incredible highlights.
There was the usual PSG drama, like there is every season. Neymar fell out of favour with the club's hardcore fans for wanting to leave the club last summer before earning back their love again. Kylian Mbappe and manager Thomas Tuchel had some public spats and some tensions. Edinson Cavani was almost sold in January before eventually staying and regaining his place in the team. Ultimately, the Parisians, led by the peerless Mbappe (18 goals, seven assists), were just too good for the rest of the league.
Lyon had their own chaos, too, sacking manager Sylvinho after just nine league matches and surprisingly replacing him with Rudi Garcia. Garcia, who publicly expressed many times his dislike of OL during his time at Marseille, was not welcomed by the fans. Lyon eventually finished seventh and will miss out on Europe for the first time since 1996 unless they beat PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue Final ... if it ever happens and if it actually qualifies them for the Europa League.
Monaco were shambolic again. They changed manager again, sacked Leonardo Jardim again and chose a young, unproven and inexperienced manager to replace him again. Robert Moreno was a bit better than Thierry Henry before him, though, and the 2017 champions finished ninth. Without the individual exploits of summer signing Wissam Ben Yedder, things would have been much worse.
Rennes and their wonderkid Eduardo Camavinga continued their progress under young manager Julien Stephan by finishing third and qualifying for the Champions League (third qualifying round) for the first time in their history. It was a great achievement a year after winning the French Cup. Meanwhile, Marseille had a great season under Andre Villas-Boas, who was returning to the dugout after a two-year hiatus from football. They finished second and clinched Champions League qualification for the first time in six years. They have issues and are losing (a lot of) money during the shutdown, but their second-place finish is a breath of fresh air and a great reward for their fans.
Reims were the surprise package (finishing sixth), while Patrick Vieira showed great leadership in a challenging environment at Nice, leading the team to fifth after the club was sold late in August. On the other hand, Nantes (13th), Bordeaux (12th) and Saint-Etienne (17th) had incredibly underwhelming campaigns, while Toulouse, bottom with just three wins all season, was one of the worst teams in French top-flight history.
Finally, young prodigies broke new ground and made big headlines in Ligue 1 again, such as the aforementioned Camavinga and 16-year-old Lyon forward Rayan Cherki. France was once again the league with the most game time for young players, as 15% of the minutes played in Ligue 1 this season were by players under the age 21, way ahead of the Bundesliga (9.8%), the Premier League (8.5%), Serie A (7.7%), and La Liga (7%). Teenagers such as Tanguy Kouassi (17), Adil Aouchiche (17), both with PSG; Nathanael Mbuku (18, Reims); Isaac Lihadji (17, Marseille); and Janis Antiste (17, Toulouse) all made their debuts this season, and the list goes on.
Let's try to remember the best, and a bit of the worst, of the Ligue 1 season with some awards ...
Champions League: PSG, Marseille, Rennes (third qualifying round), Europa League: Lille, Nice and Reims (third qualifying round) -- unless the two domestic cup finals are played and Lyon and Saint-Etienne beat PSG.
Relegated: Amiens, Toulouse
Promoted: Lorient, Lens
Best player: Wissam Ben Yedder
He came back to France in the summer, three years after leaving Ligue 1 and Toulouse so he could continue scoring goals in Spain. Yet he returned in 2019, slotting into a struggling Monaco team, and brought it back into the top half of the league. His form would have surely earned him a place in the France team for the 2020 Euros before they were postponed to next summer.
While Ben Yedder won't wear a France shirt this summer, he certainly lit up Ligue 1 this season with 18 league goals and seven assists in 26 games. He has been so clinical and so precise in front of goal that not even Mbappe could outscore him in 2019-20. At 29, he still has wonderful years ahead of him; Monaco will need to build a much stronger team around him if they want to retain his services.
Most disappointing player: Cesc Fabregas
Another new arrival at Monaco, Fabregas was the complete opposite to Ben Yedder. Where the Frenchman thrived, the Spaniard struggled. It could have been a great partnership with Cesc the provider and Wissam the finisher, but it was not to be. Fabregas was poor all season, playing just 934 minutes in 18 league matches and producing no goals and just three assists. He just turned 33 and made a great financial gesture for his club amid this crisis, but on the pitch, he has been the shadow of the player he was even just a few years ago.
Best signing: Victor Osimhen
Lille sporting director Luis Campos landed his latest bargain, signing Osimhen from Genk for €15 million last summer. After a great first season in France (13 goals, four assists), the Nigeria international is now valued at four times the price Campos paid for him. With his pace, his energy and determination, Osimhen, still only 20, was a handful for Ligue 1 defences all season. Bigger things await him, and Lille and Ligue 1 will be lucky to hold on to him for another year.
Team of the year
Predrag Rajkovic (Reims), Hamari Traore (Rennes), Thiago Silva (PSG), Gabriel Magalhaes (Lille), Hassane Kamara (Reims), Angel Di Maria (PSG), Marco Verratti (PSG), Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes), Neymar (Neymar), Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco)
Biggest surprise: Reims
For the first time since 1963, Reims, a former powerhouse of European football in the 1950s, will be back in Europe next season. After a 33-year exile in the lower leagues, a first top-flight promotion and then subsequent relegation, Reims had an excellent 2019-20 campaign back in the top flight. With a mix of experience (Yunis Abdelhamid, Alaixys Romao, Xavier Chavalerin) and great young players (Mbuku, El Bilal Toure, Axel Disasi), the best keeper in the league in Rajkovic, with some clever signings (Boulaye Dia, Rajkovic, Disasi), David Guion & Co. were one of the stories of the season.
Let's not forget too that Les Rouges et Blancs won in both Marseille and in Paris!
Must do better: Bordeaux
Despite being one of the biggest clubs in Ligue 1, with a significant budget, a good manager in Paulo Sousa and a strong squad, it was another disappointing season for Les Girondins. They finished in 12th place, despite being third at one point, and never found the consistency and momentum they needed. They struggled for goals and Laurent Koscielny, their 34-year-old captain, could not do it all on his own at the back.
Best goal: Neymar
After missing the first four league matches due to suspension and injury, Neymar was back for the clash with Strasbourg at Parc des Princes on Sept. 14. With the environment hostile due to the PSG ultras' anger toward him for wanting to leave in the summer, he had to win them back. The Brazil international started that redemption tour with a wonderful winning goal, deep in added time. After a cross from the left-hand side from Abdou Diallo, Neymar produced a genuine moment of genius with a left-footed overhead kick.
Best game: Monaco 3-4 Marseille
There are a few contenders but in terms of scenario, rivalry, twists and goals, nothing topped this Mediterranean derby clash at the Stade Louis II. It was early in the season, matchday five, on Sept. 15, but already it was a key game. Monaco still had Jardim as manager but were 19th in the table. Marseille had started slowly with two wins, a draw and a loss. On the night, Ben Yedder scored twice in the first 26 minutes to make it 2-0 to the hosts before Marseille pulled it back to 2-2 in just three minutes before half-time. Marseille then made it 4-2 thanks to Dimitri Payet and Dario Benedetto, and though Monaco pushed hard for the final 20 minutes, Keita Balde's late tally wasn't enough for the home side as Marseille prevailed 4-3.
Prediction for next season
PSG will once again be the team to beat, regardless of who their manager is and whether or not Neymar and Mbappe remain. There could be a change on the bench with Tuchel's future uncertain, but the club insists that the two superstars will still be there. The Parisians have won seven of the past eight Ligue 1 titles and their domination will be hard to stop.
Marseille will try to build on their second-place finish, but money is a problem and they could lose some of their best players and will have the added burden of Champions League football to navigate. Lyon and Monaco are still very much in transition and will also lose one or two stars each. They have managers in Garcia and Moreno, respectively, who still have a lot to prove in different ways and will hope that their young players can keep progressing.
Lille will sell as well, as per their business model, but seem to have enough talent there to still be competitive next season. Nantes, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne have a lot of work to do to put together a better team, while Nice, Reims and Montpellier will be the troublemakers again.
Finally, it is good to have Lens back in Ligue 1. The Sang et Or have the best fans in the country and after five years in Ligue 2, they will enjoy their return to the top.