Ligue 1 season review: PSG's year but others made their mark
Project PSG produced some tangible results in the third year of the Qatar Investment Authority’s ownership of perhaps European football’s biggest sleeping giant.
Les Parisians eventually won the title by a comfortable 12-point margin but there were certainly nervous moments along the way as Marseille and Lyon did their level best to at least delay their expected dominance of the French top flight.
Whereas in 2011/12, Montpellier’s tenacious, energetic football kept them above their free-spending rivals, pipping them to the post, a season later PSG’s group of players were a year older, wiser and this time had the world’s best defender and one of the planet’s most consistent strikers.
The €63 million (Dh302.6m) double deal to bring in Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Milan automatically transformed PSG from a work in progress to a fully-fledged title-winning machine.
Not only that but Carlo Ancelotti had a whole pre-season to get the system right, as opposed to the previous campaign where he inherited Antoine Kombouare’s framework.
But that’s not to say they bullied their way to the title; they were on top for just four weeks before occupying the summit on February 8 – on which they remained – and there were five defeats (the same number as in 11/12) including two losses at the Parc des Princes.
It’s a hypothetical, and essentially irrelevant argument, but it would have been intriguing to see how they would have fared had Ibrahimovic picked up a lengthy injury. The Swede directly responsible for 55 per cent of their total goals.
With Ancelotti likely off to Madrid, and Ibrahimovic maybe to follow, there are no guarantees PSG are reading to rule over French football like Lyon did in the 2000s just yet, even with their millions.
With the exception of newly-promoted Monaco, their rivals are however hamstrung by financial constraints. Second-placed Marseille raised €24.5m (Dh117.7m) in player sales last summer yet spent just €3.2m (Dh15.3m) of that, with the loan signing of Joey Barton arguably their most high-profile acquisition.
Lyon, meanwhile – their reserves all-but exhausted – lent heavily on their burgeoning academy and cerebral coach Remi Garde. Their form consequently fluctuated and defeats to struggling Bastia, Sochaux and Reims at the end of March killed off their surprising title challenge.
Both teams in the end were just relieved to finish in the top three, especially due to the pressure coming from the unheralded underdogs Nice and St Etienne. As Claude Puel is rebuilding his reputation at the Stade Municipal du Ray, Christophe Galtier continues to enhance his with ASSE and one of France’s most historically successful clubs are once again consistently finishing in the upper-echelons of the table.
Defending champions Montpellier arguably delivered the most disappointing campaign of all. Seemingly forever marooned in mid-table, they missed the goals of Olivier Giroud while Younes Belhanda was not the player he was the previous season.
At the bottom Brest were cut adrift, Troyes went straight back down while yo-yo club Nancy are back in the second tier.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain)
He was always going to score a boatload (30 in 34) but his all-round play was on another planet at times.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Lucas Digne (Lille)
Sure to be France’s next great fullback, the 19-year-old was a model of composure at the back for Lille all season. Greatness beckons.
SIGNING OF THE YEAR - Dario Cvitanich (Nice)
Discarded by Ajax, Cvitanich was the bargain of the season with 19 goals as Nice secured European football.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR - Claude Puel (Nice)
Spent little money yet Nice were genuine top three contenders.
FLOP OF THE YEAR - Yann M’Vila (Rennes)
From one of Europe’s best talents to being exiled to Russia.
GAME OF THE YEAR - Toulouse 3-4 Nice, April 6, 2013 A crazy end to a game that finished 10 v 10.
Toulouse equalised in the 90th minute only for Nice’s Kevin Anin to grab a 93rd-minute winner.
GOAL OF THE YEAR - Romain Alessandrini, Rennes v Nancy, November 9, 2012
His first season in the top flight saw him score a number of great goals. This was the pick, a stunning outside-of-the boot volley from 20-yards.
TEAM OF THE YEAR - Paris St Germain
In the end they pulled well clear but it was by no means plain sailing for PSG in lifting their first title since 1994. Their quality was never in doubt and with the goals of Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva marshalling the defence and the nous of Carlo Ancelotti, it was difficult to see how they would fail to win the league after going close last term.
SURPRISE PACKAGE - Nice
Just when you thought the wheels would come off, they roared back with another win. From perennial relegation-strugglers to fourth. Remarkable.
DREAM TEAM - (4-2-3-1)
Sirigu (PSG); Digne (Lille), Silva (PSG), Nkoulou (Marseille), Clerc (St Etienne); Guilavogui (St Etienne), Matuidi (PSG); Guilavogui (St Etienne), Valbuena (Marseille), Payet (Lille); Ibrahimovic (PSG)