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An Introduction to the French Ligue One

The Ligue One is the top flight of professional league football in France. It is ranked fifth behind the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A in the top national football leagues in the world.

The league has twenty teams, including cross border team AS Monaco, the league was formed in 1932, two years after the French Football Federation voted to legalize professionalism in the sport.

Biggest Clubs

Paris Saint-Germain

The Parisian outfit have emerged as the dominant force in the league in recent years, having won it seven times in the last ten years. Founded in 1970, the club is one of the youngest clubs to play in the Ligue One. They play in the Parc des Princes, which can house 48,000 spectators. Paris had relative success, with one UEFA Cup Winners Cup, a French League Cup and two French Super Cups in the 1990s. It was not until Qatar Sports Investment took over the club in 2011, that they started winning back to back leagues.

Since the takeover, PSG have bought world class players such as David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and most recently Lionel Messi. The financial backing of the club has allowed it to spend huge amounts of money without breaking the Fair Play regulations. They broke the world record transfer fee when they bought Neymar for €222 million, and spent €180 million on Kylian Mbappe in the consequent transfer window. This year, they shrewdly managed to bring in a number of world class players without spending a huge amount due to expiring contracts. They secured Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gini Wijnaldum and Gianluigi Donnarumma all on a free transfer, with player Achraf Hakimi signing from Inter for €60 million.

Under ex-player and current manager Mauricio Pochettino, the club looks to reclaim the League this year after missing out by one point to eventual winners Lille last season.

AS Monaco

AS Monaco is the only team in the Ligue One that is not a French team. It belongs to the sovereign city state of Monaco, and they play in the Stade Louis II, the only sports and athletics stadium in the state, it can seat 16,000. AS Monaco last won the league in the 2016/17 season, with forwards Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe helping the club to win the league with a whopping 107 league goals, that is, more than twenty goals ahead of second place PSG.

The team of 2016/17 also had a strong run in the Champions League, which got the attention of foreign clubs. Unfortunately for Monaco, the players were quickly bought off, and Monaco did little to keep their best players, with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho and Youri Tielemans all being poached by some of the biggest foreign clubs.

Monaco spent little in the following transfer seasons, and their strong performances in the league started to dwindle.

Olympique Lyon

In the 2000s, Olympique Lyon dominated the league, winning their first title in 2002 and setting a new record in winning it for seven consecutive years. They play in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, also known as the Groupama Stadium, which has a capacity of 59,000. The team has never finished the league lower than fifth for the past twenty years, apart from the 2019-2020 season where they ended seventh after the season was cut short because of the pandemic.

The team is captained by Leo Dubois, who is also the captain of the French National team, with midfielder Houssem Aouar who is the vice-captain and has spent his entire professional career there, coming up from the youth ranks. They lost their main goal scorer Memphis Depay (after he did not sign a contract extension and joined Barcelona in the summer) but will play striker Moussa Dembele (who was on loan last year to Atletico Madrid) in his place.

Olympique de Marseille

Founded in 1899, Marseille plays in the Stade Velodrome, which has a capacity of 67,000. They have won 10 league titles, the last being in the 2009-2010 season, they are one of the biggest rivals to PSG. Some top players made their names playing at the club, such as Didier Drogba, Frank Ribery and Samir Nasry, who were bought by international clubs and have won many leagues and cups between them. They are captained by French national goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, with vice-captain Dimitri Payet, who has been a successful talisman since he joined from West Ham in 2017.

Lille Olympique Sporting Club

Lille are the current defending champions, having pipped PSG to the title by a single point last season. They play in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, which can host 50,000 fans, and have won four league titles. There have been notable players who have played for the Northern French club, including Eden Hazard, Eric Abidal and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. Eden Hazard actually started his career there, and it was his performances for the club that caught the attention of Chelsea, and won him a League Double in 2011 and the French Player of the Year award. Their current squad is a mix of youth players and players who are vastly experienced. Leading the striking force is Canadian Jonathan David, who is the club's current top goal scorer this season. In midfield they have Renato Sanches, Yusuf Yakici and Timothy Weah, who are young internationals players. They are captained by defender Jose Fonte, who is vastly experienced having played in his native Portugal as well as England and China, followed by France in his 16 year football career.

Ligue One Derbies

Le Classique

PSG vs Marseille has been called Le Classique because they are considered the biggest clubs in France, as well as having the biggest fan bases, so these matches are almost always sold out. Also seen as a North vs South Derby, the match has been known to be dramatic, in one of the recent matches the teams amassed 5 red cards in a single match.

Chocs de Olympique

Marseille and Lyon both have claimed the Olympique suffix in their club names. Marseille wanted to honour their Greek and Phocean background by referring to the Greek Olympic games, whereas Lyon were named after the Lyon Olympique Universitaire, a local union rugby club. In recent years they have been more evenly balanced, and with both boasting huge fan bases, the rivalry was made.

Derby de la Côte d’Azur

Nice and Monaco are rivals that are both located on the Mediterranean coast. As well as having a beautiful setting to both matches, the locals go out of their way to put on a show for their home matches.

Derby Breton

While there are many teams in Breton, including Brest, Lorient and Guingamp, the fixture that stands out the most is the match between Nantes and Rennes. They are the biggest teams in the region and though Nantes may have more history with winning titles, Rennes has emerged well enough with strong academy players that they have been able to sell off including Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele.

Derby Rhone-Alpine

Lyon and Saint Etienne are fierce rivals, they take these derbies very seriously. Etienne was once a strong force in the French Ligue One, where they won ten league titles, but the last of these came in 1981. With the rise of Olympique Lyon in the last twenty years, the historic champions will always want to put down their neighbours who are enjoying their recent success.

Derby Du Nord

A similar story to the Lyon and Saint Etienne derby, the match between RC Lens and Lille also features clubs that have contrasting fortunes in the French League. Though RC Lens have only won the title once, in 1998, they were one of the most popular clubs in the sixties, fielding many French Nationals. Lille has been slowly climbing up the league. The two clubs also have a contrasting social class, with Lens being known as an old, working class industrial city, whereas Lille is modern and middle class.

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