PARIS (AP) — Five teams to keep an eye on in the new French league season which starts this weekend.
A year ago, PSG lost Zlatan Ibrahimovic and made some bad moves on the transfer market. The club ended up relinquishing its league title to Monaco.
This summer could not have been more different. Coach Unai Emery remained in charge despite a Champions League's humiliation at the hands of Barcelona and only a few players have left in order to maintain stability in the squad.
Still chasing a first Champions League crown, PSG also added experience to its team by recruiting 34-year-old right back Dani Alves. Another Brazilian could soon land in Paris as PSG still hopes to manage the biggest coup of the transfer window by sealing a deal with Barcelona star Neymar in the coming days.
Despite losing the backbone of the team that won the title in May and the possibility of Kylian Mbappe's leaving for Real Madrid, Monaco has good reason to believe it can successfully defend its crown.
The main reason behind Monaco's optimism is Leonardo Jardim's decision to remain in charge at the Riviera club. More than any player in his squad, the Portuguese coach was the key element in Monaco's rise to the top last season.
A pragmatic manager, Jardim has already dealt with the departures of star players in the past and has proven he can change his tactics over the years.
In addition to Jardim's tactical nous, Monaco has also proved to be extremely savvy in recruiting new players, and it has been the case this year again with the arrival of midfielder Youri Tielemans and right back Jordy Gaspar. The news that striker Radamel Falcao was staying at the club has also been a big boost to the team's ambition.
Fueled by the ambition and money of owner Frank McCourt, Marseille's rebuilding program progressed further during the offseason, with Champions League qualification the main goal at the southern club.
Marseille, the only French club to win Europe's biggest club competition, wants to regain its past splendor and has recruited high-profile players in order to secure at least a Top 3 finish.
Striker Valere Germain, who joined from Monaco, has shown during warm-up games that he is already in top form and Marseille seems to have found the playmaker it was looking for in Brazilian Luiz Gustavo.
To strengthen its defense, Marseille has hired France defender Adil Rami but probably needs to add another high-profile defender to its squad to compete with PSG and Monaco for the title.
Two years after he abruptly quit Marseille amid a contract dispute, Marcelo "El Loco" Bielsa is back in France.
The Argentine manager has reshuffled the squad that finished at a disappointing 11th place last season, and imposed a heavy physical preparation to his players this summer.
Bielsa wants Lille to play his trademark brand of offensive football, and club officials want him to help them back into the Champions League.
Bielsa, who quit Lazio two days after signing on in July 2016, and left Marseille after its French league opening game in August 2015, has added a strong south-American touch to the club by bringing in Brazilians Thiago Maia, Thiago Mendes and highly-rated winger Luiz Araujo.
Lille paid Santos 14 million euros ($16.6 million) for the 20-year-old Maia, the biggest transfer in the club's history.
With 15 goals in 23 league games in the previous championship, Mario Balotelli achieved his best record over a single season.
The former Italy striker has not given up hope of a return to the national squad and decided to stay at the club. Probably a good decision in a crucial season that will culminate with the World Cup in Russia.
Nice coach Lucien Favre was not very enthusiastic when Balotelli joined last year but his doubts have been extinguished by the commitment shown by "Super Mario" throughout the season.
Although Balotelli will miss Nice's first league game because of a hamstring injury, his overall impact this season should be huge.
Nice's back four, which was well balanced last season, should be even better with the addition of the experimented France international Christophe Jallet.
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