Paris Saint-Germain were reeling. After sacking Thomas Tuchel (who immediately went and won the Champions League with Chelsea) and replacing him with Mauricio Pochettino last season, the Parisians couldn’t hang on to the league, losing it to Christophe Galtier’s Lille. So, they did what most teams do after falling just short in a title race: they signed Sergio Ramos, Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Georginio Wijnaldum on frees, then shelled out to sign Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan, Danilo Pereira from Porto, and Nuno Mendes from Sporting CP (on a loan, but with a buy option that was later exercised).
Okay, that was a joke. After creating perhaps the most ridiculous front three in footballing history with Messi, Neymar, and Mbappé, PSG cruised to the league title – however, they found disappointment in the Champions League and in the Cup, where they crashed out on penalties to Nice. Part of this was the injury issue – Messi, Neymar, and Mbappé barely even played together until February due to various injuries. Part of it was that the front three didn’t totally mesh well – but even then, they often overwhelmed teams on talent alone, having three of the best creators in world football in their side (and that’s not even mentioning Angel di María and Marco Verratti).
Elsewhere in the league, Marseille looked fantastic at times and ended up beating Monaco to the second automatic qualifying spot. With Dmitri Payet, William Saliba, Matteo Guendouzi, Boubacar Kamara, Gerson, and more, they finished 2 points clear of Monaco on the season’s final day to secure themselves a place in the 2022-2023 Champions League. With Kamara’s transfer value through the roof and the fact that Guendouzi and Saliba are loanees, it’s possible that this Marseille team looks very different at this time next year – but this iteration was able to accomplish some impressive things.
Monaco ended just above a splendid Rennes side (led by breakout star Benjamin Bourigeaud) thanks to the efforts of players like Wissam Ben Yedder and Caio Henrique, thus securing themselves a place in the 2022-2023 UCL qualifying rounds. It seems incredible that this team was almost relegated in 2018-2019 (they finished 17th, two points clear). After losing in the UCL play-off round to Shakhtar Donetsk thanks to a 114th-minute own goal, they’ll be looking to find their way back into Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since that disastrous 2018-2019 season. That’ll be a tough ask after losing star midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni to Real Madrid, but perhaps they can use the cash inflow to strengthen their side and win their first UCL title (they lost in the final to Jose Mourinho’s Porto side in 2003-2004).
Rennes are Ligue 1’s Europa League participants (assuming Monaco don’t crash and burn in the UCL playoffs) after coming 4th, a painful three points behind Monaco despite a +42 goal difference (2nd behind PSG). Their goal difference gave them the bid over Nice on a tiebreaker, so it will be Nice heading to the Europa Conference League play-off round, with Strasbourg, Lens, and Lyon just short. Rennes’ midfield maestro Benjamin Bourigeaud made up for the loss of Eduardo Camavinga with a stunning season (some of it, admittedly, out on the wing), and second striker Martin Terrier’s 21 goals certainly helped as well, as Rennes torched the league to the tune of 82 goals. Goalkeeper Walter Benítez helped Nice boast the league’s best defense – they tied with PSG in goals allowed, but it should be noted PSG never had to face their own attack, by far the league’s best.
On the relegation side of things, Bordeaux saw their 30-year-run in the top flight come to an end, and Metz are going back down after a 3-year stay. St. Étienne, who have the joint-most titles in the history of French football (10, with Marseille), are going down as well after losing to Auxerre in a penalty shootout in the relegation playoff, following an 18 year stay in the top flight. They haven’t won a title since Michel Platini captained their side in 1981, and it’s not looking like they’ll be adding onto their total any time soon.
Ligue 1 maintained its 5th position in the UEFA Coefficient rankings, still trailing Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A by some distance, and with Holland’s Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga close behind. It’s still a top 5 league, and with players like Neymar, Messi, and Mbappé, it should stay that way for a little while longer. The Ligue 1 talent factory continues to produce, with Aurélien Tchouaméni the most recent big-dollar signing (to Real Madrid) – and if it keeps rolling, the league will solidify itself sooner rather than later.
Kylian Mbappé won the top scorer award with 28 goals – 1 more than his tally last season – and Wissam Ben Yedder was just behind with 25. Moussa Dembélé and Martin Terrier tied for 3rd with 21 goals apiece. Mbappé again led the assist charts, but Lionel Messi was just behind despite the disparity in minutes played. Benjamin Bourigeaud, playing his best football at age 28, came third. Benítez and Alexander Nübel were neck and neck in most advanced goalkeeping stats, while Lionel Messi did as he usually does and dominated the ball progression and creation numbers.
And without further ado, it is time: TheDyspatch’s first edition of the Ligue 1 TOTY (in 4-3-3 format) and POTS award.
GOALKEEPER: Walter Benítez, Nice/Argentina
Argentina might have some tough choices to make at keeper – Emi Martinez has been sensational with the senior squad, but Benítez was simply superb this season and it could be argued he deserves a look for his country, with Martinez’s shot stopping taking a hit at Aston Villa this season. Benítez is also a French citizen, although TheDyspatch Serie A Player of the Season Mike Maignan and Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris make any path to the France national team difficult. Gianluigi Donnarumma may have won the official Ligue 1 Goalkeeper award, but it was Benítez who was clearly the better keeper. Monaco’s Alexander Nübel also deserved a look here.
LEFT BACK: Caio Henrique, Monaco/Brazil
Henrique was spectacular for Monaco, helping lead the team into a UCL qualifying position. The Brazilian doled out 8 assists and caused terror down the left flank all season long.
CENTER BACK: Marquinhos, PSG/Brazil
Obvious choice here. Marquinhos was great all season for PSG, even scoring some goals when they needed him to. The São Paulo native is quietly building a resume that places him among the best of his generation.
CENTER BACK: William Saliba, Marseille/France
Saliba, on loan from Arsenal, was simply fantastic for Marseille, anchoring a defense that ranked among the best in the league and controlling play from the back. The deserved winner of the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Season award, he certainly left his mark in France and deserves his place here.
RIGHT BACK: Achraf Hakimi, PSG/Morocco
Hakimi’s now won two league titles in a row, and it’s no accident. The Moroccan right back is a dynamo on the right side. He struggled to fit in with Messi’s style of play at times, often having to defend his whole side by himself, but Hakimi still played a huge role in PSG’s title. Jonathan Clauss gets an honorable mention.
CENTER MID: Marco Verratti, PSG/Italy
The beating heart of PSG’s midfield, Verratti was the best player for the Parisians at times – a crazy thing to say given the presence of players like Mbappé, Neymar, and Messi. When Verratti was out injured, the team looked completely different. He had a great year and is easily deserving of making this 11.
CENTER MID: Dmitri Payet, Marseille/France
Payet’s really more of an attacking mid, but it seemed unfair not to include him with the year he had. Only – you guessed it – Lionel Messi produced similar output to Payet in terms of creation and ball progression this season. Payet was a star as Marseille finished second to return to the Champions League.
CENTER MID: Benjamin Bourigeaud, Rennes/France
Bourigeaud was playing in Ligue 2 as recently as 2016-2017, but the 28-year-old’s breakthrough season leaves him in the TOTY – and deserving of his first national team call-up, which he has yet to receive. He did play a lot of winger for Rennes, but played enough midfield to find himself here.
RIGHT WING: Lionel Messi, PSG/Argentina
This will easily be the most controversial pick here, but Messi was actually great this season in Ligue 1. He managed only 6 goals, yes, but was second in the league with 14 assists, and he dominated ball progression, chance creation, dribbling, and shot and goal creation statistics, as he always does. 20 npG+A in 23.9 90’s is a season many players can only dream of. Combine his output (3rd in Ligue 1 in npG+A/90) with that, and you have another amazing season, one well deserving of a place in the best 11.
STRIKER: Wissam Ben Yedder, Monaco/France
Ben Yedder deserved his golden boot, although he was of course beaten out by Mbappé. The Frenchman was class all season for Monaco and played a huge role in helping them reach the UCL qualifying round. Honorable mention to Rennes’ Martin Terrier, who was fantastic in his own right.
LEFT WING: Kylian Mbappé, PSG/France
No-brainer. The Ligue 1 leader in goals AND assists, along with putting up elite creation numbers, elite dribbling, and elite ball progression, Mbappé was unstoppable all season long. It’s just a shame that a defensive meltdown in the UCL Round of 16 will cost him the Ballon D’or – although Karim Benzema is certainly a deserving winner.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON:
Kylian Mbappé, PSG/France
The best player on the planet right now. Karim Benzema will win the Ballon D’or, but there’s no question (or, at the very least, there should be no question) that Mbappé’s the best in the world, having finally surpassed Leo Messi – and at just 23, he could remain in that position for a long time.