Memphis Depay’s move a sign of the French evolution

Is Ligue 1 becoming fashionable again? France Football asked its readers in an internet poll last week.

Memphis Depay’s move a sign of the French evolution

It is the transfer season that has French pundits excited as much as what has been happening on the pitch.

Julian Draxler moving to Paris Saint-Germain was a coup, especially as he then secured three points on his league debut against Rennes.

Memphis Depay’s sale to Lyon is also a boost to Ligue 1, though in this case the player has a lot more to prove.

Then there’s the Dmitri Payet saga and the chance that Marseille might sign a couple of other players, Mario Balotelli making waves down on the Riviera at Nice… and all of a sudden you can make a case for a French fashion revival.

Just about.

Neither Depay nor Balotelli were top 20 transfer targets — even top 50 might be pushing it — and Payet, if he moves, will simply be going back to his former club.

Fine player though Payet is, it looks like a vanity signing.

What Marseille need is defenders, as consecutive defeats by Monaco and Lyon have proved.

Seven goals conceded in two games is not the basis for a title challenge — they will find it hard enough to qualify for Europe — and their defence is so accident-prone they are seeking to sign Patrice Evra from Juventus.

That both Marseille and Lyon are in contention for Evra does put the status of Ligue 1 in perspective.

At 35 he’s no longer a first-choice player, even in a league that traditionally favours old defenders.

Should Marseille sign Aymen Abdennour from Valencia, that will be more of a statement.

Even so, that would still only represent a move back to France, and while Abdennour has been a solid centre-back for Tunisia, he is hardly a top-class signing.

Understandably most French fans are sceptical about claims of a Ligue 1 revival, at least according to that France Football poll.

Yet at the same time the competition is improving, and the showdown next Sunday between league leaders Monaco and PSG, three points behind, is the sort of genuine title clash that French football has been lacking.

Lyon are still (just) in the race, and there is a genuine outsider in contention.

Nice are still among the leaders, despite having gone four games without a win.

Balotelli has become their standard bearer, and has coped reasonably well with the pressure — including some unpleasant abuse, most recently during their needle match against Bastia.

As always with Balotelli, you feel he is walking a tightrope, but eight goals in 10 games is a good return, and his team’s unexpected success is about a lot more than one player.

Nice have the best defence in the league, along with PSG, and have still only lost one league game this season, despite defeats in three cup competitions.

Their clash with Monaco in a fortnight could well define their season.

But first comes Sunday’s game in Paris.

Monaco have far and away the strongest attack in the league — they have just scored four in consecutive games against Marseille and Lorient.

Winning 4-1 in front of 43,000 baying Marseillais in the Stade Velodrome has given them a major boost in confidence ahead of taking on PSG.

They owe a lot to the belated revival of Radamel Falcao, once again looking like a proper striker after his unhappy experience in England.

It has taken four years, but this is now his best season since leaving Atletico Madrid.

That signing was a real declaration of intent by Monaco, often a target of abuse in France because of their limited local support and their tax privileges. They are now starting to prove themselves as more than a rich man’s plaything.

The squad includes athletic young French players — Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield and the defender Djibril Sidibe — and some who have grown up with the club, such as Valere Germain.

A couple of years ago it seemed that France was in serious danger of becoming a one-team league. That’s no longer the case. Partly because PSG have weakened, but also because of new players coming through. The question now is whether clubs such as Monaco, Marseille, and Lyon can hold on to them.

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