The Rising Standard In European Football – How The Quality Of Foreign Leagues Is Improving

The Rising Standard In European Football – How The Quality Of Foreign Leagues Is Improving
Feb 15, 2017

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Barcelona have been, and still, are considered as the greatest football club in the world in terms of style of play, players’ ability, recruitment, management etc, however, this reputation was recently tarnished when they were on the receiving end of a 4-0 hammering by Paris Saint-Germain.  Angel Di Maria scored a wonderful brace, while 21-year-old centre-half, Presnel Kimpembe pocketed Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez on his Champions League debut. This led to an influx of people beginning to acknowledge the increasing standard of football on offer in Ligue 1.

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his transfer from PSG to Manchester United in the summer, the goal record he arrived with was heavily criticised, with many people on social media putting the impressive ratio down to the fact that he was playing against below average defences, or as people on twitter would put it; ‘Lorient Farmers’. Now, there is obviously no questioning that Zlatan is a man with an incredible eye for goal, among other key attributes, but the fact of the matter is that until recent years, teams in leagues such as Ligue 1 have struggled to keep up with the heavyweights in their division, like PSG.

So when, why, and how has the standard of football in Ligue 1 increased so rapidly?

The increase in the quality of football being played in Ligue 1 can be put down to many things, however, a big reason as to how the standard has increased so quickly this season is that teams have adapted their styles of play in order to match up to the likes of PSG. This may seem like a fairly obvious statement but the fact of the matter is that in the past, teams such as Nice, Monaco, ASSE and to some extent Lyon, would simply lie down and accept the fact that PSG were better than them and were likely to win the league. This season thus far has shown that teams have focused on matching up to the heavyweights and have become far more aware of the need for tactic and formation changes in order to achieve this. For example, last season when PSG won the league by 31 points, Monaco tended to adopt a 4231 formation, which lacked creativity and showed a clear hesitation to change from the formation Monaco had adopted for years before. However, this season; manager Leonardo Jardim has adopted a 4222 formation with Valere Germain operating in the centre-forward role just behind Radamel Falcao. Full backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy have played pivotal roles in both defence and attack for Monaco this season, while young Tiemoue Bakayoko has been a revelation in the defensive midfield role, attracting interest from Premier League clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City. Monaco have seen great success this season so far when adopting this 4222 formation, and with bright sparks such as Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe in their side, it is no wonder that they have started to gain recognition on a wider scale.

Another factor which can be attributed to the rise in the level of football on offer in Ligue 1 is the youth systems many clubs have built their philosophies upon. The average age of every team in Ligue 1 put together is 25.9 years old, however individually, Nice and Toulouse have both fielded squads with an average 22.3 years old on multiple occasions in the league this season. Nice manager Lucian Favre counts on various youngsters to provide in the goals and assists department, with Wylan Cyprien, Alassane Plea, Vincent Koziello, Valentin Eyserric and Olivier Boscagli, who are all under 24 years old, playing key parts in Nice’s midfield and attack this season. Monaco also adopt this philosophy, with previously mentioned young striker Kylian Mbappe being one of the more recent revelations in a side oozing with young talent, with Arsene Wenger labelling the youngster as “a huge talent” and even comparing the 18-year-old to Thierry Henry. Without even looking in depth it is clear to see that Ligue 1 sides have a universal philosophy when it comes to purchasing young players, or bringing them up through the ranks of their respective youth systems, and it is clearly a successful philosophy when you see that Lyon, ASSE, PSG & Monaco are all still in the Champions League and Europa League.

A final factor which can be heavily attributed to the rising standard of football in Ligue 1 is the growing number of high-quality players, managers, and coaches moving to the league. When Laurent Blanc announced he was stepping down as PSG manager in 2016, speculation began as to who would replace him and attempt to fill the void left by such a great manager. Many well-known managers, such as Jose Mourinho and Roberto Mancini were linked with the post, however, the PSG board landed on [ex] Sevilla manager Unai Emery. It was an appointment which surprised some, but Emery arrived with an increasingly strong reputation having won three Europa League’s in a row under Sevilla as well as finishing in the Top 5 every league campaign he managed at the Andalusian club. So far in his managerial stint with PSG, Emery has reached the last 16 of the Champions League, is currently sitting in 2nd place in Ligue 1, three points behind first placed Monaco, and has signed the highly sought after Julian Draxler for a fee of £34m from VFL Wolfsburg, as well as young striker Goncalo Guedes from Benfica for a fee of £25m. Both of these players fit PSG’s philosophy of buying and developing young players into world beaters, and they will both definitely play big parts in PSG’s quest to win the league and the Champions League in years to come. Ligue 1 also has many other reputable coaches such as Nice’s Lucian Favre, Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim, who has been linked with being a possible successor for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Lyon’s Bruno Genesio who is currently sitting in 4th place in Ligue 1, as well as ASSE’s Christopher Galtier.

With the quality of teams in leagues such as La Liga and the Premier League, Ligue 1 has been overshadowed. However, in recent years it is clear that the standard of football is increasing with rapid speed, and teams such as Monaco and PSG, who were once considered amongst the second tier of European heavyweights, are quickly creeping up on Europe’s elite, and within three years, you’ll no doubt see the teams mentioned being considered in the Top 5 teams in the world.

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