Paris Saint-Germain have cemented themselves as favourites to win Ligue 1 this season, having made a number of high-profile signings this summer. Champions Monaco, on the other hand, have let a lot of their young talent leave for large fees, and have had to revitalise the team.
Neymar joined for a world record fee of €222 million after the Parisian club triggered his release clause from Barcelona, whilst Kylian Mbappé moved to the French capital from Monaco on a season-long loan with a compulsory purchase clause, thought to be around €180 million. With the Uruguayan, Edinson Cavani, supporting this new duo, PSG are the team to beat this season in Ligue 1.
Unai Emery’s men are heavy favourites to be champions again, which given that Monaco won the league by eight points only four months ago is quite a surprise. The great reinforcements made to the squad of last season’s runners-up, however, in comparison with the champions’ several departures, means that this is somewhat understandable.
Mbappé set records galore in the Champions League last season, and Neymar already has three goals in as many appearances in Ligue 1. These two prolific goalscorers join numerous world-renowned forwards at the club, including Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, Lucas Moura and others. Emery has a plethora of options to choose from in attack.
Paris Saint Germain have scored 80 or more goals in each of their last four domestic campaigns, and did not sell any first-team forwards in the summer transfer window. The early signs are that they are as deadly as ever going forward, scoring 14 goals in their first four league matches.
Lacking Defensive Depth
PSG conceded the fewest goals in the league last season (27), but their defence is the area that needs bolstering. While they have very high quality in their first-team defensively, Emery only has three recognised centre-halves at his disposal, including the young Presnel Kimpembe, who has only made 27 senior appearances in three seasons. Given that his ultimate task is to win the Champions League for the club, the manager will have to juggle playing time effectively with his backline and hope that injuries do not take their toll on the squad.
The focus on Champions League success will also impact the team domestically. With emphasis on winning against Europe’s elite, it could be very easy to lose concentration in Ligue 1 games around the time of continental fixtures. Monaco will also be in the competition, of course, but after the humiliation at the hands of Barcelona last season, Emery will feel as though he has a point to prove and there is a near obsession with the Champions League in Paris.
The Argument for Monaco
Monaco have matched their title rivals stride for stride so far this season, also winning all four matches and scoring 14 goals. The most recent of those four matches was a 6-1 drubbing of Marseille and with that, the club extended their Ligue 1 record for consecutive victories to 16.
Monaco may have lost several first team players to other European clubs, but that has not stopped them being able to lure in new talent. Valère Germain has been replaced with Stevan Jovetic, a proven European forward, and Mbappé’s shoes will be filled by Adama Diakhaby and Keita Baldé. Baldé could be one of the bargains of the summer at €30m. The Senegalese scored more goals than Mbappé last season, coming from a higher-ranked league in Serie A.
The principality has a good history of giving young players regular game time and that surely has been part of the reason why such high-quality talent has gone to Monaco. Youri Tielemans, for example, reportedly turned down both Manchester clubs, among others, to make the move to Stade Louis II.
Monaco have also increased their squad depth over the summer break. They lost four regular first-team players from last season but signed several more players to replace them. Not only this, but they have strong players coming back from loan spells, such as Rony Lopes, who impressed at Lille in 2016/17.
Retaining Key Players
Finally, despite the sales of their breakthrough players from last season, Leonardo Jardim, the manager, kept hold of some of his most vital players. Danijel Subasic, Kamil Glik and Djibril Sidibé, three of the six Monaco players to be chosen in Ligue 1’s Team of the Season, stayed put and no one came in for Radamel Falcao, who has already scored seven goals in the league this campaign.
Thomas Lemar attracted a large amount of interest towards the end of the window from the Premier League, but eventually remained at the club. He will have a large part to play in the upcoming season, too, if they are to challenge for honours.
Although Paris Saint-Germain have one of the best strike forces in Europe, they have neglected the thinnest area of their squad to make marquee signings that may have not been wholly necessary. With an unfortunate injury or two, they could easily find themselves struggling for quality in defence. Player for player in the first-team, though, they have a stronger outfit than their south coast rivals.
Monaco may have lost some budding young players, but they have crucially kept their experienced squad members who contributed massively to last season’s triumph. In addition, they have picked up some of the most promising talent in Europe who will give them a new look across the pitch. There is no reason to rule them out of the title race at this stage. In fact, they should be considered much closer to the Parisians in terms of quality than people give them credit for.