League Focus: Four conclusions from the Ligue 1 season so far
1) Paris Saint-Germain are far stronger for having a fit Thiago Motta
Much has changed for PSG in the last 12 months. At the beginning of the season, Laurent Blanc outlined his hope that PSG would become more of a dominant team, bossing possession and always looking to attack. That has come to pass.
PSG have had an average of 63.8% of the ball in Ligue 1 games this season, and much of that control of matches can be attributed to the excellent form of Thiago Motta in midfield. The Brazilian-born Italy midfielder started just 11 times in 2012/13, but he has already played 16 Ligue 1 matches this season, and was suspended for one of the remaining three – PSG’s ability to keep him fit has been crucial.
Motta’s experience is key. At 31, he is the elder statesman of the regular midfield three by five clear years ahead of Blaise Matuidi (26) and Marco Verratti (21), and has been metronomic, completing a staggering 93.4% of his passes.
His presence has started to calm Verratti, who has received 5 bookings in 16 games, but this compares favourably with the 10 yellows he was shown in 23 starts last season. The young Italian has also been liberated creatively to deliver 4 assists, already equalling his total from the whole of the last campaign. The steady Motta is the unsung hero.
2) A strong defence is worth more than a lively attack
Lille’s soar into the top three has been unprecedented. Given the summer sales of Dmitri Payet and Florian Thauvin to Marseille, it appeared clear which way the wind was blowing and that new coach René Girard would be leading a season of consolidation. Instead, Les Dogues have an astounding 40 points at the halfway stage, thanks mainly to their defence, which has conceded just 8 times in 19 matches.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s stellar form has been widely noted; curiously, he communicates in English with centre-backs Simon Kjaer and Marko Basa. The resurgent Kjaer makes 2.1 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game, while Basa commits an average of only 0.6 fouls per match.
The top two, PSG and Monaco, occupy the place of joint second-best defence, with 13 conceded each, while the most successful of the newly-promoted teams, Nantes, have let in just 17 in their opening 19 matches.
All of surprise packages Nantes’ top four performing players, according to WhoScored’s ratings, are defenders. The leading pair, Papy Djilobodji and Issa Cissokho (7.5 and 7.25 respectively), have been ever-present while a fifth, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo was named by beIN Sport pundit Luis Fernandez in his team of the season so far this weekend.
The two teams with the worst defences, Ajaccio and Sochaux (40 and 38 goals conceded respectively), occupy the bottom two spots in the division, while third top-scorers Lyon languish in 10th, having let in a hefty 29.