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5 things to watch in the second half of the Ligue 1 campaign

We’re only 19 matches into the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign, but it’s already proven to be a fascinating one in the top division of French football. Paris St. Germain appear poised to win the league again after a disappointing second-place finish behind Monaco last year, while sides like Metz, Angers and Lille are staring relegation in the face.

Neymar has proven to be money well spent for PSG, but could a personal rivalry with Edinson Cavani wind up causing the French giants to implode? What will come of Monaco youngster Thomas Lemar? There is plenty of intrigue still left in the current season, so let’s take a look at five storylines to watch in Ligue 1 down the stretch.

Will Thomas Lemar Stay Put?

January is already about halfway over, so we’ll have our answer to this one sooner rather than later. Monaco resisted overtures from several English clubs regarding starlet Thomas Lemar last summer, but, now that the January transfer window is open, speculation is ramping up once again.

While the club remained adamant that Lemar would not be sold last summer, things have changed in the months since. Monaco remain very much alive in the race to finish near the top of the Ligue 1 table, but it sounds as though the club’s brass is more willing to listen to offers for the 22-year-old.

Liverpool have emerged as perhaps the strongest suitor. The Reds lost Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona earlier in the month, and Jurgen Klopp is said to be eager to find a replacement. Lemar was a target of Liverpool’s over the summer, so it stands to reason that the Reds would still be interested in securing the player’s rights.

Lemar was a key figure in Monaco’s run to the league title last season, but he hasn’t fared as well this year playing for a side that has been largely stripped of much of its elite talent. Lemar has bagged just two goals in 13 appearances in the league. That said, he has missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, as well.

Lemar seems to have a bright future, but it makes sense for Monaco to cash in on him while his value remains high. Reports indicate that Monaco may be able to get as much as £90 million if they sell the player now, so don’t be surprised if he’s playing somewhere in England once the calendar flips to February.

Who Will Finish Second Behind PSG?

Paris aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but they look like a pretty good bet to wind up winning the league. If you’re on the matter, most experts will say that Paris are a lock to finish on top of the league. They’ve accrued 50 points through 19 matches, which is nine points clear of both Monaco and Lyon for second. It’s not impossible to think that Paris could be caught with so much time still to go in the season, but for all intents and purposes that race appears to be over.

So, the question becomes: which side finishes second? PSG clearly have the most talent in the league by a longshot, but the second tier of French sides appears to be strengthening. Monaco, Lyon and Marseille have effectively separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Paris reside in a tier of their own, while the second level is clearly a step above the likes of Nantes and Nice.

Despite having been pillaged in the summer transfer window, Monaco have been able to enjoy a rather solid campaign. Not many teams can lose talented players like Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy and remain relevant, but that’s exactly what Monaco have been able to achieve thus far.

As of now, the race for second appears to be Monaco’s to lose. Lyon underwent some changes of their own last summer, most notably the loss of star striker Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal. Fortunately, the team’s brass used the influx of cash well in buying the likes of Tanguy N’Dombele, Corentin Tolisso and Bertrand Traore.

We’ll pick Monaco to finish second, but wouldn’t be surprised if either Lyon or Marseille wound up leapfrogging them for the No. 2 spot.

Will Neymar Set a New Career-High in Goals?

When he arrived in Paris for a record fee over the summer, most believed Neymar would put up monster statistics now that he wouldn’t be forced to share the pitch with the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Neymar still put up hugely impressive numbers during his time at the Camp Nou, but he was always a secondary or tertiary figure with so many other massive stars in the squad.

Paris are certainly star-laden, as well, but Neymar is unquestionably the brightest star on the roster. It also must be said that the overall talent discrepancy between La Liga and Ligue 1 is quite sizeable. With Neymar squaring off against lesser opponents on a week-to-week basis in France, most believed he would set the league on fire.

As expected, the Brazilian No. 10 has been fabulous. He has already bagged 11 goals in his 14 appearances in the league, and he’s added another 8 goals in Champions League and League Cup play combined.

Neymar’s previous career-high for league goals in a season is 24, set back in the 2015-16 campaign with Barca. He scored 24 in 34 appearances that season, which, obviously, is a quality rate. He’s scoring at an even more furious clip so far this season, however, which has us thinking that he will surpass the total of 24 by the time it’s all said and done.

With the league title all but wrapped up, PSG fans can focus on individual records for the rest of the campaign.

Can Edinson Cavani and Neymar Continue to Coexist?

Back in November, it was widely reported that Neymar and his new goal-happy teammate, Edinson Cavani, clashed over which of them should take the team’s penalties. The two were seen on the pitch in a 2-0 win over Troyes arguing over which of them should take the strike from the penalty spot, which led to speculation that the two superstars may not get along so well.

Cavani claimed the penalty at first before Neymar came over to have a word. The two appeared to engage in a little argument before Cavani eventually wound up taking the kick himself. Unfortunately, Cavani’s shot was saved.

It wasn’t the first time the two had argued, either. Cavani missed another penalty back in September, and a local publication reported that the two players nearly came to blows in a dressing room dust-up after the game. The two were eventually separated before Neymar apologized to his teammates.

There haven’t been any further reports of issues between the two players, but players of their calibre are always going to carry massive egos. It’ll be worth watching to see whether we have any more incidents before their first season as teammates comes to a close.

Who Will Escape Relegation?

As of now, Lille, Angers SCO and Metz occupy the three relegation positions. Metz have accumulated just 11 points through 19 matches with an ugly goal differential of -21. Angers are further along with 18 points, while Lille have 19. Toulouse also have 19 points, but they are currently out of the relegation zone thanks to a better goal differential than Lille (-9 compared to -13).

While there are other clubs clear of the relegation zone, none of them are exactly home free quite yet. There is another handful of clubs (Amiens SC, Troyes, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne) that are all sitting on 21 points or fewer.

Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be nearly impossible for Metz to stay up. They’ve dug themselves an incredibly deep hole to begin the season, and there is no sign that they have the stomach for the fight. They’re a sure bet to be playing in Ligue 2 next year.

Predicting the other two relegation clubs is more of a crapshoot. Even the likes of Dijon, Strasbourg and Caen – all of which have 24 points – aren’t totally out of the woods quite yet.

Frankly, the relegation battle may wind up being more interesting than the battle for Champions League positions.

 



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