Dermot shares his antepost selections and reviews how much has changed in Ligue 1 over the summer
Last season’s antepost selections were saved by Angers. In hindsight it should have been my only selection as I was very sweet on it. Put it this way, on a 1-5 point staking plan this was a 20 point bet. There is plenty of antepost value again this year even if the change from 20 to 18 teams for 2023/24 negates some of the better ones.
Overview of the season
Is another PSG procession looming? Will all or any of the promoted sides stay up? Will Kylian Mbappé start the season at PSG and if so can anyone outscore him?
Personally, I don’t think Luis Enrique will succeed at PSG but their summer signings of Lucas Hernandéz, Milan Skriniar, Lee Kang-in and Marcos Asencio should be enough to see them win Ligue 1 even without Lionel Messi. Their biggest signing though will be Manuel Ugarte from Porto as teams were targeting the lightweight nature of the Parisians midfield nature last season. Ugarte will provide the steel they lacked and saw their European hopes dashed in the round of 16 last season.
The usual summer circus of media outlets trying to up their level of online engagement has been downright shocking. 99% of it revolves around Kylian Mbappé. The French star didn’t want to travel on PSG’s tours this summer which has equated to a ton of made up clickbait about impending moves away from Parc des Princes. From a betting point of view, Kylian Mbappé staying means the 7/4 SkyBet have on offer is as close to “buying money” as one can get. There are 2 less ‘weaker’ sides this season for rivals to increase their tallies against. He will suffer in one sense from the absence of Messi’s creativity but it’s one less player scoring the chances he might otherwise take.
In the level below PSG, Marseille have bolstered the ranks with quality additions. Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ismaila Sarr and Renan Lodi are all of a better level than Ligue 1. An intriguing addition to the attack is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. His form two season’s ago for Barcelona was excellent. He’s 34 now but OM have a decent recent history with aging stars, as Alexis Sanchéz and Dimitri Payet prove. The latter though has been released on a free transfer. Amine Harit has been signed permanently from Schalke to try and bridge Payet’s absence. Marcelino takes over the hot seat this season which might make Harit surplus to requirements before a ball is kicked. The Spaniard is noted for his rigid use of the 442 formation so it will be interesting to see what combinations emerge at the Stade Vélodrome.
Both Lens and Monaco have sold more talent than they have purchased. After the drama of Seko Fofana’s contract extension at Lens last season, the ‘best player outside of Paris’ has now been sold to the Saudi league. Also leaving northern France is Lois Openda. After a slow start, the Belgian finished the season with 21 goals (4th in the scoring charts). Les Sang et Or finished only a point behind PSG last season but with Champions League football in store this season, even a top 4 finish might be a stretch after two huge losses to the squad. Monaco will have much the same side next season even after the sale of Axel Disasi to Chelsea. Mohammed Salisu joins from Southampton as a like for like replacement. After a drawn out ‘will he, won’t he’ saga regarding Alexander Nubel, ASM have had enough and signed Swiss shot stopper Philippe Kohn from RB Salzburg.
Lyon and Nice will have pretty much the same starting sides as last year but both clubs have done quite a bit of housekeeping, moving on 12 and 9 players respectively. Lille have hardly changed at all for 2023/24 and as for Rennes, see below. The only other side that raises an eyebrow are Strasbourg. The Alsace side have been bought by BlueCo, the same owners as Chelsea. As of yet, the only player directly transferred is Brazilian winger Angelo. However, €53m has been spent on four 20 year olds, a spending figure only surpassed by PSG and Marseille. It will be interesting to see where Racing end the season with those additions joining a squad that still has the majority of the side that finished 6th in 2021/22.
Towards the end of the table, Brest will struggle having sold Franck Honorat to M’gladbach. The signing of veteran Jonas Martin from Lille should see them safe come the end of the season. Clermont finished 8th last season with Lorient, Reims, Montpellier and Toulouse filling spots 10 to 14. I’d imagine you could probably swap Clermont and Reims and have the same finishing positions for this season. Montpellier’s season will likely start but not finish with Elye Wahi starting upfront. Chelsea have been trying to buy the striker but the clubs haven’t yet come to a deal. The rumour doing the rounds is he will be bought and immediately loaned to Strasbourg (that move would make the 7/1 of a top 6 finish for Strasbourg appealing).
Reims have made an intriguing purchase in Amine Salama. He only managed 3 goals in a desperately poor Angers side but there were enough flashes of potential to suggest he’s a decent player given the right environment. It will be hard to replace Folarin Balogun’s goals but if he can manage 10-12 goals it might enough for a top half finish for Will Still’s side. Toulouse have bought in numbers to replace the enigmatic, and wonderfully named, Branco van den Boomen. The scouting network for Les Violets has proven itself to be very effective the past two seasons and van den Boomen’s creativity might be replaced by Spaniard Cesar Gelabert. A former ‘wonderkid’ at Real Madrid Castilla, the attacking midfielder had a decent season for a struggling Mirandes side in Spain’s second tier last season.
While there are always surprises from newcomers to a league (Clermont 2021/22, Toulouse 2022/23), I don’t see that happening with Metz or Le Havre. Metz were relegated two seasons ago with quite a young squad. A decent chunk has been retained but the better part of it has been sold on. One player to keep an eye on is Georgian striker Georges Mikautadze. With 23 goals and 8 assists in Ligue 2 last season, he could be to Les Grenats what Mohamed Bayo was to Clermont in 2021/22. Le Havre have had a long history of being one of the best academies in France. Ibrahim Ba, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Lassana Diarra, Riyad Mahrez, Steve Mandanda, Vikash Dhorasoo, Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet all started at the Normandy side. The average of the current side is just 25 years which shows that the academy is still the focus of the club. Unfortunately youthful exuberance will only go so far. Lack of a top class goalscorer will hurt as the season rolls on (three players finished top scorer last season with a paltry 6 goals). Luka Elsner’s side has been built on a solid defence (only 19 goals conceded last season) but teams need to score to stay in Ligue 1. Along with Metz, I don’t see Le Havre staying up. Read below to find out who I think will join them.
Ligue 1 Relegation
Where better to start than the only antepost selection to land last season? Having won Coupe de France in 2021/22, the wheels well and truly came off Nantes season when beaten in the 2022/23 final of the same competition 5-1 by Toulouse. That defeat saw Antoine Kombouaré lose his job with the Brittany side going on to have a W1-D1-L4 record afterwards. The only win was a 1-0 victory over relegated Angers, which saved Les Canaries from being a Ligue 2 side at the expensive of Auxerre. Pierre Aristouy is the new man in the hot seat. Whilst he may do well with a full pre-season, in his interviews he doesn’t seem to have the makings of a good head coach.
The loss of Ludovic Blas to Rennes will be almost impossible to offset. In a bizarre move Andy Delort was bought for €5m and then sold a week later to Umm-Salal of Qatar for €2.5m. A decent chunk of the transfer budget was spent to secure Mostafa Mohamed from Galatasary for €5.75m but 8 goals in 36 Ligue 1 games last year doesn’t seem enough to improve on last seasons relegation near miss. Without Blas in the side, there is a distinct lack of creativity. Defensive stalwart Nicolas Pallois is 35 now and goalkeeper Alban Lafont went from being touted as the replacement for Hugo Lloris in the national team to being potentially 2nd or 3rd choice at club level this season.
Nantes to be relegated @ 4/1
Ligue 1 Top 4 Finish
I’m torn between suggesting this selection in the finishing in the Top 4 or the Betting w/o PSG market. Rennes are 8/1 without PSG but an amazing 2/1 to finish in the top 4. You’d think they finished 7th last season at that price but they did indeed finish 4th. This was without talisman Martin Terrier who missed more than half the season after an ACL tear (he is due back at the end of September). Les Rouge et Noirs were already one of the most attacking teams in Ligue 1 and have kicked things up another level by signing attacking midfielders Ludovic Blas from Nantes and Enzo Le Fee from Lorient. They may need a little more in defence after loans from English clubs didn’t work out last season. A lot will depend on 18yr old centre back Jeanuël Belocian who showed signs of being a player of incredible potential last season. As a side note I’ve backed Rennes to win Ligue 1 at 80/1. Best available is now 50/1 which is probably still value as I’d have them around 25/1, ahead of Lyon, Lens and Lille.
Rennes to finish in the Top 4 @ 2/1
Ligue 1 Antepost Smart Bets
Nantes to be relegated @ 4/1 (1pt win)
Rennes to finish in the Top 4 @ 2/1 (1pt win)
Kylian Mbappé to finish top goalscorer @ 7/4 (3pt win)