Ligue 1: Chaotic and competitive Champions League race shows life beyond PSG

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It isn’t a secret that Paris Saint-Germain have been way out in front this season in France’s top flight, yet it cannot be claimed that they are currently ‘dominant’ given they did not actually win the title last season.

Even so, that was widely seen as an aberration rather than proof of competitiveness – yet take the powerful Parisiens out of the equation and Ligue 1 has had one of the most wild battles in all of Europe going on for continental football in 2022.

As recently as 1 March, over two-thirds of the way through the season, just six points separated all teams between fourth and 11th in the table.

Even now, three games before the end of the campaign, any of eight different clubs are still in with a reasonable chance of landing one of the five European places behind PSG for 22/23 – France get three Champions League spots, two in the Europa League and one in the Europa Conference. The Coupe de France, meanwhile, sees OGC Nice face Nantes in the final. In Premier League position terms, that’s currently Tottenham vs Brighton, fifth vs ninth. There is no other big league which offers such variety and possibility at present, with proof of such opening this weekend’s action.

On 1 March, AS Monaco sat 10th, one place and one point behind last year champions Lille. On Friday night the teams meet with the principality side in fourth and on the best winning streak in all of Europe’s top five leagues, with seven straight victories pushing them to the brink of a Champions League spot.

Only Serbian side Red Star (10), Belgian outfit Club Brugge and displaced Ukrainians Shakhtar (both eight), boast more right now.

Key to Monaco’s late-season revival and consistency has been central defender Benoit Badiashile, long-linked with a move to one of England’s top sides but now focused on achieving a Champions League spot with his current club, after they missed out this term with defeat in the final play-off round back in August.

The 21-year-old came through the club’s youth system, debuted as a teenager in 2018 under Thierry Henry and has already played over 100 times for the club.

He has seen plenty of French football’s capacity for rapid change even at this early stage of his career, and sees it only as a positive for the top flight.

“There are several good teams in Ligue 1 who showed qualities in European competitions this season: PSG, Marseille, Monaco, Rennes. It’s good for the league but we saw that by Lille winning the title too, the competitiveness of the league is because there are strong teams, ”Badiashile told The Independent on a media call.

“Monaco deserves the Champions League and we want to be back on track. This is where Monaco want to be and we’re focused on getting back in there.

“Ligue 1 has good teams and top young talents. Of course we know other leagues like the Premier League and La Liga also have teams able to play European finals but France has a very competitive league and I hope it continues to grow. ”

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Naturally, given extensive links last summer with Manchester United and further reports of several of their domestic rivals being keen this coming transfer window, there’s the question of where his future lies and whether even if he helps Monaco get there, he’ll be part of the team by the time the group stage rolls around.

It’s not just the defender either: midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni is in-demand and others including Sofiane Diop and Youssouf Fofana have impressed enough to gain column inches and rumor headlines.

Badiashile (right) and Tchouameni (left) will both likely attract transfer bids this summer

(AFP via Getty Images)

Badiashile laughs off any real response to an imminent move, but acknowledges he did speak to several Premier League clubs previously.

Monaco, though, has it’s own means of generating loyalty in young potential superstars: play them.

“[The club] has always trusted young players and has a great academy. It has tradition to launch young players and when we see results and performances we can get with them, Monaco has to continue this way, ”he explained. That is evidenced again this week, with Mamadou Coulibaly signing a first professional contract with the club and Monaco taking the unusual step of confirming he had turned down offers from Man City, Atletico Madrid and AC Milan to do so.

He is for the future. Badiashile and his teammates are for the present, and a crucial end to the season which will still see two more fixtures between the four clubs battling for two remaining Champions League spots.

The title may not have seen a real race this year, but stress levels and excitement are off the charts when looking a little closer at the chasing pack.

BT Sport is the exclusive broadcaster of France’s Ligue 1 Uber Eats this season, with several live matches broadcast every week. Watch Lille v Monaco live on ESPN from 7.45pm on Friday 6th May. For more info, visit btsport.com

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