Critics of Ligue 1 will deride this season as another procession to the title for Paris Saint-Germain, whose rivals were unable to sustain, or even mount, a challenge for the top spot. However, the final weekend of the season was a near-perfect microcosm of what has been a thrilling campaign up and down the table. A breathless evening of action on Saturday produced 37 goals scored across France, including 10 in the final quarter of an hour as both European spots and safety changed hands several times.
The focus of the evening was on Marseille, where the hosts – who had looked sluggish in losing to Rennes last weekend – were in danger of falling out of the Champions League contention thanks to the form of Monaco. Marseille would need a win and help from Lens to pip the Principality side to second place and automatic qualification, while needing at least a point to stay above Rennes owing to the Bretons’ superior goal difference.
It did not look an easy task. Dimitri Payet and Bamba Dieng were unavailable through injury, and William Saliba, who has been a revelation all season, had to serve a one-match suspension for an accumulation of bookings. The hosts shook off those potential setbacks to thump Strasbourg – who needed a win to come fifth – 4-0. Boubacar Kamara – who has completed a move to Aston Villa – could potentially be joined out of the exit door by Saliba this summer, and questions remain around the future of Jorge Sampaoli, but coming second is an impressive achievement given they had a grueling European campaign and were competing in the league with Rennes and Nice, who invested a lot last summer.
However, Marseille finished second because of a last-minute equalizer conceded by Monaco at Lens. Off the back of nine straight wins, Monaco were pegged back in the sixth minute of stoppage time by an Ignatius Ganago goal, which sent them down to third. The way their season finished was cruel, but the transformation of this team under Philippe Clement has been truly outstanding. Following an unseemly Europa League exit, there were even rumblings about a premature exit for the Belgian, but he finished the season on a high, getting the best out of his squad and taking them into the playoffs for next season’s Champions League, where this young team will want a measure of revenge following an unlucky exit last season. Keeping Aurélien Tchouameni will be difficult given his immense performances this season, but Monaco will be hoping to build on their last two months of play come August.
Nice pulled off the shock of the evening, matching Manchester City with their own comeback from 2-0 down. Andy Delort was meant to be a marquee addition for Les Aiglons following a brilliant season with Montpellier last year, but he has struggled at times under Christophe Galtier, even losing his place on occasion to Kasper Dolberg. But since scoring the winner off the bench against PSG in early March, he has gone on a tear, scoring 10 goals in that span to help his team stay in European places despite some uneven defensive displays. He scored the first hat-trick of his career on Saturday as Nice beat Reims 3-2, capping what has been a frustrating season with a place in next year’s Conference League. It may not be the finish the club’s hierarchy had hoped for given their summer outlay, but Nice’s strong finish this season ought to be enough evidence for continuity at the Allianz Riviera.
While Nice were battling back to win, another thriller was unspooling in Lille as Rennes took on the defending champions, needing a point to clinch fourth place. A brace from Timothy Weah had given the hosts an unlikely lead going into added time, before Serhou Guirassy leveled the match in the 93rd minute, allowing Bruno Génésio’s side to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish.
While the strident form of Monaco may have denied the Bretons a Champions League place, Génésio, winner of the league’s coach of the year award, has this team playing some impressive football, despite lengthy injury spells for Kamaldeen Sulemana and Jérémy Doku. Given the financial backing of the club’s ownership, they will not be under any pressure to sell and should be able to more capably balance the challenge of fighting on two fronts next season.
Finally, the battle to avoid the drop also sparkled. Metz, in the relegation playoff spot at the start of play, were beaten 5-0 by PSG and went down. St-ientienne were the beneficiaries. Veteran Romain Hamouma, the club’s longest-serving player, came off the bench against Nantes and helped salvage a point, which sets up a relegation playoff against Auxerre.
Kylian Mbappé was the star of the evening in Paris following his contract renewal, finishing with a hat-trick to clinch the league’s golden boot. But a word should be offered for Dingel Di María. The Argentinian played his last match for the club after seven seasons, having rarely drawn the notice of more vaunted teammates, but his determination and versatility made him an important part of this team. He leaves as the club’s all-time assist provider, and while the time is probably right for his departure, Ligue 1 is the better for having been home to his consistency and class.
Angers closed their season with a 2-0 win over Montpellier. Angers’ raft of departing veterans should be given their plaudits. Thomas Mangani, Ismaël Traoré, and Romain Thomas each played more than 200 matches in the top flight for the team, who have managed to comfortably avoid relegation in each season since being promoted. Things under new boss Gérald Baticle have hardly been smooth this season, but their calming influence has helped the team punch above their weight with unerring consistency, no mean feat in a season in which far more ballyhooed clubs have struggled against the drop.
Finally, while this has been a rather frustrating season for Lyon, given their uneven form in the league, the redemption of Moussa Dembélé in 2022 has been outstanding. After an ill-fated loan spell at Atlético Madrid last year, he missed two months with a broken leg in the autumn and had just four goals at the turn of the year. However, since January, he has been on fire. His goal against Clermont on Saturday was his 17th in the league in that spell – only Mbappé has done better around Europe’s main leagues. Lyon will need to be busy this summer if they hope to get back in contention for European football but the striker, who has also been wearing the captain’s armband of late, looks like a player around whom to build.