Ligue 1 2018-19 Preview: All smiles as PSG set to reign supreme once more

PSG manager Thomas Tuchel
The atmosphere is happy and positive at PSG under new manager Thomas Tuchel, appointed this summer
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The French season kicks-off on Friday night and the defending champions will be too strong for the chasing pack yet again, writes James Eastham...

"Once Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar return to their best post-World Cup form there won't be a team in France that can live with them."

PSG won last season's Ligue 1 title at a canter and there's no reason to oppose the runaway favourites this time.

The club from the French capital are as short as [1.13] to claim their sixth title in seven seasons and those odds are justified given how much stronger they are than every other side in the division.

Under ex-boss, Unai Emery, PSG finished 13 points ahead of second-placed Monaco last season and it would be no surprise to see them secure a similar or bigger advantage over the chasing pack.

The PSG players are enjoying life under more relaxed new manager Thomas Tuchel and the team's as strong as ever. Once Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar return to their best post-World Cup form there won't be a team in France that can live with them.

Three-way race for Champions League spots

The also-rans are likely to be the same as last season. Monaco, Lyon (3rd) and Marseille (4th) should be too strong for the rest. There's little to pick between these three teams, who look set to fight it out for two Champions League places.

Monaco have invested heavily in more than a dozen young players but lost established performers Fabinho and Thomas Lemar; Lyon have tremendous quality and variety in attack but may yet lose Nabil Fekir; and Marseille, still seeking a new striker, are virtually unchanged from last season in all other positions.

Vieira faces stiff challenge at Nice

Below the Big Four, Rennes and St Etienne are the best of the rest. Rennes improved after appointing manager Sabri Lamouchi last November and should build on the progress they made. After a good summer transfer market their starting line-up and squad look better balanced.

St Etienne transformed their side last January and reaped the rewards by playing some tremendous football during the second-half of the season. Their ideal starting line-up is packed with experienced, high-calibre performers so they're capable of improving on last season's seventh place.

Nantes and Bordeaux will expect to retain top-half places. Nice finished eighth last season but new manager Patrick Vieira will struggle to do as well following the summer sales of Jean-Michael Seri (Fulham) and Alassane Plea (Borussia Monchengladbach). In the coming days 18-goal top scorer Mario Balotelli is expected to follow the pair out of the door.

Amiens and Caen look set for the drop

At the foot of the table there promises to be the usual scramble involving eight or nine teams desperate to avoid the drop.

On their first-ever appearance in Ligue 1, promoted Amiens did much better than anybody expected last season, finishing 13th (45 points). They'll struggle to do as well following the sale of talismanic playmaker Gael Kakuta (Hebei China Fortune), however. A lack of quality in other areas is a serious concern and Amiens no longer have the momentum of promotion to drive them forwards.

Caen will also struggle. They were just one point above the bottom three in last season's final standings and have gone backwards over the summer. Manager Patrice Garande has departed after six years in charge and Fabien Mercadal, his replacement, has no prior Ligue 1 experience. Five of last season's ideal starting line-up have left and there are question marks against some of the replacements.

Look out for promoted Nimes, who will be entertaining to watch. Their 4-4-2 was more of a 4-2-4 last season and manager Bernard Blaquart has pledged to use similarly attacking tactics this season. Nimes scored four times in nine of 38 games en route to promotion last season, with an average goals-per-game count of 2.95 across their fixtures. Expect high-scoring encounters home and away whenever the Crocodiles, as they are nicknamed, are on the pitch.

2018-19 Predictions
Champions: PSG
European positions: Lyon, Monaco, Marseille
Relegated: Caen, Amiens

James' final 2017-18 P/L

Staked: 107pts
Returned: 113.93pts
P/L: +6.93pts (6.5% ROI)

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