PARIS: Not so long ago it was the most competitive league in Europe, yet few people will anticipate anything but a Paris Saint-Germain procession towards another title as the Ligue 1 season commences this weekend.
There were five different champions in five seasons from 2008 to 2012 but now the capital club will be looking for a third consecutive title after a summer in which their rivals, feeling the financial pinch, got weaker.
In May, PSG were fined 60m euros ($82m, £49m) by UEFA for failing to comply with Financial Fair Play rules, although that has not stopped them from strengthening.
They accepted the punishments “in spite of the tremendous handicap they represent in terms of the club’s ability to fully compete on an equal footing against Europe’s biggest teams.”
But president Nasser Al Khelaifi declared that “nothing and no-one will stop us, we always dream bigger.”
And the capital club were still able to splash out a reported 50m euros to sign Brazil defender David Luiz (pictured) from Chelsea while powerful Ivory Coast full-back Serge Aurier joined on loan from Toulouse.
Meanwhile, talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains, and he is eager to pick up where he left off last season. “My job hasn’t finished. I said when I arrived at the club two years ago that I wanted to help make history at this club,” he said. “We’re doing that and we’ll continue to do so.”
While it remains to be seen whether Laurent Blanc’s side can get beyond the quarter-finals in the Champions League, Ibrahimovic’s words will sound ominous to the rest of French football.
Indeed, it is hard to see where a genuine threat can come from.
Monaco spent big last year to emerge as contenders but the principality club’s Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev will be wary of the need to make sure they fall in line with Financial Fair Play.
They have a new coach, with Claudio Ranieri having been replaced by the 40-year-old Portuguese Leonardo Jardim, formerly with Sporting Lisbon.
However, Colombia’s James Rodriguez has gone to Real Madrid for a reported 80m euros, and if Radamel Falcao is fit again, his future at the Stade Louis II remains shrouded in uncertainty.
No major signings have come in, and Jardim, of whom little was known in France before his arrival, knows that competing with PSG will be a huge ask.
“They are the leading candidates to win the title. Once again they have strengthened their squad so it is going to be difficult to challenge them,” he admitted.
Monaco are one of seven clubs to have appointed a new coach this summer, with major changes having been made at Marseille.
Last season, French football’s best-supported side failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in 10 years and, in an effort to revive fortunes, excentric Argentine Marcelo Bielsa was named as coach.
The 59-year-old has brought six staff members with him, plus a translator, but little is known of his early impressions of life at the Stade Velodrome -- he has yet to speak to the media.
“The objective is to finish at least third,” said president Vincent Labrune, with a podium place carrying with it Champions League qualification, although they must cope without playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, sold to Dynamo Moscow.
There is also a new coach at Lyon, with former OL defender Hubert Fournier arriving from Reims to replace Remi Garde.
This will be a third consecutive campaign without Champions League football at the Stade de Gerland, and the team who dominated in the last decade are now merely outsiders for a top-three finish.
Among the coaching changes elsewhere, former French internationals Willy Sagnol and Claude Makelele have taken over at Bordeaux and Bastia respectively.
However, Lille and Saint-Etienne, having retained their coaches, will hope to build on top-four finishes last season and make impressions in Europe, something a French game lacking strength in depth desperately needs.
Meanwhile, two famous names return, with Metz promoted alongside former champions Lens, now owned by Azerbaijani businessman Hafiz Mammadov. Nevertheless, survival will be the name of the game for them.