Thirteen rounds have been played, give or take (see below), so it is a good time to have a look at the trends emerging in Ligue 1 this season. For context, this includes some comparisons against the Premiership and last season’s results, and some visuals of each team’s changing position and the spread throughout the table can be found in this dashboard.
Is attacking getting better or defending getting worse?
There have been 347 goals (20 penalties) so far, 2.69 per game. This compares favourably with last season (336 at this point, or 2.58 per game, dropping to 2.52 by the end of the season), but still a little less frantic than the Premiership (2.8 per game both this season and last).
Ligue 1 is often seen as a lower-scoring, more tightly controlled league, but this season seems to have got a little bit wilder – there have been 15 games with 5 goals or more (11.6% of matches) versus 35 overall (9%) last season, and the number of nil-nils (6 – 4.65%) has dropped as well (from 27 – 7%). The overall conversion rate (goals/shots) is 11.5%, which again compares favourably to last season’s 10.2%, and also to the Premiership (11% last season, 10.4% this).
It is difficult to evaluate whether this is an attacking strength or a defending weakness, as there are several factors involved that one can observe, rather than deduce from the data. In brief, my personal observations would be a) Ibra and b) the fact that whenever I am preparing to live-tweet a match, at least one team always seems to have half their first-choice backline missing (viz Lorient, mostly, Toulouse yesterday, Montpellier, again mostly, and even PSG losing all their right-backs down the back of the sofa for their game against Rennes).
Promisingly for Lyon and Valenciennes, they are the only teams with two players in the top ten (actually 16 at the minute) scorers chart – OL have Gomis on 6 and Lopez on 5, Valenciennes have Kadir and Le Tallec both on 5. Ibra is top of the chart with 10, of course, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is breathing down his neck with 8. For fans of defensive howlers, ‘c.s.c.’ is right up there with 13 (own) goals contributed so far.
There is the issue, of course, that stats cannot express the quality, even the beauty, of goals – something that Romain Alessandrini and Foued Kadir seem to be proving all by themselves – but overall Ligue 1 is providing bang for buck at the minute.
It should be borne in mind that the game in hand in Ligue 1 is a potentially crucial tie between current leaders Lyon and 4th-placed Marseille, the Olympico that was called off due to ‘weather’ in round ten. That will be played on Wednesday November 28th when the other kids are playing in the Coupe de la Ligue quarter finals, as the Olympique teams were beaten in the last round by Nice and PSG respectively.
Looking at the table, however, the top ten are separated only by 7 points (12 in the Premiership, a round behind and with two games in hand) and there has been no breakaway as yet. Notable, also, that the Premiership, despite being a round behind, already has a top three who are above their French equivalents on points (see ‘Standings Scatter’ on the dashboard, and that doesn’t include round 12 of the Premiership). A gap did develop last season as MHSC, PSG and LOSC pulled away, but the gap between 3rd and 4th was ten points, compared to a gaping 19 points between the Manchester clubs and 3rd-placed Arsenal in the Premiership.
This does help to keep things interesting, as the bottom half of the table tends to be closer as well – last season there were 11 points separating the bottom ten compared with 22 in the Premiership, and while Nancy and Troyes do look to be a little adrift already, the four teams immediately above the drop-zone are all on 14 points, so the run-up to the Christmas break will be crucial for them to try to put some clear blue water between themselves and the lanterne rouge.
Before the season began, given PSG’s recruitment policy and the sale of some key players from the other podium clubs (Hazard, Giroud), there was a feeling that Ligue 1 could become a procession, a largely formal affair with a victory party in the capital inevitable, and the bunting already on order. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, however; Marseille may have dropped off a little after a fine start to the season, but they have that game in hand, Lyon are looking good, Bordeaux have snuck into the top three, and then St Etienne, Valenciennes and Rennes all on 22 should provide at least one more ‘stayer’ as the teams fight it out for the European places. Write off PSG at your peril, of course, but it looks like they won’t have things all their own way.
Refereeing is very important – it helps the game flow, applies the rules of the game, secures the well-being of the players, and gives pundits and fans something to bitch about. Right from the start of the 2012.13 season, it looked like a memo had been sent round at headquarters, as we started with three red cards in the opening game and things have not really let up from there. 45 red cards have been dished out so far – as well as season opener Montpellier v Toulouse, Rennes v Lorient also featured 3 reds, and another seven matches have seen two, four of which, including the recent PSG v St Etienne shock, saw one team go down to nine men.
In context – that is 0.35 reds per game so far, or a sending off on average every three matches. Last season’s total was 0.28, and the Premiership comparison (both seasons) is 0.17, or less than 1 every 5 matches. On overall bookings, Ligue 1 sees 29 fouls and 3.5 yellows per game against the Premiership’s 23 and 3.2.
(As an aside, as well as bitching about refereeing in the Ligue, pundits often have a pop at the standards of discipline in the Premiership, seeming to think that it is some sort of lawless wasteland where anything goes; this may go some way to explain Samba Diakite’s less-than-successful debut for QPR when he got sent off after only 33 minutes for a second bookable offence – given assumptions in France about Premiership standards, he probably thought that if he wasn’t actually carrying a bat, he’d be OK. Bref.)
Lorient are topping the unfair play league with 6 reds so far, followed by Rennes on 5, and Bastia, Montpellier, Nancy and Troyes all on 4. Four teams are yet to lose a man: Brest, Evian, Lille and, fittingly, Nice.
Overall, Ligue 1 is reffed more strictly than the Premiership, and the figures are slightly up from last season. This does not mean, however, consistency – witness Lionel Jaffredo missing Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s elbow to the head in the Montpellier v St Etienne game in round 6, where, to add insult to (literal) injury, victim Romain Hamouma was booked for protesting that he had, indeed, been elbowed in the head. This was tidied up post-match by the disciplinary committee who gave the Montpellier captain a five-game ban. There are many other examples, please feel free to chip in with your favourite below the line.
From the games so far, Ligue 1 fans are getting goals, cards, and an unexpectedly tight race to be top at Christmas – which in completely unmathematical terms means fun.