Last week, Lyon’s all-world team of superstars kicked off their quest toward a 13th straight D1 Féminine title with an 8-0 win over Lille. Lyon are top of the table just one week in, and we fully expect they’ll be there when the season wraps up in May. But every team of heroes needs its supervillains, and D1F has its share of pretenders aiming to knock les Fenottes off the throne. While the team is off for the international break, let’s get to know the challengers.
The Contender: Paris Saint-Germain
Last year… PSG finished as runners-up, just as they have in 5 of the past 6 seasons. They dug themselves an early hole last year with a shocking 1-1 draw at home against Soyaux in the first week of the season. PSG can’t afford to leave those kinds of points on the board if they want to wrestle the title away from Lyon. By the time they dropped a 3-0 decision at Montpellier in April, it was all but certain that Lyon would retain the trophy. But PSG finished out the year strong and held onto second place, putting them back in the Champions League after a year’s absence.
There’s no question that PSG is consistently Lyon’s toughest opponent head-to-head, and last year was no exception. Lyon eked out a 1-0 victory under the lights of Groupama Stadium in December, but the away leg finished in a 0-0 draw, after Dszenifer Maroszan saw her penalty saved. PSG’s offense generated little in those two matches, but their defense was solid enough to frustrate Lyon’s powerhouse attack. A few weeks later, PSG finally picked up their first trophy following a 1-0 win over Lyon in a rain-soaked, controversy-filled Coupe de France final. In the offseason… PSG welcomed former France head coach Olivier Echouafni as Patrice Lair finally bid farewell to D1F after years at the helm of PSG and Lyon. Echouafni’s Bleues were hardly known for playing inspiring football, but the national team lost only a single game during his tenure (a 1-0 loss to England in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Euros).
The club was quiet for much of the transfer window, but still made a few interesting pickups, including Annahita Zamanian, fresh off a solid performance for France in the U20 World Cup, and highly regarded Chinese midfielder Wang Shuang.
Preseason results, though, were less than inspiring. PSG looked lost in Miami for the International Champions Cup, dropping decisions to both the North Carolina Courage and Manchester City. Their showing in the Toulouse International Ladies Cup was marginally better, with draws against Bayern Munich and Arsenal. They turned things around to win the Gipuzkoa Elite Women’s Football Cup, but a shaky 1-0 win over FC Fleury in the first week of the D1F season will have done little to calm the nerves. Who’s carrying the team? A few weeks ago, we would have said Marie-Antoinette Katoto with no hesitation. The 19-year-old striker was sensational last season, and looked on track to be penciled into France’s starting XI for next year’s World Cup.
But the U20 World Cup was catastrophic for Katoto, who lost her starting job, missed a critical penalty in the semi-finals, and was the subject of very public criticism from her coach. Katoto will be eager to bounce back from a terrible tournament with strong club performances, and there’s no doubt she has the scoring talent to do it. What remains to be seen is whether she can turn things around mentally.
By Katoto’s side will be fellow U20 team member Sandy Baltimore, whose speed and tenaciousness on the ball make her a real threat down the wings. Andrine Hegerberg (a name you may recognize) looks likely to play an important role this year, too, and picked up MVP honors at the Elite Cup in the preseason. French internationals Grace Geyoro and Kadidiatou Diani are also names to watch.
They’ll win the title if… they can build on their string of increasingly positive results against Lyon and avoid leaving points on the table against other opponents. It would almost certainly take at least one head-to-head win against Lyon to push PSG over the top.
The Next Big Thing: Montpellier Hérault SC
Last year… Montpellier finished in third-place, just three points behind PSG. It was a bit of a disappointment for the squad, which had hoped to retain their Champions League spot with top-two finish. They split their head-to-heads against PSG, with a 3-1 loss on the road and 3-0 win at home, but couldn’t consistently put away opponents beneath them in the table and draws against Bordeaux and Fleury proved costly.
In the Champions League, Montpellier made a nice run to the quarterfinals, but fell to the English champions, Chelsea.
Montpellier’s first match against Lyon last season was a big wakeup call for the underdogs. They had cruised through the first month of the D1F season, but Lyon dismantled them 5-0 on their own field. The second leg in Lyon proved a tighter battle, with Lyon winning 2-1 on two excellent goals from Maroszan. But a Coupe de France semifinal matchup restored order once again with Montpellier looking disinterested as Lyon sailed to a 4-0 victory. In the offseason… It was fairly quiet on the recruitment front for Montpellier this offseason, though they added some important reinforcements. In July they announced the signature of Austrian midfielder Sarah Puntigam. She was joined by 18-year-old Maëlle Lakrar, whose performance in central defense for France at the U20 World Cup earned words of praise from senior national team coach Corine Diacre.
Who’s carrying the team? American goalkeeper Casey Murphy made an immediate impact when she joined Montpellier over the winter break last year. We can debate whether her D1F Goalkeeper of the Year honors were fully merited based on just a handful of matches, but Murphy is going to force her way onto the U.S. senior national team sooner rather than later, and Montpellier has a real talent on their hands.
The club also has a great mix of European internationals: Stina Blackstenius, Sofia Jakobsson, and Linda Sembrant (Sweden), Katrine Veje (Denmark), and Janice Cayman (Belgium) to name just a few. French right back Marion Torrent seems to have established herself as Diacre’s first choice at the position, and will also be looking to make her mark this season. They’ll win the title if…they can find some consistency and pull off an upset or two. Two wins over PSG would go a long way to putting Montpellier back in Champions League position, but they have to make sure they take care of business week in and week out.
The Wild Card: Paris FC
Last year… It was an up-and-down season for PFC, as they finished in fourth place, but only managed an 8-6-8 record. They were plagued by a disastrous four month winless stretch from mid-December to mid-April, in which they lost 5 matches and drew 4. They also never managed to threaten the powerhouses, dropping all of their games against the top 3 of Lyon, PSG, and Montpellier.
PFC holds the distinction of scoring not one, but two goals against Lyon last year—a feat no other D1F team managed. But it was little consolation, as both goals (one from a penalty, the other off a poorly defended stoppage time corner) came in a 9-2 loss at Groupama OL Training Center. PFC put up a decent fight in their home leg against Lyon, and trailed just 1-0 late in the game, but Ada Hegerberg scored in the 84th and 87th minutes, and Kheira Hamraoui added another at the 90 minute mark to leave PFC with a 4-0 loss. In the offseason… PFC’s big offseason pickup was Finnish striker Linda Sällström, who joins D1F after recent stints at Swedish clubs Linköpings FC and Vittsjö GIK. She got off the mark quickly, scoring on 10 minutes in her club debut. PFC also added American forward Michaela Abam to the squad. Abam, like Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan, is an alum of West Virginia University, and played four games for the NWSL’s Sky Blue before jumping to D1F.
Who’s carrying the team? Sällström figures to add danger to PFC’s attack all year, and if they want to improve their position in the table this year, they’ll need her to play a big role. PFC can also look to French veterans Gaëtane Thiney and Karima Benameur for leadership down the stretch. They also aren’t short on promising young French talent on defense, including Estelle Cascarino (Delphine’s twin), Elisa De Almeida, and Anaïg Butel. They’ll win the title if… Sällström catches fire, they avoid a big midseason swoon, and a lot goes wrong for the teams ahead of them. Expect PFC to give the powerhouses a tougher run for their money this year, but they’re still a ways off from being a real threat to take home the trophy.
The Longshot: FC Girondins de Bordeaux
Last year… Okay, so it wasn’t a great year for Bordeaux, who finished in 7th place with a 5-7-10 record. The year started out well—at the end of October they were sitting at 4-1-2—but managed only a 1-0 win at Albi the rest of the way as the wheels came off in a hurry. But we’re all about bold predictions here at Lyon Offside, and we think this year will show a different side of Bordeaux.
Even last year Bordeaux showed a talent for giving Lyon headaches. A 2-0 win for les Fenottes in October was Lyon’s smallest margin of victory in the league, outside of games against PSG and Montpellier. In the spring, Lyon prevailed 4-0 at Bordeaux, but two goals came on penalties, three came after the 75th minute mark, and Bordeaux played down a man from the 40th minute on. These were not easy games as Bordeaux frustrated Lyon’s attack for much of both afternoons. In the offseason… Bordeaux had a very active offseason and picked up players that could make a real difference for the squad. First, former OL youngster Mylaine Tarrieu finalized her move to the club after spending half of last season on loan with Bordeaux.
Former Lyon midfielder Claire Lavogez also jumped to Bordeaux in the offseason. Lavogez’s time at Lyon was not a huge success, as she found herself on the bench more often than not and ran into some frustrating injuries, but she has game-changing talent, and she’s highly motivated to put herself back on Corine Diacre’s radar ahead of the upcoming World Cup. She’ll be particularly eager to make her mark in games against her former club.
Finally, Bordeaux picked up French international Viviane Asseyi from Marseille. Asseyi’s ability to put up big numbers was limited last year on a poor OM team, but with Lavogez and Tarrieu around her, she should have more opportunities this season.
Who’s carrying the team? The newcomers Tarrieu, Lavogez, and Asseyi will be expected to carry to load if Bordeaux are going to make waves this season. Bordeaux can also expect solid goalkeeping from the reliable New Zealand international Erin Nayler, with Lyon’s former number three Romane Bruneau filling in as backup. They’ll win the title if… a miracle happens. Let’s be honest, Bordeaux are on the outside of this race looking in, but this team won’t be a pushover for any of the favorites, so if you’re looking for a team that’s going to surprise some folks, Bordeaux are a good bet to make an impact.
If you missed our OL Féminin season preview, you can catch up here.
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[All photos via Maya Mans]