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Ligue 1 set for 3-horse race: Assessing the favourite

With a little more than a third of the campaign left to play, three sides vie for the French crown in what is likely to amount to the most entertaining Ligue 1 run in years.

Paris Saint-Germain has won the last four Ligue 1 titles by an average margin of 16 points as the French top flight is slapped with the undesirable moniker of a “one team league.”

Last season’s 31-point gap on second-place Lyon didn’t help matters, and with the capital club’s quartet of recent titles all won by no less than a nine-point gap, Ligue 1 has been short on drama.

Boring no more, as PSG’s quest for a fifth title on the trot has been dented by the emergence of principality side Monaco and Cote d’Azur darlings Nice.

With both Monaco and PSG picking victories on the weekend and Nice dropping points away at Rennes, here’s a look at a compacted top-heavy table:

Pos. Club Played Pts. GD+/-
1 Monaco 25 58 +52
2 PSG 25 55 +32 
3 Nice 25 53 +21

Here’s a look at the trio of title chasers and their strengths:

Monaco

Title credentials: With a three-point gap at the top and no sign of slowing an unfathomable average of three goals per game, Monaco advertises both Ligue 1’s deepest side and its most explosive. With Fabinho and breakout star Tiemoue Bakayoko holding down the midfield, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva, Falcao, Valere Germain, and talented teen Kylian Mbappe are gifted free reign to run at defenders without ownership of an onus to defend.

The Monegasques also have a solid back four that has conceded the league’s third-fewest goals, and among the top three, the seven-time champ has the easiest run-in.

Average point total of remaining 13 opponents: 30.1

Remaining matches of note: April 2 vs. Saint-Etienne, May 5 at Lyon.

By the numbers: An obscene league goal differential of plus-52 is bettered only by an astounding 116 goals scored in 40 matches in all competitions. Leonardo Jardim’s lot also boasts 14 different Ligue 1 scorers, best in France.

Paris Saint-Germain:

Title credentials: Experience. With a squad whose core is familiar with domestic success, PSG is well acquainted with a title chase, just not when it’s doing the chasing. To PSG’s benefit, Edinson Cavani looks to have found the goal-scoring boots he left in Napoli, and vital midfield pairing Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot are back fully fit. The addition of Julian Draxler hasn’t hurt either.

Like Monaco, PSG also relies on a strong back-line, and after an uncharacteristically underwhelming 2015-16, Thiago Silva is again a rock alongside countryman Marquinhos. A league-fewest 18 goals conceded proves as much.

Average point total of remaining 13 opponents: 31.8

Remaining matches of note: Feb. 26 at Marseille, March 3 vs. Lyon, April 4 at Nice, May 5 vs. Saint-Etienne.

By the numbers: Cavani’s 25 league goals this season are more than seven clubs (Rennes, Angers, Nancy, Metz, Lille, Nantes, Bastia.)

Nice:

Title credentials: Nice has surprised pundits and supporters alike, so why can’t that continue? Led by a young core of Ricardo Pereira, Wylan Cyprien, Malang Sarr, Alassane Plea, and shot-stopper Yoan Cardinale, Lucien Favre has made stars out of an unassuming squad. Pair that with a group of overlooked players with a lot to prove like Dante, Mario Balotelli, Younes Belhanda, and Nice has all the impetus for a strong final 13 matches.

Favre’s lot also has the benefit of a singular focus after getting of bounced from both the Europa League and French Cup, though with tilts home to PSG and away at Marseille and Lyon among its last quartet of fixtures, Nice faces an undesirable end to the campaign.

Average point total of remaining 13 opponents: 31.5

Remaining matches of note: Feb. 29 vs. PSG, May 5 at Marseille, May 20 at Lyon.

By the numbers: Nice has scored just 14 times away from home, joint third-worst among top-half sides, further highlighting the magnitude of a tough run-in away from the friendly confines of the Allianz Riviera.

Prediction

With Mbappe’s breakthrough campaign gaining steam, Falcao’s revitalised form and the wing pairing of Lemar and Silva, Monaco boasts Ligue 1’s most dynamic attack, and the Monegasques virtues aren’t reduced to going forward. Kamil Glik and Jemerson ought to finish a steady season as they have played all campaign, and full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy have all the tools to cause havoc at both ends of the pitch.

Monaco wins the league on the penultimate matchday at home with a victory over Lille. PSG finish runner-up, and Nice winds up in third, a comfortable 12 points clear of Lyon.

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