AS the sun sets on the noughties, it sets on a decade in which Lyon dominated French football. 2009 however, marked a turning point, as south-west giants Bordeaux, knocked Lyon off their mighty throne to secure the 2008/09 Ligue 1 title.
2009 resumed after the winter break with a number of teams scrambling for top spot. Leading the table was Lyon, aiming to win an eighth successive Ligue 1 championship. An over-performing Rennes along with Marseilles and Bordeaux made up the chasing pack, all within touching distance of top place.
At the other end of the table, newly promoted Le Harve seemed to be digging their way back to Ligue 2, rooted to the bottom and already seven points adrift of safety. Valenciennes and Sochaux occupied the other relegation spots but a tight table meant even 10th placed Nancy could become swept up in a relegation dogfight.
Le Harve’s disastrous return to the top flight continued throughout January as they failed to pick up any points. At the other end of the table, P.S.G’s good run of form resulted in them reaching third spot despite a 4-0 hammering away at Bordeaux.
Lyon only managed a single victory in January, however normal service was resumed in February as they picked up three wins out of four, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw at home to St Étienne in the Rhône derby. Bordeaux on the other hand hit a slump, slipping to fourth after failing to win throughout February. Les Girondins’ failure was P.S.G and Marseilles gain as the two battled for second place. Les Parisiens recorded a series of impressive wins, most notably a 4-1 away victory against mid-table Nantes.
STAR STRIKER: Karim Benzema’s goals help to keep Lyon top of Ligue 1.
Ninth-placed Lorient went into March, looking at the teams below them rather than at those above. Les Merlus were eight points from eighth-placed Nice, but incredibly only five points away from St Étienne in 19th, demonstrating how polarised the league had become, mid-table being virtually non-existant.
P.S.G’s claim for their first Ligue 1 title in 15 years fell away in March as they dropped from a heady second to sixth. Les Parisiens dream of silverware was ultimately crushed with a 3-1 home defeat to Marseilles. Underdogs Toulouse staked their title claim with a thumping 3-0 win over rivals Bordeaux. French international striker André-Pierre Gignac scored, finishing a sublime team move to further justify his reputation as the best striker in France.
FUTURE STAR: André-Pierre Gignac scored 24 goals in 2008-09, propelling Toulouse to the Europa League and catching the eye of Europe’s star-studded sides.
Rather than resign themselves to the Europa League spots though, Bordeaux struck back in emphatic fashion. Les Girondins recorded 11 straight wins. Powered by midfield engine Yoann Gourcuff, Bordeaux’s sizzling run allowed them to toss aside almost all competition as they rose to top spot.
Lyon, who had lead the table all year, began to stumble, tumbling from first in the final weeks. Whilst Bordeaux destroyed teams for fun, Lyon couldn’t match this emphatic form, dropping several points in April and May. Their resignation to failure was a four game winless run and vital losses against both Marseilles and Bordeaux.
Le Harve, who had been the leagues whipping boys all year, were finally despatched back to Ligue 2 in May following a 4-2 defeat at home to relegation rivals St Étienne. St Étienne’s victory moved them out of the bottom three and placed free-falling Nantes into the scramble. Nantes began the campaign well but a dreadful run of form resulted in them engaging in a bitter relegation fight.
Nantes ultimately lost that fight, being relegated from Ligue 1 along with Caen, who returned to the second tier after a few relatively successful seasons in the top flight.
COST OF FAILURE: Nantes’ Filip ?or?evi? looks on dejectedly as Nantes are relegated after a terrible freefall in form.
The final game of the season saw Bordeaux and Marseilles play off for the Ligue 1 title. Marseilles thrashed a weary Rennes 4-0 at home. Bordeaux had to avoid defeat to lift the championship. Away at Caen, Les Girondins secured a narrow 1-0 victory to send the travelling fans into raptures. A decade of Lyon dominance was over.
CHAMPIONS: Laurent Blanc’s side secure the title with victory at Caen, relegating Caen in the process.
The incredible winning form that brought Bordeaux the title continued into the 2009/10 campaign. Les Girondins remained unbeaten until early October, setting a new Ligue 1 record of winning 14 games-in-a-row in the process.
Impressive as Bordeaux’s form was, it was Lyon who lead the table by late October. The giants from Eastern France bounced back from 2008-09 in tremendous fashion, dropping only four points in their first eight matches.
New boys Montpellier shot out of the traps for the 2009/10 campaign, climbing to fifth by the end of November. Lens and Boulogne, the other promoted teams, did not find their feet so quickly, both occupying spots in the bottom six.
December also saw the majority of last season’s title hopefuls struggling to recapture their form. Marseilles resided in seventh whilst P.S.G placed ninth.
The biggest shock though was the sudden demise of Lyon. After a fantastic start, Lyon secured only two wins in eleven games, relegating them to sixth at the winter break.
With nobody seeming to want the Ligue 1 title, Bordeaux staked their claim for the championship with some authority. Whilst their rivals have all wobbled significantly, Les Girondins have opened up a huge nine-point lead at the top at the winter break. Laurent Blanc has assembled a team that doesn’t seem to understand the word ‘lose’. The south-west side are undoubted favourites to retain their title however it is a continental crown that Blanc will have one eye on.
Bordeaux meet Olympiacos in the last 16 of the Champions League, and Olympiacos manager Zico has been quick to state how good Bordeaux are. Zico said: “Bordeaux were one of the most impressive teams in the group stage. They have several players in the French team and a coach who is doing an excellent job.”
At 1-3 to win Ligue 1 and as a 25-1 dark horse to win the Champions League, Bordeaux are set to have a successful year. 2010 could start a decade where French football bounces back onto the world stage in emphatic fashion.