November 29, 2023

Over the last decade, the French top division title race has become a straightforward affair which has resulted in the rest of world football only taking a mild interest in the goings-on in the French top flight these days. PSG’s unprecedented dominance is the reason for the indifference with the Parc des Princes outfit winning nine of the last 11 league seasons. More often than not, the result is a foregone conclusion as PSG’s embarrassment of on-field riches take care of business without much in the way of opposition. 

Ligue 1’s surprise package

The 2023/2024 season, however, is not playing out the way many thought it would on account of Nice’s unexpected form. The question now is, could they stem the Parc des Princes tide?

The reality is that the chips are still stacked against Nice owing to the herculean task required to dethrone Ligue 1’s flat-track bullies over a 34-game season. History tells us that sooner or later, the ascendancy is wrestled back as the underdog’s resistance crumbles; this isn’t a trend exclusive to just France.

Indeed, it’s a similar story around Europe when a David and Goliath title race begins taking shape. You only need to look at the latest outright Premier League betting odds to see Manchester City at just 4/9 to truly understand how challenging it is to depose a club that has won multiple titles on the bounce. 

While the likes of Spurs and Arsenal may have had promising starts this season, the expectation is that City’s superiority will eventually shine through. This is a sentiment also held in France as onlookers try to make sense of the Ligue 1 title race but do the numbers around Nice’s season so far suggest that this cynicism is misplaced? 

The extraordinary stats behind Nice’s season so far

After matchday 12, Farioli’s men remain unbeaten and hold the joint-best defensive record of any team in Europe’s big five leagues after only conceding four goals. Additionally, no club has kept more clean sheets in Europe’s top five divisions this season with French outfit recording nine in twelve matches. This astounding stat means that they have enjoyed a shutout in 75 per cent of their games this season. 

Furthermore, at no stage this season have they gone a goal behind in their 12 fixtures so far. This makes the club the only outfit in the big five leagues of Europe not to have trailed during the 2023/2024 campaign. 

Essentially, what these stats illustrate is that they aren’t only the pacesetters in the French league but also the whole of Europe. When taking that into consideration, you begin to feel that Nice’s encouraging start may been more than just that. In short, the job that Francesco Farioli has done in such a short space of time since he was appointed in the summer looks to have made them genuine title challengers. 

How will the Parisian outfit respond?

If the Parisian outfit are to hold Nice’s relentless charge off then they will have to rely on their match-winners to keep producing the goods in order to keep pace with Europe’s trailblazers. However, following the departures of Lionel Messi and Neymar during the summer of 2023, it does feel as if there may be a chink in PSG’s armour this season. Notwithstanding Kylian Mbappe’s brilliance, not adequately replacing Messi and Neymar has left them vulnerable to being usurped. 

PSG’s club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi would have been hoping that the new cost-cutting measures at the club didn’t coincide with a domestic fight for the title but here we are, with the Southern French outfit showing a strong taste for it and not going away. 

Down to the wire in May

With the two clubs neck and neck after 12 fixtures, the title race may come down to whoever wins the third to last game of the season when Farioli’s men host Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Riviera on the 3rd of May. Having already beaten Les Pariesiens at home in September during their first meeting, they will fancy their chances of administering a knockout blow. 

To do this, they will have to remain in the hunt by taking the title chase as deep as possible this season. So far, Les Aiglons’ form suggests that they will have no problem managing that.

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