For a league that boasts one of the most successful women’s teams of all time, predictably, there’s no shortage of things said about D1 Arkema (the technically official name for Division 1 Féminine, France’s women’s first division), but such an unbalanced league usually leads to unbalanced coverage. Olympique Lyonnais’ can skew league news while the majority of teams that play in France’s top tier fall from the radar, lost in the shadows cast by the giants of the women’s game. But the league has lots to offer beyond the star power at the top. In D1F, it’s easy to subdivide the table into groups: first come the heavy-hitters of Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, then we drop to the consistent no more, no less of the third-place finishers. Moving to the nuts and bolts, the background characters who make up the bulk of the league – they’re not going to trouble the top but they’ll also be safe, locked in an existence of perpetual obscurity. Finally, at the bottom are the teams I simply like to call au revoir, as they’re going down; you know it and they know it and little can be done to change it.
In France, the two heavy-hitters are Lyon and PSG. These two are the crème at the top of the league and boast star-studded squads that marry homegrown French talent with the financial means to buy the best players from around the world. Lyon remain the heaviest hitters of all; for 13 straight seasons, they have romped to the title, casting all others aside like me en route to the buffet.This year is no different, the side leads the league in non-penalty expected goals difference. Dominant both domestically and in Europe, Lyon are the current UEFA Women’s Champions League holders and hand out drubbings all over Europe as often as in France. Consistently boasting the best attack in France – if not Europe – Lyon’s current strength comes from their midfield with playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsán pulling the strings, ably assisted by fellow midfield maestros, Amandine Henry and Saki Kumagai. As the side’s defensive heatmap shows, they’re a team that rips the ball away high up the pitch, and suffocates its opposition with wave after wave of attack. Lyon have a set piece prowess as well and usually use dead balls to unlock opposing defences – and they’re not bad with their heads either. The side has created 15 goals from just over 11 xG from dead ball situations. The perpetual bridesmaids to Lyon’s blushing brides, PSG are the only team that could come close to rivalling the champions. Yet they repeatedly fall at the last hurdle, usually surrendering vital points to Lyon along the path to their second-place finish. Lyon already handled them comfortably once back in November with the return leg in Paris set for 14 March. PSG have not always been the heavy-hitting team they are today. However,constant investment and a steady rise from the lower divisions have proved that time and millions in the bank make almost anything possible (except, perhaps, winning the league). Having struck the right balance across the pitch, the team moves fluidly. Much like Lyon, they don’t lack in any area but particularly boast riches in attack, and this season the team is flying thanks to the attacking partnership of suburban Parisien duo Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani. The dynamic duo account for the lionshare of the team’s xG.
No more, no less
The pattern in France has always been two or three at the top with one or two nipping at the heels of the title chasers, and although teams have come and gone, that trend has remained a constant. A team who’ve been in both packs over the years, Montpellier, are struggling to really find their footing after coming off the boil last campaign, yet the team from the Mediterranean coast still have enough to rise above the also-rans. While the side is uniformly talented, without any notable weak links, a lack of consistency causes problems for Montpellier and the team also struggles for a stand-out player who might rescue them when they wobble, having lost a number of starters over the last few years. However, the acquisition of Lena Peterman from Turbine Potsdam remains an astute one; the striker is in good form and quite menacing in the box. She’s undeniably excellent at poaching goals by taking shots of the absolute highest quality. The team that have all but usurped Montpellier, Bordeaux are the current bronze medal contenders, and having spent their last four seasons in the league steadily rising, should easily be the neutral’s choice for the year. Managed by Pedro Martínez Losa, there is a sense of something blossoming in the region known for its wine production – and it’s not a fruit forward red with a robust finish. The team, like many that challenge for something in France, lead from the front. Whilst the signing of highly rated Jamaican international Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is what had people talking before the season started, it’s been homegrown Viviane Asseyi that’s set the team alight this term. With an exceptional turn of pace and composed touch, Asseyi has dragged Bordeaux forward from the front, bulking out her goal tally and partnering well with both Shaw and up and comer Ouleymata Sarr.
The background characters
In D1F, fifth to tenth is a wash of similar teams all trying to better themselves, bouncing from a promising season to a disappointing one and back again, with players drifting in and out of teams as they look to better themselves.. These are the teams most likely to cause a few upsets along the way – like Dijon’s surprising, and extremely unlikely, 0–0 at home to Lyon – but are also likely to get battered by the teams at the top. Paris FC have failed to keep pace with the changing times in the league. The side, formerly from Juvisy, used to be Champions League regulars,, but after being integrated into the Ligue 2 club in 2017 have failed to recapture any former glory. Still boasting a lot of the same players from years past, this team has more experience than it has quality. It also has a habit of zapping the potential out of players, leaving the club a study in mediocrity. A team that tends to huff and puff more than it blows your house down, En Avant Guingamp remain one of the teams in France that could yet ascend to the coveted (if not frustrating) category of no more, no less. Despite being unable to find her 2016–17 season form, her best yet, Desire Oparanozie still offers an out in attack, but her role is fast being overtaken by Louise Fleury, who has a growing knack for popping up in the right place at the right time. The team is boosted by having Solène Durand between the sticks, the would-be French number one with a keen ability to throw her body in front of anything goal-bound. A side that could yet go tumbling down the well in future seasons, Fleury 91 started life out in the division promisingly enough but have slowed to a near-halt in recent times. With talented yet underperforming players, the increasingly porous team may yet benefit from moving away from their current first choice goalkeeper, Laëtitia Philippe.. Like Fleury, ASJ Soyaux’s days (or seasons) in D1F seem numbered. In their seventh consecutive season in the league, Soyaux are on track to record their lowest points tally since promotion in 2012-13. Except for an early season win over Guingamp, Soyaux have failed to beat a team placed above them in the table, the side seemingly having peaked before Christmas and struggling more and more with each passing game. Having not changed personnelle (on the pitch, or in the dugout) from last season, there is no logic to the decline; the team one that looks equally laborious in and out of possession. Just about treading water this season, thanks in part to Sarah Cambot’s handful of goals – including a sublime bicycle kick against Dijon – the future for Soyaux seems a bleak one. The newest addition to the league, Stade de Reims, have had the customary bumpy welcome but often have good ideas when they’re on the ball. Still acclimatising to the tempo of the top tier, Reims’ naivete in defence has led to them conceding from four penalties – only Marseille and Metz have conceded from more. The good news for the team is that those penalties overshadow a defense that otherwise would rank a respectable seventh in the league, just barely below average. Cut out the penalties and they might be able to hang around. The final side that should be safe this year, Dijon consistently struggle to impress and have issues with creating chances from open play while remaining leaky at the back. Not one of the youngest teams in the league, the supposed experience of the side seems to amount to very little. Even though Dijon have one of the worst concession numbers in the league, they do boast a goalkeeper, Emmeline Mainguy, who is a dab hand at claiming crosses. Yet the goalkeeper is too often let down by the defence in front of her. She is, in fact, the most aggressive keeper in the league attempting claims on 12.5% more balls into her area than an average keeper would, the largest such gap in France’s first division. Who knows where the side would be without her commanding presence.
For Olympique Marseille, this season has been quite the disappointment. There’s not one particular thing the side has failed at, but rather they appear just below par across the pitch, looking every part a D2F team.. Having been inflicted with the heaviest defeats the league has seen this season, the team have frequently looked static especially in defence, slow to close down threats. A major problem for a team that does almost all of its defending in and around its own penalty area. OM’s inability to act quickly enough in defence is all too obvious when you consider just how often they’ve conceded from set pieces this season. Although, with ten goals conceded from only 6.5 expected, it’s quite possible that they’re getting unlucky in addition to not being good enough. Another team that have looked like girls against women from the off this season, Metz have only found the back of the net 7 times in 16 outings this term, a number that looks even worse when you strip out a penalty and an own goal. For a team that looks destined to go down, it will be a cold comfort that xG suggests they were somewhat unlucky not to have scored a few more. It’s all been far too insipid across the pitch. The team is quick to give possession away and far too flimsy when it comes to trying to win the ball back. Susceptible from range as well as in their own six-yard box, there is little hope left for Metz who — like many before them — seem destined for [at best] yo-yoing between the second and first tiers, never able to make any meaningful progress.