The last time PSG failed to win Ligue 1, back in 2012, Montpellier came from nowhere to stun the capital club. It then sunk back down the table, where it has been in relative mid-to-lower-table obscurity ever since. The biggest challenger to PSG this season may not be Monaco or Lyon, both of whom have had good moments this season, but Nice, currently in top and, with Lucien Favre in charge, with a sustainable structure than can last.
Favre launched the careers of Marco Reus and Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Borussia Moenchengladbach, and he had turned down approaches from Lille, Marseille and Lyon in the past. He claimed to be seduced by Nice’s faith in young players, as seen by his willingness to pick 17-year-old center back Malang Sarr, the only outfield regular his age in the league.
Nice boosted its youth with some experience in deadline-day signings Dante, Younes Belhanda (a champion with Montpellier) and Mario Balotelli, who missed a penalty in the 2-0 win over Lyon that maintained Nice’s unbeaten start to the season. Nice might not be able to sustain this form and it has to be expected that PSG, for all the talent in its squad, will close the gap eventually, but Favre’s Nice could compete for the Champions League places this year.
That seems more than can be said for Marseille, whose takeover by Frank McCourt will be ratified this week. Former Monaco sports director Luis Campos has been lined up to head up a new recruitment department. There is plenty of work to do, but taking a leaf out of the Nice playbook would be a start.