For the first time in eight seasons, the big debate in French football will not revolve around whether anyone can stop Olympique Lyon from winning the league title.
Lyon’s stranglehold on the domestic game, during which they won seven championships in a row, was finally broken last season by Bordeaux.
It marked the end of an era for the dethroned champions. Since then, talismanic Brazilian midfielder Juninho left to play in Qatar and the prodigious French international striker Karim Benzema was prized away from the Stade Gerland by Real Madrid.
But Lyon aren’t used to losing and have spent boldly in the close season in an effort to win their crown back. The fee of 35 million euros they received for Benzema seemed enormous at the time but Lyon have surpassed that by some distance in splashing out 72 million euros on four summer signings.
Two of their new players have arrived from Portuguese champions Porto. Powerful Argentinean striker Lisandro Lopez joined for a club record 24 million euros and he’ll be expected to fill the considerable void left by Benzema’s departure.
Left-back Aly Cissokho’s dramatic change in fortune continued when he signed for 15 million euros - a huge sum for a 21-year-old who left Gueugnon on a free transfer last year. Porto signed him from Vitoria Setubal in January and after some impressive performances - particularly in the Champions League - Lyon manager Claude Puel decided to make a move.
Midfielder Michel Bastos, who signed from Lille for 18 million euros, and striker Bafetimbi Gomis, who joined from Saint-Etienne for 15 million euros, completed Puel’s summer shopping spree.
Last season's runners-up Olympique Marseille, who have installed 1998 World Cup winner Didier Deschamps as their new manager, have enhanced their squad considerably by spending 40 million euros on new players.
Luis “Lucho” Gonzalez became the club’s record signing when he left Porto for 18 million euros. The Argentinean should be an important creative force in Marseille’s midfield, but only after he recovers from the shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out for six weeks.
Deschamps will be hoping another new face – one he knows quite well - can rediscover some form at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome
. Spanish striker Fernando Morientes worked with Deschamps at Monaco when they reached the Champions League final in 2004. In his prime the 33-year-old was a prominent marksman but Morientes endured an indifferent time at Valencia recently.
There are suspicions that Gabriel Heinze, the 31-year-old defender who joins from Real Madrid, is past his best as well. One thing that is certain is that the former Paris Saint-Germain player will receive a hostile reception on 28 February, when he returns to the Parc des Princes wearing the colours of PSG
's hated rivals from the south.
’s most important signing is a player they already had last season, with Yoann Gourcuff making his loan move from AC Milan a permanent one. In spending 13.6 million euros on the talented playmaker, Les Girondins
seem to have got the best deal of the summer. Gourcuff got twelve goals
and eight assists last season, many of which came in the crucial final weeks.
The defending champions will have a challenge on their hands to keep their title. They lost centre-half Souleymane Diawara to Marseille
and Marouane Chamakh, their joint top scorer last season with 13 league goals, has been agitating for a move
to England for some time.
However, manager Laurent Blanc has brought in goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso, the French number three, as well as defender Michael Ciani and Czech midfielder Jaroslav Plasil.
As for PSG, their new coach Antoine Kombouaré, who takes over from Paul Le Guen, will be seeking an improvement on last season. After a fantastic start, the club from the capital somehow managed to drop to sixth place and failed to qualify for Europe in what was a desperately disappointing finish.
They’ve been relatively quiet in the transfer market, with goalkeeper Gregory Coupet their most high-profile addition. The former French international won seven league titles with Lyon and, at 36, he replaces Claude Makelele as the club's most experienced player.
New signing Mevlut Erding will bolster an attack that should be spearheaded by Guillaume Hoarau and watch out, once again, for supremely talented Benin midfielder Stéphane Sessegnon.
In truth, PSG are unlikely to challenge for the championship, however. Continuity will be Bordeaux’s main strength while Marseille, with their burgeoning squad, will be desperate to end a title drought that has lasted for 18 seasons. Perhaps the biggest question this year, though, is can Lyon stop them?
Auxerre vs Sochaux
Grenoble vs Marseille
Le Mans vs Lyon
Monaco vs Toulouse
Montpellier vs PSG
Rennes vs Boulogne
Saint-Etienne vs Nice
Valenciennes vs Nancy
Lille vs Lorient
Bordeaux vs Lens