With the big guns misfiring, the first half of the Ligue 1 season has been one of the most competitive on record, allowing no fewer than seven sides to top the table at one time or another.
LOSC Lille Métropole are the latest incumbents, with Wednesday's 1-1 draw against AS Saint-Étienne giving them a one-point lead over Paris Saint-Germain FC, Stade Rennais FC and Olympique Lyonnais, and they also head into the winter break boasting a game in hand.
Likewise through to the UEFA Europa League round of 32, Les Dogues are the league's top scorers and in 14-goal Moussa Sow, their summer signing from Rennes, they possess France's in-form striker. Yet aspirations of a first major title since 1955 are tempered by the pervasive unpredictability of Ligue 1 this season: every Dogue is having its day.
Toulouse FC led after five rounds before St-Etienne took the baton, boosted by eight goals in the opening nine games from Dimitri Payet. It was the first time since February 1982 that Les Verts had stood at the top of the pyramid. Those feelings of nostalgia were further boosted by a 1-0 victory against Lyon at the end of September, ending a 16-year wait for a derby win.
Coach Christophe Galtier urged caution, stressing the need to "keep our feet on the ground: we narrowly escaped relegation twice in the last three years." He was right. St-Etienne have mustered just two victories in 12 league outings since, slipping to sixth. It is a similar story for promoted side Stade Brestois 29, top in November for the first time since 1986 before losing their way.
In between, Rennes fans under the age of 40 enjoyed their first taste of top spot and Frédéric Antonetti's men remain in the hunt. Slowly but surely, however, the sleeping giants of French football have awakened. Still adjusting to life after Mamadou Niang, holders Olympique de Marseille are up to fifth, three points behind Lille as €30m strike duo André-Pierre Gignac and Loïc Rémy find their feet. They were eight adrift of FC Girondins de Bordeaux 12 months ago.
PSG are second despite being limited to a point in their last two games. In Nenê, who arrived in June from AS Monaco FC, they possess perhaps the league's top performer: following in the footsteps of Ronaldinho and Raí at the Parc des Princes, the Brazilian playmaker does not look out of place. "We're lucky to have him in Ligue 1," coach Antoine Kombouaré said of his 13-goal star.
It is ominous form, though few are looking beyond Lyon as a likely destination for the trophy come May. Les Gones were 18th after that loss to St-Etienne, their worst start to a season since 1995, and coach Claude Puel was left feeling grateful for a 100% start to the UEFA Champions League group stage as he deflected criticism.
They have not lost since, however, and the partnership between Lisandro and Bafétimbi Gomis is developing all the time. Few would bet against Lyon claiming an eighth title, though nobody can be sure of anything in Ligue 1 this season.
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