LOSC Lille Métropole kick off a Ligue 1 season as champions for the first time since 1954 when they visit AS Nancy-Lorraine this weekend, yet with Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain FC sporting title aspirations of their own, Rudi Garcia's men have their work cut out to retain the crown.
Top scorers over the last two seasons, Lille's great entertainers proved their brand of stylish football could result in a championship. They not only finished top of Ligue 1 for just the third time, but also picked up a second double − after their 1946 efforts − by beating PSG in the Coupe de France final.
Staying on top is a different matter, though, and something Lille coach Garcia will be acutely aware of after losing three key players this summer: Gervinho, Yohan Cabaye and Adil Rami all moving abroad. In addition, Lille will have to deal with the exciting – yet demanding – prospect of the UEFA Champions League group stage.
"We have a new team for a new adventure," said Garcia, who has made several acquisitions to replace his out-of-season losses. The coach links up with centre-back Marko Baša – who played under him at Le Mans UC 72 and arrives from FC Lokomotiv Moskva – while experienced midfielder Benoît Pedretti joins from AJ Auxerre and promising striker Dimitri Payet from AS Saint-Étienne.
The side Lille deposed as champions, Marseille, could prove to be their biggest threat in 2011/12. Hopes are high for forward André Ayew – Abedi Pele's son – to continue his progress, while coach Didier Deschamps will be expecting strong seasons from striker André-Pierre Gignac and playmaker Lucho González.
Deschamps has also invested, with France midfielder Alou Diarra joining from FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The 30-year-old is OM's highest-profile addition, but Morgan Amalfitano − who supplied half of Kévin Gameiro's 22 goals at FC Lorient last term − has also pitched up at the Stade Vélodrome. The defence has also been bolstered with Cameroon centre-back Nicolas N'Koulou, 21, who makes the short trip from surprisingly relegated AS Monaco FC.
Even so, Marseille's major developments have happened off the pitch with Vincent Labrune taking over from Jean-Claude Dassier as president and a new board in place. Another club who have gone through big changes are PSG – 70% of the capital outfit has been acquired by Qatar Sport Investment and former player Leonardo has been brought in as sporting director.
The French-speaking erstwhile AC Milan coach has used his connections in Serie A to bring Jérémy Menez back to France from AS Roma, while Mohamed Sissoko has joined from Juventus and Salvatore Sirigu from US Città di Palermo. For Menez, the opportunity to impress Laurent Blanc at close quarters was not one to be turned down. "With UEFA EURO 2012 at the end of the season, I'll be more visible here than in Italy," the attacking midfielder said.
PSG coach Antoine Kombouaré will have plenty of new talent sourced from Ligue 1 at his disposal, too. Gameiro – the top scoring Frenchman last season – has been brought in along with defender Milan Biševac and goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez. With Blaise Matuidi also arriving, PSG have been by far the most active club in the transfer market this summer as they eye a first title since 1994.
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