Roker Ramble: Fascinating Football? Vive Le France!

Valerio Pennicino

We are constantly told that the Premier League is the best in the world, but is it the most exciting? This season's Ligue 1 campaign is certainly staking a claim.

When Paris Saint Germain splashed an unreal amount of cash for the second year running in the summer, many an outside observer to Ligue 1 claimed that the French league would be nothing more than a procession this season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player that collects league titles like I used to collect those things that went on bike spokes out of Frosties packets signed from AC Milan, along with Thiago Silva, who was generally considered to be among the best defenders in the world.

However, people were quick to forget that we had been in exactly the same situation 12 months earlier, when stars such as Javier Pastore were attracted to the Middle Eastern millions in the French capital. Skip forward nine months, and it was Montpellier, with Arsenal newboy Olivier Giroud, who would take home the title, and prove that money can't necessarily buy happiness.

After a slow start, Ligue 1 is really starting to take shape this year. In the past few weeks, a procession of teams have had the chance to overtake early leaders PSG at the top of the table, before blowing it, although Lyon have finally taken the initiative and leapfrogged the big-spenders at the summit of the pile.

The Premier League, the afore-mentioned 'Greatest League in the world' sees the top four teams currently seperated by only four points, which is of course superb for the neutrals among us. No-one wants to see a team run away with the league, and although those of a red persuasion in Manchester would tell you that they were happy when their 'noisy neighbours' were making nothing more than a whimper in the lower echilons of English football, it's good for the game that they are challenging their once all-conquering rivals at the top of the table, while Chelsea, with their rotating door approach to managers can also have very real optimism at the way they have begun the campaign.

But take a look back over the Channel if it is excitement at the top of the league that you crave. As it stands in Ligue 1, the top four teams are seperated by a single point. To make things more interesting, Toulouse, who are currently in ninth, are only six points behind leaders Lyon. Everything really can change dramatically over the course of one weekend in the French top flight.

To cement the point, Toulouse could have gone top with a victory over rivals Bordeaux just two games ago, while Lille, who have begun to hit form after a desperately slow start to the season, could have been top last Friday night. They are now eighth, and looking up at a five-point deficit.

It is encouraging to see that the Middle Eastern millions isn't turning the French league into the procession that was expected. It's also encouraging to see great French teams from yesteryear making strides to becoming the sides that they once were.

Lyon used to be a mainstay when it came to the Champions League, but have struggled in recent years. If early season form is anything to go by, then they will make a welcome addition to next year's competition, while St Etienne, a club that enjoyed huge success in the late 1960s and 1970s have risen up the division thanks to an exciting blend of attacking football. Add into the equation Marseille and Bordeaux, both of who have enjoyed long spells unbeaten this campaign, and the league really is shaping up into something special.

Ligue 1 is becoming more readily available to viewers in England, with live matches, and deferred coverage now being shown on ESPN. As things hot up in the division, be sure not to be left behind. The Premier League may still be seen as 'the best', but in terms of excitement, Ligue 1 really is the place to be.

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