France has had just a month to recover from the disappointment of losing the European Championship at home and it's now time to focus on domestic football again. Ligue 1 has probably never arrived at a better time when it comes to helping fans move on from the nightmare of that final vs. Portugal.
Paris Saint-Germain, and new manager Unai Emery, are huge favorites to win the league for the fifth year in a row. Monaco, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and a few others will fight for the crumbs left by Les Parisiens. Once again, a lot of talent has left France but new young players, some from the U19 generation just crowned European champions, will emerge.
A new-look PSG
They may have less bling, they may be recruiting more cleverly based on need and not a desperation for big names, they may look like less of a one-man band with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they might be more multi-dimensional with new manager Unai Emery. Make no mistake: PSG are ready for another year of dominance domestically. However, once again, their season will be defined by their European campaign.
Laurent Blanc was sacked because he failed miserably (remember that 3-4-3 formation?) to beat Manchester City in last season's Champions League quarterfinal. Emery replaced him on the back on his incredible treble in the Europa League with Sevilla. Under Emery, the Parisians have showed great promise during preseason with less possession, a higher press, more transitions and sharper counter-attacking football.
Make or break for Marseille
It's been a year of hell for l'OM. Since the departure of Marcelo Bielsa a year ago, everything has gone wrong. Big players continue (Andre-Pierre Gignac, Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet, Gianelli Imbula, Steve Mandanda) and former chairman Vincent Labrune was pushed out last month. The club botched the hiring of Bielsa's replacement by hiring Michel as new manager: he lasted less than one season. There's continuing unrest among fans, results have been disastrous and now the owner, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, has put the club for sale but is taking far too long to decide which offer to take.
All told, the team and the club is in disarray. Marseille is the biggest football city in France but so far, season ticket sales have been at an all-time low so far this summer. Franck Passi, the former caretaker manager last year, has been given the job permanently and has still managed to attract Bafétimbi Gomis and Florian Thauvin on loan. L'OM will have a competitive team but the atmosphere, as has so often been the case in recent seasons, is really heavy. They better start the season well or it could explode again.
Falcao, the return of the Tiger
It's hard to find a player who has gone so quickly from being one of the best in the world in his position to a complete failure. Radamel Falcao has experienced both extremes in the past two and half years since his knee injury with Monaco back in January 2014 after a very good first six months in Ligue 1. Since then, he belly-flopped at Manchester United and then did even worst at Chelsea last season.
The veteran Colombian striker is back at Monaco and until his little injury during the Champions League 3rd round qualifier against Fenerbahce, his preseason was largely positive. Goals, assists, sharpness, hunger and motivation: the "Tiger" seems to be back. To validate this theory, he will have to prove it but you don't suddenly forget how to score goals. Falcao will be back to his best sooner or later; Monaco will hope that the former is true.
Jese: Real Madrid to PSG, £21.25m
PSG wanted another alternative to Edinson Cavani up front and decided to go for the Spanish international instead of a domestic option like Alexandre Lacazette. At a reported €25m, it could be a very good signing. Jesé can play on both wings or as a centre-forward, has pace and great skills and is typically an Emery type of player. He is only 23 and will keep improving.
Jérémy Menez: AC Milan to Bordeaux, free
At 29, the French forward needed a new challenge after a bad year in Serie A. Bordeaux took the gamble hoping that it will pay off for them like it did for Nice with Hatem Ben Arfa, another gem from the "1987 generation" (which also includes Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri) who came home and resurrected his career. Menez needs the same effect. Bordeaux also need him to get back to his best quickly and carry the team towards the top after a bad campaign last year.
Bafétimbi Gomis: Swansea to Marseille, loan
Gomis' return follows the same logic as for Menez and Ben Arfa. He had no future at Swansea and at 31 years old, he needed something new. Instead of going to China or Turkey, he decided to go to Marseille: it's not the easiest option but it's a place where he will be the star and the leader. He has 102 career goals in Ligue 1 from his time at Saint-Etienne and Lyon and will want to increase his tally. Marseille really need him to be a force again in Ligue 1 to forget about last season.
Ousmane Dembélé: Rennes to Borussia Dortmund, £15m
Dembele is the next big thing in French and European football and it was sad to see him leaving Ligue 1 for the Bundesliga. But if you have watched him a bit in preseason with his new club, you understand better now why they paid handsomely (excluding bonuses) for a 19-year-old who has only played 26 career matches in Ligue 1.
Samuel Umtiti: Lyon to Barcelona, £21m
What a summer it has been for the centre-half, going from a reserve player for France at the Euros to a starter from the quarterfinal through to the final and completing a move to the Camp Nou. It is a huge move for him after spending all his career at Lyon, his hometown club. At 22 years old, it's clear Barça signed him for the future but he will want to make an impact straight away, boosted by his fairy tale summer.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: PSG to Man United, free
And so, we reach the end of the love story between Paris and Ibra and between Ligue 1 and Ibra. For four years, it has been an honour to have him in France. The 34-year-old Swede scored 38 league goals last season, made the French league known worldwide and boosted PSG's image and marketing, as well as his own trophy cabinet and personal records. The club, however, decided not to offer him a new deal and let him go for free. Old Trafford is his new home. Manchester United fans will hope he is as good there that he was at the Parc des Princes.
Anything is possible in football, as we saw with Leicester City last season in the Premier League, but I would bet you anything that PSG will win the league again this year. The only two questions are when will they be crowned (it happened in March) and how many points clear they will finish (they enjoyed a 31-point gap over Lyon last season). Beyond that non-event, it will be a great battle between Monaco (led by Falcao, Kamil Glik and Thomas Lemar) and Lyon (with Lacazette, Nabil Fekir and Sergi Darder) for second place. I think Monaco will finish second and Lyon third, with Marseille in fourth place and Rennes to finish fifth.
Battle at the bottom
For the first time in more than 20 years, only the bottom two teams will go down automatically. The third from bottom will go through a playoff against the team third in Ligue 2. The three promoted teams, Metz, Nancy and Dijon, will struggle to stay up although Nancy have the strongest chance. Caen and Angers will have to start as well as last season (they finished eighth and ninth in the end) to avoid having to fight to stay in Ligue 1, while Guingamp and Bastia could also be in trouble.