Five in a row or no?
Lyon's seemingly easy dominance of French football was given a jolt when coach Paul Le Guen quit at the end of last season.
The 41-year-old oversaw some of the most stylish, attacking football in Europe and created an indomitable team spirit, yet still walked away. The pressure is on the more pragmatic Gérard Houllier to deliver a fifth consecutive championship.
Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain have undergone their usual summer revamp, while the wholesale changes continue at Marseille. But the smart money could be on Monaco, who have eschewed their usual big-name loan signings to make some important improvements and set themselves for a concerted title challenge.
Soccernet runs the rule over all twenty Ligue 1 contenders ahead of the opening weekend of the season:
Coach: Gérard Houllier
Paul Le Guen's mysterious departure cast a long shadow over Lyon's otherwise glorious season. The Breton quit after three consecutive league titles (four straight in all for Lyon) and is still unattached.
Replacement Gérard Houllier is a safe pair of hands, but expect the team's swashbuckling attacking play to be scaled down. The signing of giant Norwegian striker John Carew clearly indicates Houllier's intention to impose a more direct, less flamboyant style.
But Lyon still possess perhaps the best midfield trio in Europe with Michael Essien, Mahamadou Diarra and Juninho Pernambucano.
As an ambitious, well-run club, it is hardly surprising they are reluctant to relinquish France's player of the season, Essien, to Chelsea. Should the Ghanaian leave, Lyon will console themselves with €45m and a decent replacement in French international Benoît Pedretti.
There may be some awkward moments at training for Sidney Govou, who declared he was leaving, only for the expected glut of offers never to materialise. He returns with his tail between his legs.
Major Ins: John Carew (Besiktas, €7m), Sylvain Monsoreau (Sochaux, €5m), Benoît Pedretti (Marseille, €7m)
Major Outs: Bryan Bergougnoux (Toulouse, €3m), Nicolas Puydebois (Strasbourg).
One to watch: Gérard Houllier - How will the new coach affect Lyon's play?
LilleLast season: 2nd
Coach: Claude Puel
Not even the one-eyed Lille devotee (if such people exist - most hardcore fans up north support Lens) genuinely believe they can repeat last season's second place.
Which is just as well because the added burden of Champions League football will surely test Claude Puel's slimline squad to the full.
Sadly, the clubs' Lille Métropole ground does not meet Champions League criteria, so the side's home games will be played either at Lens' nearby Félx-Bollaert stadium or in Paris at the Stade de France.
Lille have been understandably quiet in the transfer market following last season's success. Swiss international Daniel Gygax comes in to replace PSG-bound Christophe Landrin, while sought-after midfielder Mathieu Bodmer stays - for now.
Major Ins: Daniel Gygax (FC Zürich), Stefan Lichtsteiner (Grasshopper Zürich)
Major Outs: Christophe Landrin (Paris-SG), Philippe Brunel (Sochaux)
One to watch: Matt Moussilou - Top striker or one-season wonder?
MonacoLast season: 3rd
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Javier Saviola might be gone, but Monaco coach Didier Deschamps still has a vast array of attacking options at his disposal.
New arrivals Olivier Kapo, Camel Meriem and Gerard Lopez add creativity to the midfield and have plenty to prove after disappointing seasons at Juventus, Bordeaux and Barcelona respectively.
Top scorer Mohamed Kallon will look to build on an impressive first term, while the principality has still not seen the best of the devastating Ernesto Chevanton, who still managed ten goals in an injury-hit campaign.
In Patrice Evra, Gaël Givet and Sébastien Squillaci, Deschamps has three established international defenders, while Flavio Roma is one of the most consistent goalkeepers in French football.
Monaco's flair for attracting big-name signings with tax-free wages should also ensure some winter reinforcements. It is time for Monaco to emerge from Lyon's shadow.
Major Ins: Camel Meriem (Bordeaux, €6m), Olivier Kapo (Juventus, loan), Tofilou Maoulida (Rennes), Olivier Sorlin (Rennes), Gérard Lopez (Barcelona), Guillaume Warmuz (Dortmund)
Major Outs: Javier Saviola (Barcelona), Shabani Nonda (Roma), Pontus Farnerud (Strasbourg)
One to watch: Ernesto Chevanton - Brilliant set-pieces, dynamite shooting, a great talent.
Coach: Laszlo Bölöni
Many were surprised when Laszlo Bölöni guided the Bretons to fourth place and UEFA Cup football, but should they have been?
Rennes have been a model of canny recruitment and resourcefulness. Look at the consummate way they dealt with the departure of goalkeeper Petr Cech to Chelsea last summer.
Bölöni replaced the giant, young Czech international with a giant, young Swedish international, Andreas Isaksson. Easy.
This summer's big arrival is forward John Utaka from Lens. The skilful Nigerian should ease the goalscoring burden on Alexander Frei, who plundered more than 40 per cent of Rennes' strikes last season.
Major Ins: John Utaka (Lens, €6m), Youssouf Hadji (Bastia, €1.6m)
Major Outs: Frédéric Piquionne (St. Etienne, €3m), Tofilou Maoulida (Monaco), Olivier Sorlin (Monaco), Sébastien Puygrenier (Nancy)
One to watch: John Utaka - Enjoyed a breakout season at Lens, can he continue to progress?
MarseilleLast season: 5th
Coach: Jean Fernandez
In 2004/05, football took something of a back seat to the bitter boardroom power struggle between Pape Diouf and Robert Louis-Dreyfus. Inspirational coach José Anigo was sacked and the controversial Philippe Troussier stepped in for an unhappy, fractious spell.
With Diouf installed as president and a new coach on the scene in Jean Fernandez, OM will try to let their football do the talking. But, this being Marseille, controversy will never be far away. For starters, they kick the season off without goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, banned for spitting at the referee during a friendly last winter.
Much is expected of slick-passing set-piece specialist Franck Ribéry, who excelled at Metz before a curious six-month stint in Turkey with Galatasaray.
New signings Mamadou Niang and Wilson Oruma scored debut goals in Intertoto Cup action against Young Boys of Switzerland, and Fernandez will hope they build on their encouraging starts.
Major Ins: Mamadou Niang (Strasbourg, €7m), Wilson Oruma (Sochaux), Franck Ribéry (Galatasaray), Sabri Lamouchi (Unattached), Yannick Quesnel (Benfica, loan)
Major Outs: Benoît Pedretti (Lyon, €7m), Eduardo Costa (Espanyol, €4m), Pascal Johansen (Strasbourg), Stepan Vachousek (Austria Vienna)
One to watch: Fabien Barthez - Needs to shrug off spitting controversy with brilliance, not blunders.
St. EtienneLast season: 6th Coach: Elie Baup
St. Etienne made a thoroughly impressive return to the top flight, but the rest of the top flight will see them coming in their second season, and life may not be so simple for Elie Baup's charges.
Baup has concentrated on adding depth to his squad this summer in anticipation of a lengthy European campaign, but Les Verts have already tumbled out of the Intertoto Cup.
Sébastien Mazure offers another attacking option following his €2m switch from Caen, while Damien Perquis adds youthful vitality in defence.
Meanwhile, captain Julien Sablé has penned a new deal tying him to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for another five years after an exceptional 2004/05 season. Even so, the feeling remains that fans expecting direct UEFA Cup or even Champions League qualification could be disappointed.
Major Ins: Frédéric Piquionne (Rennes, €3m), Sébastien Mazure (Caen, €2m), Damien Perquis (Troyes)
Major Outs: Javier Garrido (Valencia), Alassane N'Dour (Troyes), Ronan Le Crom (Troyes)
One to watch: Julien Sablé - Must keep up fine midfield form alongside Didier Zokora.
LensLast season: 7th
Coach: Francis Gillot
The northerners managed to climb to seventh despite a largely disappointing campaign, and their improved late-season form earned new coach Francis Gillot a three-year contract extension.
Livewire forward John Utaka has departed to Rennes in a €6m deal but half that fee has been invested in the highly-rated Ivorian Aruna Dindane, freshly arrived from Anderlecht.
Alou Diarra comes in on a Bosman free transfer after failing to establish himself at Liverpool, and the Yohan Dermont, such a key player in Ajaccio's survival, offers an extra option both at right back and in midfield.
Captain Eric Carrière has plenty to prove after a flat first season. Now 32, this could be Carrière's last chance to confirm he belongs among the cream of Ligue 1.
Major Ins: Aruna Dindane (Anderlecht, €3m), Alou Diarra (Liverpool, €3m), Yohan Demont (Ajaccio), Issam Jemaa (Esperance Tunis)
Major Outs: John Utaka (Rennes, €6m), Rod Fanni (Nice), Abdoulaye Diagne-Faye (Bolton), Daouda Jabi (Ajaccio, loan)
One to watch: Aruna Dindane - Belgium's 2004 player of the year must live up to the abundant hype.
Coach: Jacques Santini
Auxerre fans can be forgiven some trepidation as they contemplate life after Guy Roux. The legendary coach quit in June after 41 years at the helm and left a farewell present in the form of the French Cup.
He is replaced by a known quantity, Jacques Santini. The former Lyon coach has plenty to prove after abortive stints with the French national team and Tottenham Hotspur. But for all his experience, many doubt whether Santini can replace top players with the resourcefulness of Roux.
His first task is to fill the hole left by magical playmaker Bonaventure Kalou, now of Paris Saint-Germain. Kalou signed off by winning the cup with his final touch, the day after playing 72 minutes for the Ivory Coast. It hardly needs saying that he will be missed.
With Teemu Tainio also on the move - to Spurs - the fortunes of attacking midfielder Thomas Kahlenberg will be a major test of Santini's ability to 'do a Roux'.
Major Ins: Omar Kaalabane (Etiole de Sahel), Thomas Kahlenberg (Bröndby)
Major Outs: Bonaventure Kalou (Paris-SG, €8.5m), Teemu Tainio (Tottenham Hotspur)
One to watch: Jacques Santini - Faces a thankless task, can he replace Roux?
Paris Saint-GermainLast season: 9th
Coach: Laurent Fournier
Another summer, another PSG shake-up. Ludicrously high expectations have robbed the capital's only serious team of the stability and continuity enjoyed down in Lyon.
The latest 'messiah', playmaker Bonaventure Kalou, has the skill and also the application to supply the recently desolate Pauleta with the service he craves.
More important still could be the immodestly-talented Modeste M'bami, whose broken ankle proved the trigger for PSG's winter collapse last season.
Add the quality of Mario Yepes, Jérôme Rothen and visionary midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo, another new arrival, and it is clear PSG have the potential to challenge for honours.
But things rarely go according to plan in Paris, so don't be surprised if coach Laurent Fournier, like predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic last season, is out of a job by Christmas.
Major Ins: Bonaventure Kalou (Auxerre, €8.5m), Vikash Dhorasoo (AC Milan, €3m), David Rozenhal (FC Brugge, €3m), Christophe Landrin (Lille)
Major Outs: Reinaldo (Kashiwa Reysol, €4m), Romain Rocchi (Ajaccio, €0.5m), José Pierre-Fanfan (Rangers), Charles-Edouard Coridon (Out of contract)
One to watch: Bonaventure Kalou - The man entrusted with leading PSG to glory. No pressure.
SochauxLast season: 10th
Coach: Dominique Bijotat
Alarm bells are ringing after a summer that seems to confirm Sochaux's decline from top-six contenders to Ligue 1 also-rans.
After two consecutive fifth-place finishes, tenth position was enough to prompt the sacking of highly-rated coach Guy Lacombe. The newly-appointed Dominique Bijotat would probably settle for anything in the top half after the departure of a host of first-teamers.
Wilson Oruma has taken the plunge with Marseille, Lyon snapped up defender Sylvain Monsoreau for €5m, Brazilo-Tunisian striker Fancileudo Santos and the excellent Jeremy Mathieu now reside in Toulouse and even Grégory Paisley decided he'd rather play at Metz.
With just three unheralded arrivals offsetting the mass exodus, work must be done to ensure Sochaux's slide does not end up in a relegation dogfight.
Major Ins: Philippe Brunel (Lille), Rabiu Afolabi (Austria Vienna), Arnaud Buhler (Liverpool)
Major Outs: Sylvain Monsoreau (Lyon, €5m), Francileudo Santos (Toulouse, €3m), Jeremy Mathieu (Toulouse), Wilson Oruma (Marseille), Grégory Paisley (Metz)
One to watch: Jérémy Menez - Great things expected - and required - from 18-year-old forward.
StrasbourgLast season: 11th
Coach: Jacky Dugueperoux
Appointed coach of the then-bottom placed club in October 2004, Jacky Duguépéroux led Racing to glory in the League Cup and secured top flight survival with room to spare, earning himself a two-year contract extension.
The Alsatians would settle for the same again, especially now star striker Mamadou Niang has departed for Marseille and Toulouse have snapped up Moroccan wide man Yacine Abdessadki on a free.
Unheralded veteran Mickaël Pagis was the highest-scoring Frenchman in Ligue 1 last season, and he will continue to profit from the supply of winger Alexander Farnerud, whose brother Pontus has now joined from Monaco.
Stéphane Cassard was a revelation between the sticks last year and will be under plenty of pressure from young Nicolas Puydebois, signed from Lyon.
Major Ins: Arthur Bok,a (Beveren), Pontus Farnerud (Monaco), Pascal Johansen (Marseille), Nicolas Puydebois (Lyon)
Major Outs: Mamadou Niang (Marseille), Yacine Abdessaki (Toulouse), Richard Dutruel (Retired)
One to watch: Mickaël Pagis - Warhorse must follow up the season of his life with more of the same.
Coach: Frédéric Antonetti
The Côte d'Azur bad boys came rock bottom of the French fair play league in 2004/05, picking up 101 bookings and 6 red cards, and new boss Frédéric Antonetti shows every intention of continuing to play naughty but Nice.
Notorious hard man Cyril 'Rock 'n' Rool has arrived from Bordeaux, fresh from picking up eight yellows and two reds for the Girondins in an historically brutal campaign.
Antonetti has injected a major African flavour to the squad in Bakary Koné, Anthar Yahia, Mamadou Bagayoko and Bill Tchato of, respectively, the Ivory Coast, Algeria, Mali and Cameroon.
Koné top-scored in Ligue 2 with 24 for Lorient, while the latter pair ought to shore up a defence that looked has worryingly fragile at times. Even so, nobody will relish the bone-crunching trip to the south coast this season.
Major Ins: Bill Tchato (Kaiserlautern), Rod Fanni (Lens), Cyril Rool (Bordeaux), Anthar Yahia (Bastia), Mamadou Bagayoko (Nantes), Bakary Koné (Lorient)
Major Outs: Victor Agali (Besiktas), Georges Ba (Troyes), Florian Boucansaud (Troyes)
One to watch: Cyril Rool - Crunch. Thwack. Bosh. Right boot, meet left shin…
ToulouseLast season: 13th
Coach: Erik Mombaerts
Toulouse boasts the European champions of rugby, but its football team might not be far behind if they can fulfil their considerable potential. The southerners were on course for Europe last term until an injury to Stéphane Dalmat left them fatally short of creativity in midfield.
Lesson duly learned, this summer has seen a seemingly endless influx of attractive, attacking players. Most excitement surrounds Bryan Bergougnoux, the 22-year-old €3m purchase from Lyon, who spurned PSG and Lille to ensure for himself first team football and a chance to impress France coach Raymond Domenech.
Usually a right-sided forward at Lyon, Bergougnoux should get the chance to play in his favourite position behind the front two. One of those two should be Francileudo Santos, the Brazilian Tunisia striker (yes, you read that correctly) recently arrived for Sochaux, also for €3m.
Also on the scene are a glut of young Frenchmen - Jeremy Mathieu, Lucien Aubey, Nabil Taïder and Albin Ebondo - plus France international Daniel Moreira and ex-Strasbourg winger Yacine Abdessaki, one of the finest crossers in the country.
Major Ins: Bryan Bergougnoux (Lyon, €3m), Francileudo Santos (Sochaux, €3m), Jeremy Mathieu (Sochaux), Yacine Abdessaki (Strasbourg)
Major Outs: Stéphane Dalmat (Inter), David Suarez (Guingamp), Ludovic Clement (Montpellier)
One to watch: Bryan Bergougnoux - Can he book a World Cup place and take Toulouse into Europe?
AjaccioLast season: 14th
Coach: Rolland Courbis
Corsica's lone representative in Ligue 1 following Bastia's demise, Ajaccio could once again make hard work of survival after an almighty struggle last time out.
The stars of 2004/05 are gone, with Abdelnasser Ouadah and Yohan Demont at Metz and Lens respectively. This means even more faith must be put in the hugely volatile Brazilian André Luiz, one of the few men equally hated by both Marseille and PSG fans.
Stéphane Ziani and Rachid Rocchi should represent decent acquisitions, but fans will be nervous about the arrival of Kaba Diawara.
Many moons ago Diawara was on Arsenal's books, but he has now dropped in from Qatar, where he made a nice little earner at Al-Ittihad.
Major Ins: Romain Rocchi (Paris-SG, €0.5m), Stéphane Ziani (Nantes), Antonio Carlos (Fluminense), Kaba Diawara (Al-Ittihad), Daouda Jabi (Lens, loan)
Major Outs: Yohan Demont (Lens), Abdelnasser Ouadah (Metz), Cyril Chapuis (Marseille)
One to watch: André Luiz - Must produce his best form to keep Ajaccio afloat.
BordeauxLast season: 15th
Coach: Ricardo Gomes
A drop of Bordeaux is usually a good thing in this part of the world, but not at the Stade Chaban Delmat, where the Girondins were made to sweat until the final day before staving off the threat of relegation.
The case for the defence would point to a staggering 20 draws and only ten defeats in 38 games as evidence that the club's form was not all that bad, but last-day jitters were still deeply embarrassing for such a proud club.
Coach Ricardo Gomes has done fairly well with an empty transfer kitty, securing Vladimir Smicer and Bruno Cheyrou on free transfers from Liverpool. Colombian international Edixon Perea is another exciting acquisition.
However, creative midfielders Camel Meriem and Albert Riera have been sold, international defender Michalis Kapsis has returned to his native Greece, and Brazilian misfit Deivid has also been off-loaded. Despite the lack of major reinforcements, last season's flirt with the drop should concentrate a few minds and ensure a marked improvement in results.
Major Ins: Vladimir Smicer (Liverpool), Bruno Cheyrou (Liverpool), Edixon Perea (Nacional), Alejandro Alonso (Huracan)
Major Outs: Camel Meriem (Monaco, €6m), Albert Riera (Espanyol, €3m), Deivid de Souza (Sporting Lisbon, €3m), Cyril Rool (Nice), Michalis Kapsis (Olympiakos)
One to watch: Edixon Perea - Midfielder blessed with sharp turn of pace and explosive shot.
Coach: Joël Muller
A familiar face is back at the helm. Joël Muller coached Metz from 1989-2000 and remains one of Ligue 1's most respected bosses.
Much excitement was generated by the signing of Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan, but the man who slayed Italy at the 2002 World Cup has an otherwise questionable pedigree. He managed just 5 goals in 30 Serie A games with Perugia, and 30 goals over the last three seasons in Japan hardly suggests a world-beater.
More likely Muller will rely on Hervé Tum, the Cameroonian whose knack for timely goals made him a hero last season.
Metz need another huge campaign from skipper Grégory Proment, and if the key performers once again do the business, Metz should once more dodge the drop.
Major Ins: Ahn Jung-Hwan (Yokohama Marinos), Szabolcs Huszti (Ferencvaros), Abdelnasser Ouadah (Ajaccio), Grégory Paisley (Sochaux)
Major Outs: Jean-Philippe Caillet (Liteks Lovech), Franck Signorino (Nantes)
One to watch: Grégory Proment - Captain since the age of 22, can be relied on to deliver.
NantesLast season: 17th
Coach: Serge Le Dizet
Heading into the last day of the season, the Canaries appeared to have tweeted their last. Yet a nerve-shredding 1-0 win over Metz and defeats for Caen and Bastia saw the 2001 champions avoid being relegated for the first time in 42 years.
But the west coast no longer has the allure of old, and big-name recruits are proving elusive. Instead, it falls to the existing crop, such as goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau and Jérémy Toulalan, to prove that last season was just an extreme aberration.
Toulalan was one of the few bright spots of 2004/05, and fears he might flown the nest have so far been allayed.
Surprisingly, caretaker coach Serge Le Dizet has kept his job, but he will need a good start if he wants to see out the season.
Major Ins: Imed Mhadabi (Etoile de Sahel), Franck Signorino (Metz)
Major Outs: Stéphane Ziani (Ajaccio), Florin Bratu (Dinamo Bucharest), Mamadou Bagayoko (Nice)
One to watch: Mickaël Landreau - Time for once-vaunted 'keeper to raise his game.
NancyLast season: Ligue 2 champions
Coach: Pablo Correa
Despite topping Ligue 2, Michel Platini's former club look prime candidates for the drop. They boast just seven players with top-flight experience and have struggled to make any quality signings.
Brazilian André Luiz Silva looks a decent acquisition, but otherwise the cupboard is bare. Most pressing is the search for a reliable striker to replace 33-year-old Laurent Dufresne, put out to pasture at second division Valenciennes.
Nancy face a hellish start to the season, opening with fixtures against Monaco, Bordeaux, Lens, Lyon and Rennes.
Unless they can get off to a flier, it seems entirely possible that the men from Lorraine could spend the entire season in the bottom three.
Major Ins: Andre Luiz Silva (Atletico Mineiro), Sébastien Puyrenier (Rennes), Adrián Sarkissian (River Plate)
Major Outs: Laurent Dufresne (Valenciennes), Bertrand Fayolle (Amiens)
One to watch: Pablo Correa - Coach must bolster his squad before the transfer deadline.
Le MansLast season: 2nd in Ligue 2
Coach: Frédéric Hantz
France's favourite yo-yo team rarely seem to spend more than 24 hours at a time in any division.
Skipper Laurent Bonnart believes the side have learned much from their experience in 2003/04, when they looked out of their depth, and this time Le Mans look better prepared.
A young team, Le Mans welcome the exciting Ivorian Ndri Romaric, a 22-year-old product of the Beveren production line.
Another key deal extended striker Sébastien Grax's loan from Monaco after he scored 16 times in last year's successful promotion push.
Major Ins: Ndri Romaric (Beveren), David Ciumiento (Juventus, loan), Vinicius De Melo (Aalborg), Sébastien Grax (Monaco, loan)
Major Outs: Alexandre Comisetti (Lausanne), Laurent Peyrelade (Retired)
One to watch: Ndri Romaric - Possesses one of the fiercest shots in Europe, but needs to hit the target more often.
TroyesLast season: 3rd in Ligue 2
Coach: Jean-Marc Furlan
Troyes could be mired in the lower leagues were it not for president Thierry Gomez, who got the club out of crippling debts and staved off automatic relegation from Ligue 2 in 2004.
The division's top scorers have a potent attack adept at finding their opponents' Achilles heel. Yet this swashbuckling approach comes at a heavy price - atrociously poor defending.
They sported one of the worst back lines in the second flight and could get torn apart by the big boys.
Coach Jean-Marc Furlan has declared himself unbothered, intent on winning every game 4-3, and has recruited three men from a horribly leaky Guingamp rearguard. Troyes should provide some thrilling moments but survival is surely beyond them.
Major Ins: Auriol Guillaume, Blaise Kouassi, Ronan Le Crom (All Guingamp)
Major Outs: Damien Perquis (St. Etienne), Framck Grandel (Utrecht), David Vairelles (Amiens)
One to watch: Thierry Gomez - Must unleash his chequebook again and sign some defenders.