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Baxter hoping Khune brings the magic

South Africa
By ESPN Staff

Lyon target eighth successive Ligue 1 title

Bordeaux and Marseille appear to be the only two teams capable of threatening Lyon's dominance of Ligue 1 when the new season begins on Saturday.

Les Gones have won the last seven domestic titles and their aggressive recruitment during the summer, which has seen the likes of Hugo Lloris, Jean Makoun and Ederson join, shows they are determined it will not stop there.

New coach Claude Puel has a hard act to follow given that his predecessor, Alain Perrin, won the double last season for the first time in the club's history.

That feat did not save Perrin from the chop, with president Jean-Michel Aulas placing a greater emphasis on European success.

However, if Puel is forced to focus too much on the Champions League, their domestic form could suffer and that is where Bordeaux and Marseille could capitalise.

Les Girondins took Lyon all the way last season, the championship only being decided on the final weekend.

And with Laurent Blanc's side having ended Les Gones' six-year hold on the Trophee des Champions with a penalty-shootout success last Saturday, it could be just as close this campaign.

'We are really happy to have picked up this victory,' said Blanc, who has brought in Yoan Gouffran, Yoann Gourcuff and Diego Placente during the close season.

'But over the course of the championship, to be a genuine challenge to Lyon is going to be a lot more tricky.'

Marseille, big underachievers in France over the past 15 years, could also be a force this season.

A catastrophic start to last season cost them dear, but after Eric Gerets replaced Albert Emon as coach, OM improved considerably.

They sold star playmaker Samir Nasri to Arsenal in the summer, but have signed forwards Hatem Ben Arfa and Bakari Kone since and have managed to keep hold of key striker Djibril Cisse.

'We have a lot more talent than last year,' said Gerets, whose team will also take part in the Champions League.

There is no-one else who can realistically compete for the title but there are a host of teams who should be battling it out for the UEFA Cup spots.

St Etienne were fifth last term and have recruited well over the past few months.

New boys Sebastien Grax, Daisuke Matsui and Sylvain Monsoreau will strengthen an already decent-looking squad while Lille striker Kevin Mirallas could yet join before the transfer window shuts.

Nancy, the hard-working side who finished last season fourth, will prove difficult to beat but will no longer have the surprise factor that confounded many of their opponents over the course of the 2007/08 campaign.

Rennes and Lille should also be there or thereabouts, while this season could see Paris St Germain finally rise from the dead after two years at the wrong end of the table.

Signing the likes of Claude Makelele, Ludovic Giuly and Stephane Sessegnon should ensure they finish at least in mid-table - and coach Paul Le Guen will be hoping for a lot more.

The scrap to avoid the drop is usually more interesting than the title race in France, and that could well be the case again this year.

The three promoted clubs - Grenoble, Le Havre and Nantes - have it all to do if they are to ensure top-flight football next season.

Valenciennes, who lost leading frontman Steve Savidan in the summer, Caen, Auxerre and Lorient will also be starting the campaign with survival as their primary objective.

Elsewhere, French league chiefs will be hoping for an incident-free campaign off the pitch, with last season being marred by racist chanting, crowd violence and controversial refereeing decisions.


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