The annual Trophee des Champions will open the French football season this Saturday. The match will be played on foreign soil at the Red Bull Arena, home to MLS side New York Red Bulls, which will provide a spectacular venue. The Trophee des Champions is the equivalent of the Super Cups in many countries and the Community Shield in England, where the league champions take on the winners of the domestic cup in the previous season. Montpellier made history last season when they won their first ever French Ligue 1 title. French giants Lyon will be their opponents after winning their fifth Coupe de France last season. They won this cup six times in a row from 2002 to 2007 and have the most Trophee des Champions (seven).
After only their third season back in the top flight, Montpellier shocked everyone by winning the league ahead of the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon, Lille and Marseille. Many were tipping them to finish outside the top ten but they defied the odds, and won their maiden Ligue 1 crown after finishing three points above Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG. This season they will be facing an uphill battle of holding onto their title as the wealthy Paris club, PSG, have considerably strengthened their ranks ahead of the new season with several top-class players. However, Montpellier coach Reni Girard is not worried about PSG’s lavish spending in the transfer market. The former France international believes that such high-profile players will also increase the pressure on PSG to deliver next season which will benefit other sides. Montpellier were impressive during the whole campaign. They won 25 of 38 matches, losing just 6 times and drawing 7. They had the best defensive record, conceding just 34 goals. Moroccan Younes Belhanda was one of the main reasons why Montpellier did so well. His creativity from the midfield was a constant source of chances for his team. Playing just off the forward instead of in a wider position, Belhanda was able to get more involved in the build-up play than in previous seasons and it paid dividends.
Lyon’s lack of consistency to challenge for the league last season forced them to settle for fourth place, their lowest finish in over a decade. They were inconsistent and leaked in a massive 51 goals. Goalscoring was not a problem as they scored 64 goals in their 38 games, four less than Montpellier. They possess great quality in the squad. Lisandro Lopez is one of the most consistent and impressive strikers in Europe, never mind just in Ligue 1. Having signed for Lyon from FC Porto in 2009, the Argentinean forward has scored 65 goals in 120 games in his three seasons at Lyon. They also have the highly rated Yoann Gourcuff who missed most of the 2011-12 season with injury which eventually cost him a spot in Euro 2012 with France. Gourcuff is a talented operator who can pick a pass to open up a defence, shoot from range or take the ball past a defender with his ample skill. France’s number one goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who has won Ligue 1 goalkeeper of the season award three times in the last four seasons, is also a key player for them.
Both meetings between the two last season ended with the home side winning. Montpellier’s home record of 16 wins, two draws and just one loss was the telling factor in them winning the title. The playing grounds will be even here. Lyon have the more talented side and are tipped to erase last season’s disappointment of finishing fourth by beating the league champions here.