Ligue 1 2022-23: PSG to romp to another title while European battle attracts interest - Stats Perform AI predicts

By Sports Desk August 04, 2022

Another Ligue 1 campaign begins on Friday after a big window for French football, the highlight of which was Paris Saint-Germain retaining Kylian Mbappe.

New arrivals in the league include returns for Lyon duo Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, while high-profile departures have seen Aurelien Tchouameni, Sven Botman and Nayef Aguerd depart.

With PSG once again investing heavily in their squad, adding the likes of Vitinha, Hugo Ekitike and Nordi Mukiele, the capital club are widely expected to storm to another title – but can there be an upset?

The verdict, unsurprisingly, is probably not – as Stats Perform AI predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and, while the title race is not likely to get going, there are some big battles elsewhere in the division.

PSG PARTY ONCE AGAIN

With one of the most expensive squads ever assembled, including the devastating attack of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are unsurprisingly expected to romp to another Ligue 1 success.

Having won eight of the last nine titles, Stats Perform AI has given PSG a 76.01 per cent chance of retaining their crown.

Marseille, runners-up last season, are seen as the side most capable of mounting a challenge, though their 7.29 per cent chance is slim. Monaco, title winners in 2016-17, are given a 6.55 per cent chance.

Lyon, once the dominant force in French football, have just a 4.29 per cent chance, while Rennes clock in at 3.44 per cent and Lille, the last side to prevent PSG from winning the title having lifted the trophy in 2020-21, have only a 0.71 per cent chance.

The gulf in class within French football is highlighted by the fact that nine teams, almost half of the division, are seen as having no hope in mounting a title challenge.

 

SCRAMBLE FOR EUROPEAN FOOTBALL

Unlike the other top leagues in European football, France has a limited number of places for qualification for UEFA competitions with just two guaranteed Champions League spots, one qualifying spot, one spot in the Europa League group stage and one in the Europa Conference League play-offs.

With PSG expected to surge to the title and take the first of the two group stage spots in the Champions League, with a 90.93 per cent likelihood, the scrap for the other automatic qualification spot could be fierce.

Marseille are seen as the favourites in that battle with a 29.97 per cent chance, with Monaco following suit with a 29.97 per cent chance.

Elsewhere, Lyon have an 18.7 per cent chance, with Rennes at 15.53 per cent, though they may have to settle for a third-place finish or a spot in the Europa League.

In the battle for fifth, and a play-off spot in the Conference League, it's also expected to be tight – with five clubs, as well as those already mentioned above, given at least a five per cent chance of reaching that spot.

Nice, Lens, Lille, Nantes and Strasbourg are all in with an outside shot of gunning for a spot in European competition, which could set up a thrilling battle.

 

REGULATION CHANGES INCREASE RELEGATION FIGHT

With Ligue 1 reducing to 18 teams from the 2023-24 season, the fight to avoid the drop to the second-tier will be fiercer than ever with the bottom four all being relegated – and there will be no play-offs either.

The situation looks bleak for Ajaccio (57.64 per cent chance of relegation), Clermont (57.57), Troyes (56.72) and Lorient (53.92), all of which are seen as more likely to suffer relegation than they are to avoid the drop.

Auxerre (46.58) and Toulouse (34.02) could also find themselves looking over their shoulders during the course of the season, while PSG, Marseille and Monaco are the three sides given no chance leaving the league through the bottom.

Of the promoted trio, it is Toulouse who are given the best chance of maintaining their top-flight status for another season – with their most likely position being 15th, with a 10.59 per cent chance of securing that spot.

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    Brazil coach Tite believes Neymar is irreplaceable because his technical abilities are what empower the rest of the team.

    Neymar was back in the starting XI for Monday's World Cup last-16 win over South Korea at Stadium 974 after injuring ankle ligaments on matchday one.

    His participation for the rest of the tournament had been in doubt, but he returned and played a key role in the comfortable 4-1 victory, scoring a penalty that took him to within one goal of Pele's all-time record of 77.

    Brazil were irresistible at times in the first half and Neymar was generally at the centre of their most promising attacks, even if he did not necessarily record an assist.

    Before Monday, Brazil's performances had been functional if not spectacular, but Neymar's return was important for the fluidity of the rest of the team.

    "He's a technical reference. This is technical leadership. When a team looks for the player, they know that they have a weapon there, [someone who can make] the difference," Tite said of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

    "Everyone has their own striking characteristics, but Neymar is the centre, the one who empowers the others."

    With his early spot-kick, Neymar became the third Brazil player to score at three editions of the World Cup (2014, 2018 and 2022) after Pele and Ronaldo.

    He also created two chances and stepped over the ball before Vinicius Junior coolly opened the scoring in the seventh minute, while only Casemiro and Raphinha – two players who finished the game – managed more than Neymar's 17 passes in the final third, highlighting his involvement in the Selecao's attacks.

    Tite's assistant, Cesar Sampaio, believes having Neymar back also provides a mental boost to his team-mates on top of his technical excellence.

    "Neymar for sure provides a competitive advantage, he makes a difference on pitch," he said.

    "He's a driving force. I'm going round and round, beating around the bush to talk about him, but in a nutshell I'd like to congratulate our physios for their work.

    "Neymar, besides his technical skills, he motivates the others and we are very happy to have him back. He had a great performance, he's recovered and ready for new challenges.

    "He made important steps, and with him we can reach our full potential."

    Brazil's victory set up a quarter-final clash with Croatia on Friday after Zlatko Dalic's men defeated Japan 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw earlier in the day.

  • Bengals can afford to start dreaming of repeat run after latest Chiefs upset Bengals can afford to start dreaming of repeat run after latest Chiefs upset

    Prior to Joe Burrow's arrival in 2020, the Cincinnati Bengals were an NFL punchline. In the third season of what looks set to be a storied NFL career, he has helped them turn one of the most fearsome teams in the league into their own personal punching bag.

    Ok, that may be going a little far. However, after their thrilling 27-24 win in Week 13, it is clear the Bengals are the dominant team in a rivalry with the Kansas City Chiefs, who they have now defeated in three successive games including their remarkable AFC Championship Game triumph last season.

    That dream run to the Super Bowl was one that looked difficult to replicate, especially after the Bengals made an 0-2 start to the season with defeats to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys.

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    He reached a highpoint for the 2022 season on Sunday by once again outduelling Patrick Mahomes in an undulating thrill ride in Cincinnati, exhibiting the accuracy that defined the Bengals' unexpected 2021 ascension.

    The former number one overall pick delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 87.1 per cent of his pass attempts, according to Stats Perform data, his superb ball placement helping him complete 25 of his 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Burrow also opened the scoring with a rushing touchdown.

    While the final stat line in terms of yardage may not be eye-popping, Burrow averaged 9.23 yards per attempt, his precision as a passer ensuring the Bengals maintained offensive efficiency that is critical against the Chiefs.

    Burrow ended the game with a completion percentage of 80.6, over five per cent higher than his expected completion percentage of 75.4.

    And yet, even in a game where Burrow was deadly accurate, the Bengals averaged 8.7 yards per pass play and Ja'Marr Chase had 97 yards on seven catches on his return from injury, it could be argued the Bengals did not fire on all cylinders.

    Though they moved the ball well, the Bengals went three of seven in the red zone, with Tyler Boyd committing a crucial drop on a would-be touchdown on third down in the third quarter, and Burrow regularly had to make plays with his legs when pass protection that has improved this season broke down.

    Normally such missed opportunities as the Bengals had inside the 20-yard line would be fatal against the Chiefs and the most feared quarterback of his generation, but since Burrow returned from the knee injury that prematurely ended his rookie year to reassume command of the offense in 2021, he and Cincinnati have become experts in finding a way to prevail against any calibre of this opposition.

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    Yin and Yang

    Cincinnati's passing game was complemented by a ground attack that took advantage of Kansas City's vulnerability defending the run.

    Backup running back Samaje Perine averaged five yards per carry, with the efforts of the offensive line aiding him in putting up 3.29 yards before contact per rush, the sixth-most among backs with at least 10 carries in Week 13.

    More critical, though, was the fourth-quarter defiance of the defense, which, despite struggling to get Mahomes off the field, came up with two crucial stops when the Bengals needed them most.

    Germaine Pratt forced and recovered a fumble from Travis Kelce on a 19-yard reception to set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Bengals, on which Burrow found a wide-open Chris Evans after Boyd redeemed himself with a key third-down catch, and Joseph Ossai – who missed all of his rookie year due to injury – showcased his pass-rushing prowess and his motor to bring down Mahomes for a sack on third and short, ending the Chiefs' subsequent drive and forcing a long game-tying field goal attempt that Harrison Butker pushed wide right.

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    Under pressure from Derrick Nnadi, Burrow calmly delivered a perfect ball to Tee Higgins over the middle as the Bengals ran a slant-flat concept, his throw delivered with the timing and anticipation to dart into the grasp of Higgins and defeat the excellent coverage of rookie Joshua Williams, ensuring Cincinnati picked up a first down on third-and-11 and ended the ball game.

    Since Week 6, when the Bengals set off a run that has seen them win six of their past seven games, Burrow leads the NFL in completion percentage (72.3) and passing touchdowns (16), while he is third in yards per attempt (8.55), showcasing the kind of form that lifted the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season.

    While he was both devastatingly accurate and efficient in Sunday's engrossing victory, it was a Bengals performance that, a week on from a hard-fought 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, further demonstrated they do not necessarily need Burrow to carry the entire burden of their hopes on his shoulders.

    Against Kansas City, the Bengals used a balanced offensive approach to win the time of possession battle – Cincinnati limiting the Chiefs' opportunities by holding the ball for over four minutes more than their high-powered opponents – and delivered defensive stops in the crucial moments.

    But such key plays may not have borne fruit had Burrow not answered the bell with an unstoppable throw to Higgins when it was all on his shoulders.

    There is the talent on the Bengals' roster that Burrow doesn't have to do everything, but approaching the end of his third season as pro, the overwhelming evidence is that he can.

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  • 'I cried a lot'  – Neymar relieved to be back firing for Brazil after fearing Qatar campaign was over 'I cried a lot' – Neymar relieved to be back firing for Brazil after fearing Qatar campaign was over

    Neymar says all the hard work paid off as he recovered from injury to play a big part in Brazil's sublime 4-1 win over South Korea in Monday's World Cup last-16 tie.

    The Paris Saint-Germain superstar missed Brazil's final two group games after sustaining an ankle injury late on in the opening 2-0 win over Serbia on November 24.

    However, the 30-year-old was deemed fit enough to play 81 minutes of the one-sided contest with South Korea and scored the second of his side's goals at Stadium 974.

    Neymar admits he feared the worst when suffering the injury 11 days ago and is glad to now be back on the field playing – and scoring – again.

    "I was very scared," he said in his post-match interview. "I was doing well after a positive start to the season, so suffering an injury like the one I had was very hard.

    "I spent the night crying a lot. But everything worked out in the end; the effort was worth it. All suffering is valid.

    "I'd like to thank god for the strength I've been given to be back on the pitch, to be able to train and do everything I needed to be on the pitch again.

    "Thanks also to the physios, my colleagues and those who have encouraged me over the last days. I'm happy to be back on the pitch and playing well."

     

    Asked if he felt any pain prior to being replaced by Rodrygo, Neymar said: "No I didn't feel anything. I was very content with my performance, but that said we can always improve.

    "I can't be 100 per cent satisfied. I've been given the man of the match award today but it's for everyone. I'm really happy with the performance of the side."

    With his early penalty, Neymar became the third Brazil player to score at three editions of the World Cup (2014, 2018 and 2022) alongside Pele and Ronaldo.

    Each of the forward's past six Brazil goals have come via the penalty spot and he now has 76 goals for his country – just one short of all-time scorer Pele.

    Vinicius Junior had earlier given Brazil the lead, while Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta were also on target inside the opening 36 minutes.

    It is just the second time in their World Cup history Brazil have scored four goals in the first half of a match, previously doing so against Mexico in 1954.

    Having toiled in wins over Serbia and Switzerland, before losing to Cameroon when heavily rotating, Brazil laid down a marker with their superb showing against South Korea.

    The five-time world champions, who have advanced from their past eight last-16 ties, will face Croatia following the 2018 beaten finalists' earlier penalty shoot-out win over Japan.

    "We have to plan to go further," Neymar said. "We are dreaming of the title, but we will take it step by step.

    "This was our fourth game today and there are three more to go. We are very prepared and focused on getting this title."

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