Soccer

5 things to know about the French league

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Five things to know as the French league season kicks off this week:

TWO-HORSE RACE?

Bankrolled by foreign money, defending champion Paris Saint-Germain and newly promoted Monaco look set - at least on paper - for a two-horse battle. After ending a 19-year drought by clinching its first French league title since 1994 ahead of archrival Marseille, PSG strengthened its squad yet again and Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani is expected to play alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a mouthwatering attacking line-up. Monaco, coached by Italian mastermind Claudio Ranieri, is enjoying nearly unlimited funds from Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev - who went on a spending spree this summer to build a team capable of taking PSG off its perch, notably beating a host of clubs to the signature of Radamel Falcao.

NEW COACHES

Following Carlo Ancelotti's departure to Real Madrid, PSG has appointed Laurent Blanc as its new coach. Lille, Montpellier, Rennes and Ajaccio also have new managers. Lille has appointed Rene Girard, who guided Montpellier to the title two seasons ago. He has been replaced by Jean Fernandez at Montpellier, while former Juventus striker Fabrizio Ravanelli is now in charge at Ajaccio and Philippe Montanier succeeded Frederic Antonetti at Rennes.

GOURCUFF'S LAST CHANCE AT LYON?

Yoann Gourcuff hasn't yet lived up to his billing as the next Zinedine Zidane. He will be given another chance to resurrect his career during a crucial season that will culminate with the World Cup in Brazil. After enduring a couple of injury-plagued seasons with Lyon, the former AC Milan and Bordeaux playmaker is under pressure to justify the 22 million euros ($29 million) the club paid for his transfer in 2010. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said it's time for Gourcuff to ''repay the club for what it gave to him.''

EUROPEAN AND PROMOTED TEAMS

Marseille's runner-up finish last season secured the club an automatic spot in the Champions League group stage alongside PSG. Lyon started its Champions League campaign in the third qualifying round after finishing third and fourth-placed Nice will compete in the Europa League playoff round. League Cup winners and fifth-placed Saint-Etienne will enter the Europa League in the group stage while French Cup winner Bordeaux will start in the third qualifying round. The promoted teams are Monaco, Guingamp and eight-time champion Nantes. After four years in the second division, Nantes will be looking to avoid immediate relegation despite limited resources. With a team lacking experience, Nantes will be banking on the strength of its defense and the flair of forward Filip Djordjevic, who scored 20 goals last season.

MARSEILLE AIMING FOR TOP-3 FINISH

With the addition of former Lille winger Dimitri Payet to his squad, Marseille coach Elie Baup is confident his players can again be in the mix for the Champions League positions this year. ''Paris and Monaco have been extraordinarily active in the transfer market, but we're not about to head into the coming season as if we've already been beaten,'' Baup said. ''Our goal is to end the season in the top three.'' At Marseille, Payet will be reunited with his France teammates Mathieu Valbuena and Andre-Pierre Gignac, and could make an interesting partnership with Ghana's Andre Ayew.

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