The French equivalent of Leicester. Nice finished fourth last season and no one expected them to be leading the league at Christmas after losing manager Claude Puel and some of their best players in Hatem Ben Arfa, Valere Germain and Nampalys Mendy. They are 15 points better off from this stage last season and are two points clear of Monaco in second. Despite being sent off on Wednesday at Bordeaux, Mario Balotelli is back to his best with eight goals in nine. They might not go all the way but they have been incredibly refreshing.
They have scored 56 goals in 19 matches, a rate of 2.94 per game, a tally that beats Nantes, Angers and Nancy put together. Radamel Falcao is back to his best with 11 league goals already while Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva, 21 and 22 years old, respectively, are two of the most promising attacking midfielders of their generation. They have lost just three times (to Nice, Toulouse and Lyon) and they have the squad to push Nice and PSG all the way in the second half of the season.
3. Paris Saint-Germain
Life has been very difficult without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Laurent Blanc in Paris. The team lack leaders and Unai Emery is a totally different manager to Blanc. He likes more verticality, more transition football and less possession, but he is finding it difficult to get his message across to a dressing room so used to the old way. The Parisians have lost four times already (to Toulouse, Monaco, Montpellier and Guingamp) and have 12 points fewer than at this stage last season. Apart from Edinson Cavani, the star players are struggling. Angel Di Maria is not performing while Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura have been inconsistent. Somehow, though, they’re just five points behind Nice and three behind Monaco after such a disappointing start.
They’ve had an odd season, capable of beating Monaco away 3-1 and getting a point in the Champions League against Juventus (1-1), but also losing at Dijon, Lorient and Guingamp. They were 10th at the end of October but stuck with their manager, Bruno Genesio, and have won their past four league matches to finish the year on a high. Alexandre Lacazette is back to his best, too, with 13 goals in 14 matches already.
The other wonderful surprise in France, along with Nice. At Christmas last year, they were 18th in the table with 19 points. Antoine Kombouare, the former PSG manager, replaced Jocelyn Gourvennec in the summer and has done wonders. They don’t have a star player but a great team spirit and a bit of luck, too. The second half of the season will be harder for them — let’s see how long the miracle lasts.
You can only wonder where this team would be if they had a proper manager from the start of the season. Franck Passi was poor and never worthy of the job. He took 12 points in nine games and Rudi Garcia, who replaced him in October, has taken 18 from 10.
They were in the top six for a while before fading away with two defeats and a draw in their past three league matches before the winter break. They will need to sort out their squad and get a better striker, but they have only lost once at home all season and Yoann Gourcuff has largely stayed injury-free.
8. St Etienne
Kings of the draws. Eight times they have shared points with the opposition, hence their position in the table. They have been hard to beat, with only one defeat between Week 2 and Week 13, but their lack of goals (only 18 scored) is hurting them.
The youngest team in Europe along with AC Milan (average age of 22 when they beat PSG), they have notched some great wins against PSG and Monaco. But their youth has meant some damaging inconsistency along the way.
They were fourth in September but couldn’t maintain form and haven’t won any of their past five Ligue 1 matches.
They blew hot (wins against PSG and Marseille and a draw vs. Nice) and cold (the 5-1 defeat against Lyon and 6-2 at Monaco). Ryad Boudebouz has been a joy to watch, though.
They won three matches in 13 under former manager Frederic Antonetti before he was sacked in November. Since then, under interim manager Patrick Collot, they have recorded three victories in six matches.
The best of the promoted teams. They got better once they sorted out their defence, with only one loss in their last seven league matches, keeping five clean sheets in the process.
They have not been great at home, which is unusual, but they are making life hard for every opponent. They have avoided the bottom three so far.
Also promoted, they have done well at home with only two defeats and a win against Lyon but they have yet to win away.
The surprise package of last season are not surprising anyone anymore. They keep fighting but the bit of luck they had last year has gone.
They’ve had two managers already but Sergio Conceicao, who has succeeded Rene Girard, seems to have brought new life to the team.
The promoted side started very well and were sixth at the end of September but have only won once since being hammered 7-0 at home by Monaco on Oct. 1.
It is hard to believe but they are the only team to have beaten Nice so far. It has been disappointing for most of the rest of the campaign, though, despite Ivan Santini impressive up top with eight goals.
They also changed manager but with not much effect. They are still bottom and were thrashed 5-0 by PSG as they face a long relegation battle.