Can the battle for a top-three spot be predicted after just 12 rounds? Does a club need to be in the top four at this stage of the season to have a hope of winning the title? Analysis.
Since 2000, a look at the table after 12 rounds has proved useful in pointing out trends without necessarily indicating a concrete picture of the final stansings.
THE CHAMPION IS IN THE TOP FOUR
With the exceptions of seasons 2000-01 and 2010-11, when Nantes and Lille occupied seventh and fifth places respectively, the future champion has always been in the top four at this stage of the season. It is also interesting to note that, In season 2001-02, OL trailed Lens by six points before going onto win their first-ever Ligue 1 title; Bordeaux also gobbled up a similar disadvantage to pip OL in 2008-09. Which means that Rennes, who currently trail leaders PSG by nine points, still have cause for hope.
AVOIR LA MEILLEURE ATTAQUE
Among the teams who have ended the last 12 Ligue 1 seasons with the best attack in France, seven have also taken the title. Put another way, scoring a lot of goals right from the bginning of the season gives you a 60% per cent chance of going on to be champion - which augurs well for Valenciennes (26 goals). Conversely, the side on top of the defensive tables at this stage rarely reap big rewards - only twice in the last 12 seasons have the champions been the tighest defence: OL in 2003-04 (eight goals conceded) and in 2004-05 (five goals).
The table after 12 rounds is rarely identical with the result at the end of the season. Clubs vying for the top three spots often end up in the top third of the table, as happened in 2008-09 when OL, OM, Bordeaux and Toulouse were still there, albeit in a different order, at the end of the season. It was also the case last season, with Paris leading and Montpellier, Lille and Lyon clawing at their heels.
A REPEAT OF 2010-2011 ON THE CARDS?
To find another example of such a tightly-packed top third of the table, you have to look back two seasons. Leaders Rennes (21 points), equal with Brest, had a two-point advantage over Paris and Marseille. However, of these four teams, only OM finished in the top three (second). The same thing happenedi n 2002-03, when Auxerre, PSG, Nice and OL were split by just three points after 12 rounds. All of the sides in question finished outside the top six, with the exception of... Lyon, who went on to take the title - their second in as amny years.
So, does this snapshot of the current standings augur well or poorl for the seven sides separated by just three points? The only answer awaits on May 26.