Watching the highly distilled You tube clips of Karim Benzema, one admired his speed, his clinical finishes, and the ease with which he scored those goals. But looking more closely there were a number of occasions when the defense were caught out of position, slow to read or react, and failed to put in a timely tackle. Against a quality defence, Benzema, even with his impeccable nose for goals, would have been pegged back a notch or two.
You go into the Ligue numbers and it becomes clear that teams are conceding far too many goals. Apart from Lyons and Nancy, the top two teams, who have healthy goal differentials, the rest of the teams live on wafer thin margins. The third and fourth placed teams are giving up 20+ goals which in the EPL would have dropped them down to 10th and 11th spot. In comparisons the other Leagues, the Serie, La Liga, and the EPL, the top placed teams on an average enjoy much larger margins of safety. The top teams, even in a more comparable league like the Eredivisie, give up far less goals.
When you consider how many top defenders have left the Ligue it is not surprising. Out of the 7 defenders that did duty for the national squad in the Euro qualifiers, 5 play outside. In the recent call ups, only 3 out of the nine play for the Ligue. So out of total of 16 defenders who represented Les Bleus in the last year, 11 came from some other League. Experienced defenders like Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Willy Sagnol, and Lilian Thuram have plied their trade for a while overseas. This trend continues in the next generation of defenders with Phillipe Mexes, Patrice Evra, and Bakary Sagna moving to the bigger and more lucrative leagues.
A club like AJ Auxerre's defender corps was decimated this season as Bakary Sagna and Younes Kaboul signed up for Arsenal and Spurs. They now lie just above the relegation zone. The exodus is not just confined to players of French nationality but it includes players from the former French colonies and other smaller leagues who transfer to Ligue clubs like Lens or Marseille like Ivory Coast's Abdoulaye Meite who saw an extensive Marseille career before partnering Abdoulaye Faye in Sam Allardyce's bruising defence at Bolton. Faye from Senegal spent a number of years in Lens before being brought over to Bolton. When Sam Allardyce left Bolton to manage Newcastle he induced Faye to come along. In fact, Allardyce has rebuilt the Newcastle defence through a number of ex-Ligue players like Habib Beye, David Rozenhal, and Claudio Cacapa.
Lyon in the beginning of the season lost Eric Abidal to Juve and Claudio Cacapa to Newcastle. They also lost Cris, their best defender and Gregory Coupet, their international goalie to injuries but they recouped through Fabio Grosso and Anderson. The makeshift defence took sometime to gel and Lyon saw a very shaky start sliding to the 11th spot giving away some cheap goals before the defence under Grosso, Squillaci, and Anderson toughened up. But Lyon is an exception. This year's league positions show a reversal and clubs like Marseille, Rennes, and Auxerre who did well last year have slipped drastically losing some key defenders to the bigger leagues.