Cheat Sheet: Ligue 1 20/21

You don’t win a World Cup without stars and this league, like their wine region, is home to some serious quality, santé!

By Will Guthrie

STYLE OF PLAY

Much like the French national team, this league is a melting pot of styles of play from all across the globe. The influence of other cultures on French football is unmistakeable and as a result, this league is as a breeding ground for all manner of future stars. They play flowing attacking football and are not as tight defensively as what you might see in other leagues around Europe, as a result the football can be exhilarating. Tune and catch a glimpse of the next Mbappe, Pogba or Lacazette so that when your club in England signs their next French young gun, you’ll be all over it!

LIKELY TOP FOUR

Qatar… Errrr, PSG

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the moneybags who dominate Ligue 1 and have won it more or less every season since being taken over by the Qatari royal family. They’re a start-studded line up, featuring some of the best young talent in French football. Sadly for their supporters, most of these players end up leaving to go make a name for themselves elsewhere after growing frustrated at a lack of game time. Widely disliked in France, things aren’t much different for them across the rest of Europe after their petro-fuelled spending completely warped the transfer market a few years back with their £200 million capture of Neymar from Barcelona. Having said all of that, they are very good – an electric attack nearly won them their most coveted prize, falling at the final hurdle in the Champions League when they narrowly lost the final to Bayern Munich. They should comfortably win the league again this season and are already on top with a 5-point lead and eight straight wins.

AS Monaco FC

If you’re looking for a team to support in France, there are few with more to like than Monaco. Known for producing world class players and giving them a platform to make a name for themselves, this club is perpetually rising and then falling again, after having their best and brightest bought by clubs with larger wage structures. Having been a force a few years ago before losing five or six players to some of the biggest clubs in Europe, it would appear now is the time for Monaco to rise again. They have a solid mix of veterans well led by former Arsenal and Chelsea star Cesc Fabregas, while they also have on the books a number of players who could one day become world class, such as Italian exciting  youngster Pietro Pellegri or French tyro Benoît Badiashile (who’s rumoured to have been scouted by Man United amongst others). Coach Niko Kovač is also out for redemption after a bad spell at Bayern Munich, so Monaco is every chance to push PSG all the way this season and have started well, watch them closely.

Olympique Lyonnais

Lyon have staged a much-needed turnaround in form after a disastrous start. They have plenty of quality in their squad and are more than capable of finishing top four. Their captain Memphis Depay has been a revelation after flopping at Man United, providing spark and flair (with five goals and three assists already this season). His transfer to Barcelona fell through so for the first half of the season at least, he’ll be able to help Lyon’s push towards Europe. Up front – normally finishing off a lot of Depay’s work – is another quality forward in Moussa Dembélé. He’s yet to find the net so far this season, but that should be just a matter of time. The real excitement is in midfield, where Lyon has playmaker Houssem Aouar (who’s highly coveted by Arsenal) and wonderkid Rayan Cherki, who made his debut at the age of 16 years of age. Now 17 years old, he has won plaudits for his electric performances in the midfield. As we said, there’s plenty of quality here, they just need to get going in earnest!

Olympique de Marseille

Much like their mercurial talisman Dmitri Payet, Marseille is a team that are hard to get a read on. A noted powerhouse in Ligue 1, they are a long way from their glory days of winning the Champions League in 1993. They haven’t won the title for nearly a decade now (or since Qatar bought PSG) and would consider the season a success if they were to secure a spot in the Champions League. They certainly have the talent in their squad, with experienced players such as Payet, Florian Thauvin and Steve Mandanda providing the leadership for the next gen of players coming through. With highly fancied youngster Boubacar Kamara and the recently acquired Michaël Cuisance from Bayern Munich, there’s enough notable bright young lights there as well. A spot in the Top Four would be their expectation and they are more than capable getting there.

TWO TEAMS TO WATCH

Lille OSC

After ten games, Lille are second on the table and surpassing all expectations. Now that they have this impressive base to build on, they’ll look to push for a place in Europe next season. Unlike the free-scoring Rennes, Lille have become clean sheet specialists, getting their wins by narrow margins. They look to be hard to break down and with Burak Yilmaz up front being fed by former European Golden Boy Renato Sanches. Having already taken points from Marseille and Rennes, they have the ability to score goals and seriously push for the Top Four… this could get interesting.

Stade Rennais F.C.

They’re currently in the Top Four of the table and absolutely flying after a stunning previous season that saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time ever. Comparable to Lille, they’ve had a fast start and their hopes of making the Top Four now look like more than just a pipedream. With a range of players in form, notably Edourdo Camavinga and Serhou Guirassy, they have the potency in attack to be a serious chance… the only question is; can they maintain the rage and repeat last season’s heroics?

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH

Houssem Aouar (Lyon) – Another of the golden boys coming through the ranks of French football at the moment (perhaps even the most impressive), Aouar is a box-to-box midfielder who scored 9 goals and assisted on 10 in all competitions last season. Having just recently made his international debut for the French national team, he has the world at his feet with world-class potential and incredible poise on the ball. It’s easy to see why he’s valued at €50 million and has Arsenal tracking him very closely.

Rayan Cherki (Lyon) – It’s hard to contain the hype around someone when they’ve made their professional debut at the age of 16. Cherki not only managed that but went on to impress across last season. Whilst not exploding onto the scene, he certainly did enough to suggest he will become a top-class player and may even have world class potential. His rapid progression has captured the imaginations of the Lyon faithful, while his dazzling dribble skills and close ball control bely his tender years. He’ll have plenty of opportunities at Lyon, a club well known for producing talent and is quickly becoming a fan favourite. His versatility means the young midfielder can play a range of positions, but he’s best suited somewhere across the front three. He is the definition of ‘on the rise’.

Eduardo Camavinga (Stade Rennais FC) – He recently made his debut for the France national side and became their second youngest scorer in history when he flicked in an overhead kick, before turning in an assured performance in midfield. Desperately wanted by Real Madrid, Man United and other massive clubs yet still just 17 years of age, this kid is something special. He is absolutely one to watch for now and the future. His first performance for France and in the Champions League showed that he is wise beyond his years, he’s already represented the club more than 50 times and isn’t even old enough to vote. Catch this incredible talent as soon as possible!

Boubacar Kamara (Olympique de Marseille) – At just 20 years of age, it’s incredibly impressive that Kamara has been a mainstay in the Marseille defence for a couple of seasons now. Tall, athletic, quick and with an ability to read the game, he has the makings of a young Raphaël Varane, while his versatility means he can occasionally be deployed in the midfield. Kamara’s chief strength is his ball control and ability to read the play, meaning he breaks up attacks before they become dangerous and then carries the ball forward to launch a counter. With such assuredness at such a young age, it wouldn’t surprise to see him develop into a world-class centre half. Keep your eyes open for him, he may lob up at a massive club sooner rather than later.

FOUR CULT HEROES

Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

The heir apparent to Messi and Ronaldo, Mbappe is the real deal, the king in waiting. Having already won the World Cup by the tender age of 20, where he not only scored in the final, but torched opponents all the way through the tournament, he has continued his electric form in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. He is largely unplayable, toying with opponents with his lightning pace and incredible skill. He is a must watch player, capable of tearing any game apart and has started this season like a freight train, with seven goals and four assists in just six outings this season. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Dmitri Payet (Olympique de Marseille)

When it comes to cult heroes, there are few who thrill more than Dmitri Payet. The man who took the Premier League by storm during his stint at West Ham has returned to Marseille, where he spent a few seasons prior to his electric days at the Hammers. Last season saw Payet return to his best, scoring nine goals and assisting four in just 22 league games. At his best, he is exhilarating, a player capable of completely embarrassing opponents and winning matches off his own boot. He’s also no stranger to controversy, making him one of the most watchable players in Ligue 1.

Wissam Ben Yedder (AS Monaco)

For years this guy has plied his trade in the French and Spanish leagues without recognition. A proven, reliable and consistent goal scorer, it’s only been the last few seasons that people have finally noticed just how good Ben Yedder actually is. He’s even earned ten caps for the French national team; such has been his prowess in front of goal.  After a €40 million move to Monaco last season, Ben Yedder produced a stellar campaign to reward them with 18 goals and seven assists in the league alone. The truly stunning thing about that is that he managed to do it in just 26 games, giving him one of the best goals-per-game ratios in Europe. With six goals already this campaign, it’s not a stretch to imagine he’ll go close to replicating that.

Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyonnais)

After flopping at Man United, Depay has had a renaissance in Ligue 1, to the point where he is a transfer target for Barcelona, with a deal failing to materialise on deadline day when Barca were unable to sell Ousmane Dembélé. A stunning first season where he scored 19 goals and assisted 13 others was followed up by another couple of seasons where he continued to show his quality, particularly in Europe and earned himself the captain’s armband. A player who can delight and frustrate, Depay has become something of a talisman for Lyon and his failed move to Barcelona will only help their cause this season. He’ll be keen to impress to keep the hope of a transfer alive and already has five goals and three assists so far this season. He’s clearly motivated, so be sure to catch him for Lyon while you can!

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