Ligue 1 Breakout Stars

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Ligue 1 has chosen to market itself this season as ‘the league of talents’, embracing the fact that it is a breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow.

Many of Europe’s finest players graced Le Championnat, with some, like N’Golo Kante, not getting their big break until relatively late on in their careers.

The Chelsea midfielder was still unknown to the world at large when he departed Caen for Leicester as a 24-year-old in 2015 but has since flourished into one of the finest players in the game.

While stories like his remain the exception, there is still plenty of burgeoning talent in France ready to make the breakthrough on the big stage.

Here, we examine some players who have come into their own since the beginning of the season.

Emiliano Sala (Nantes, here)

It’s true that there are many more graceful strikers in Europe currently than Nantes’ Emiliano Sala, but on current form there have been few more effective. The 28-year-old Argentine has been one of the most clinical players in Europe’s ‘Big 5’ leagues and indeed his 11 goals surpass all-comers with the exception of Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, who has just as many to his name.

In the past, Sala has been considered a workhorse forward with unreliable finishing, yet this season he has hit a rich vein of form that has seen him net once every 76 minutes in league play.

His contract is up at the end of the season and Nantes will do well to keep him, with the gangly forward already just one goal from matching the 12 he has mustered in each of the two previous campaigns – his best in the top flight.

Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg here)

Strasbourg have had a habit of pinching attackers from Lille and making the most of them. Baptiste Guillaume and Martin Terrier both walked the path from Stade Pierre-Mauroy to Racing successfully, and now South Africa international forward Lebo Mothiba is doing likewise.

A favourite of the staff at Stade de la Meinau due to his hard-working attitude and smiley personality, he has started to translate this form onto the field, where he has scored six times since arriving a day before the end of the summer transfer window for just €4 million.

The 22-year-old has an impressive return of 12 goals in just 27 career Ligue 1 appearances and his form with Strasbourg has demanded attention.

Moussa Diaby (Paris Saint-Germain, here)

At the beginning of the season, the buzz around the French capital centred around the form of Timothy Weah, yet Moussa Diaby is the youngster currently catching the eye at Parc des Princes.

Having had to fight to get him to sign professional terms during the summer, Thomas Tuchel has integrated him into the first team smartly. Often featuring in a wide role in Ligue 1 matches, the 19-year-old, has contributed two goals and five assists to the cause. Indeed, only Angel Di Maria can boast a higher number in the whole league.

Pushed into the shadows somewhat by Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and PSG’s other major stars, Diaby has fully justified the hype and is set for a big future in the game if he continues at such a pace.

Marcus Thuram (Guingamp, here)

 

It is asking a great deal of a young player to carry the offensive burden for a team struggling against relegation, yet 21-year-old Marcus Thuram finds himself doing just that for a Guingamp outfit that has mustered only nine goals in total this term. Of these, Thuram has contributed five, having played just 667 minutes in Ligue 1 due to a four-game ban.

Inevitably, his surname has drawn a good deal of attention, but he has justified it playing in a wide role in Brittany. His decision making needs refined – he chooses to dribble too often – but his willingness to take responsibility is admirable and his technical prowess is capable of matching the formidable attributes familiar from World Cup-winning father Lilian.

Adama Soumaoro (Lille, here)

Adama Soumaoro is a player who has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for several years, despite the fact that, at 26, he has played comparatively little Ligue 1 football for Lille, with whom he has spent his whole professional career. Indeed, he counts just 86 top-flight appearances to his name.

This term, though, the Franco-Malian centre-back has come into his own under Christophe Galtier, showing why so many teams from England have taken note. He has shown terrific discipline and unrivalled commitment in the heart of the LOSC back four, notably turning in a fine display in the 2-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain, in which Lille limited their hosts impressively.

It seems that this will finally be the year that things come together for him.

Jean-Clair Todibo (Toulouse, here)

When Toulouse let go of centre-back Issa Diop to West Ham in the summer, they did so in the knowledge that they had a ready-made replacement coming through their ranks in the form of Jean-Clair Todibo.

Aged just 18, the defender has settled well to life in Ligue 1 and has been one of the outstanding players in a Toulouse side that has struggled after making such a promising beginning to the season.

However, he has given his club a problem, having refused to sign professional forms as he could leave for a pittance next summer. As such, he has been cast to the reserves until he has made a decision over his future, which could halt what has been an incredible breakout campaign in its tracks.

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About Author

A football journalist specialising in the French and Scottish game, Robin has been writing professionally for over a decade. His career highlights include attending World Cups in Brazil and Russia, and Euro 2016 in France.

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