XI LIGUE 1 Players Your Club Needs This Summer
With European sides now regularly scouting Ligue 1 for players to sign, Rich Allen has put together an XI of players whom clubs may want to take a closer look at this summer.
Steve Mandanda – Goalkeeper – Marseille
Steve Mandanda has been a loyal servant and beyond for Marseille since he joined initially on loan in 2007. Time and again he has proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 1 and this season has been no different. Arguably it has been one of his most impressive seasons to date in light of the dreadful Marseille defence in front of him and the disastrous performance of the club as a whole. With his contract up this summer and the player admitting he has played his last match for Marseille, now would be the best time for clubs around Europe to snap up a leading goalkeeper for free.
The France number two will return from Euro 2016 with clubs such as Liverpool, Everton, Roma, Inter Milan, Celta Vigo and Villarreal linked with him. He would be a superb acquisition for any one of those sides and at only 31 he is likely to be around for many more seasons to come.
Youssouf Sabaly – Right Back – PSG
If you’re a club looking for a cheap young full-back with a good amount of experience, you could do little wrong with considering 23-year-old Youssouf Sabaly. Although under contract with PSG, the defender has yet to make a first-team appearance for them after spending two seasons on loan with Evian Thonon Gaillard and this campaign with Nantes.
Sabaly can already count on nearly 100 Ligue 1 appearances and with only two years left on his PSG contract and little chance of turning out for the champions, he could be available for a relatively small sum. Sabaly has been one of the best players in a solid if not spectacular Nantes side. His tackling and positional awareness is very good although his distribution is something that could be worked on. All in all, however, he could prove to be a very shrewd signing for those in need of an effective young full-back.
Moustapha Bayal-Sall – Centre Back – Saint-Etienne
Big, tall and strong, Moustapha Bayal-Sall cuts an imposing figure at the heart of the Saint-Etienne defence. With well over 200 games under his belt with les Verts, the Senegalese international brings with him a huge amount of experience. He has been part of the current rise of Saint-Etienne from relegation candidates to regular qualifiers for European competition. Curiously though he was one of a small group of players whom les Verts’ coach Christophe Galtier reportedly told to find new a club this summer.
That claim was played down by the club but Bayal-Sall’s final match of the season, a home game against Toulouse, ended with him walking off the pitch and down the tunnel citing an injury that Galtier didn’t seem to be aware of. It may prove to be a sad end to his Saint-Etienne career but any club picking him up will be getting a very useful defender. Having learned and developed from playing alongside one of Ligue 1’s best in Loic Perrin, it’s perhaps only the occasional positioning error which lets him down. With only a year left on his contract, a move could now well be on the cards.
Romain Thomas – Centre Back – Angers
Romain Thomas proved to be one of the most impressive centre-backs in Ligue 1 in a side which surprised so many. Newly promoted Angers secured an incredible 9th place finish having been among the favourites to be relegated, with Stephan Moulin’s side even spending a number of weeks occupying a top three spot. Central to that successful season was a tight-knit defensive unit that only conceded 38 goals all season, the 4th-best record in the division. 27-year-old Thomas was perhaps the most significant contributor to that statistic.
After a career spent outside Ligue 1, he took to the top flight with consummate ease and has earned many admirers including the likes of Saint-Etienne. He offers great organisational and positional abilities and can provide a calming, commanding presence at the back. He is, without doubt, one of Angers’ most prized possessions but with a taste for top-flight football, Thomas may want to push himself further.
Djibril Sidibe – Left Back – Lille
Even the most ardent of Lille fans wouldn’t have said Djibril Sidibe if they were asked who would go on to be one of the league’s best full-backs this season. Sidibe is one of those players who very much goes under the radar. For someone who can play on either flank, it’s a little ironic that defending is not necessarily his strongest area. There are no questions about his ability to push forward, his goals this season can attest to that, but at times, he can let that go to his head to the detriment of his more immediate responsibilities. With that in mind though, it is hard to argue with the fact that he is part of one of the most miserly defences in France.
Lille conceded only 27 goals this season; only PSG conceded fewer. While some will point to the form of Vincent Enyeama, Sidibe’s contribution cannot be discounted. There has been an improvement with his defensive duties and he was rewarded with a place on the French Euro 2016 reserve list. A team looking for a hardworking, attack-minded, flexible full-back could do worse than take a punt on Sidibe.
Nampalys Mendy – Midfield – Nice
With N’Golo Kante having made such a hugely impressive impact in the Premier League, many are now asking “who is the next Kante?”. Look no further than Nice captain Nampalys Mendy. The 23-year-old has been the hard-working cog in a Nice side that won so many plaudits this season with a 4th-place finish. Like Kante, he is not a particularly imposing physical presence, in fact, he is a little smaller than the Leicester City midfielder, but he is tough and unafraid to get involved when needed. He is so comfortable on the ball and after winning possession can calmly find the right pass at the right time.
Many have rightfully compared him to Kante but some have even more impressively compared Mendy to the model defensive midfielder, Claude Makelele. He has been with Nice since 2013 after moving from Monaco where he rose through their youth system. After leading Nice into Europe this season he may be happy to continue on the Cote d’Azur but with the right offer from the right club, Nice could be tempted to cash in.
Adam Ounas – Midfield – Bordeaux
A slightly more risky choice but after making his professional debut in October, Adam Ounas has shown plenty to suggest he could go far. The 19-year-old was drafted into the squad by then Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol, and from the off was unafraid to show his pace and skill. It’s that burst of speed and dribbling ability which are his strongest attributes and for someone so young he is certainly not lacking in the confidence stakes. That can go too far though as he sometimes takes too much on himself, missing the better option of playing in teammates, but that’s something that will improve with age and playing time.
Five goals and two assists in his first season add further evidence that he has a huge amount of promise. He is capable of playing in a number of attacking positions but is probably best suited to playing out on the right wing where he can drift inside and run at players. He would be a gamble and with Bordeaux under exciting new management, Ounas may be a little hesitant to move on, but as ever the right offer can change anyone’s mind.
Thomas Lemar – Midfield – Monaco
For a team that finished 3rd in Ligue 1, it was odd that there were only a few stand-out players for Monaco; 20-year-old midfielder Thomas Lemar was one of them. Having joined from Caen last summer, it didn’t take long for Lemar to settle in the principality. Another player who is capable of working in numerous attacking positions, he is probably at his best when played in a more central role. His range of passing is superb and he has a wicked shot on him with a powerful left foot.
He had an injury-hit season but still managed 20 starts, five goals and three assists. To add further weaponry to his arsenal, he has also proved to be very effective from set pieces. He has the talent, he now just needs a little fine-tuning and a bit of bulking up and he will have it all. Monaco have become renowned for buying in young talent and turning them into a profit, and it seems Lemar will continue that trend.
Raphael Guerreiro – Midfield – Lorient
A player who has already proved to be in demand, Raphael Guerreiro has in recent months been linked with moves to Arsenal, Paris Saint Germain and now Borussia Dortmund. Those who have seen his performances since he moved to Lorient in 2013 will understand why so many of Europe’s top clubs are keeping track of him. He began life as a left-back but in the last couple of seasons, his attacking talent has been utilised in a more advanced left wing role.
While still more than capable of performing defensively, Guerreiro is definitely at his best when pushing forward. He is quick and comfortable on the ball but will definitely benefit from playing in a settled position; the beauty of Guerreiro is that could easily be left-back or left-winger. Now a full Portuguese international, a successful European Championships could see Guerreiro finally take that next step with a bigger club.
Wissam Ben Yedder – Forward – Toulouse
A player who will certainly be on the move this summer is Toulouse forward Wissam Ben Yedder. After his 17 goals helped secure a remarkable great escape this season, the 25-year-old forward announced on Twitter that he had played his last game for the club he has been with since 2010. Over the last four seasons, he has proven to be a regular and reliable goalscorer averaging over 15 goals a season. Quick and good on the ball, Ben Yedder’s best ability is his movement. A lot of his goals have come about as a result of his ability to create space in and around the penalty area.
Ben Yedder is not a classic centre-forward as he is willing to drop deep and especially drift out wide. Sevilla, Lyon and Marseille have all long been linked with the player with Leicester City the latest team considering a move. Toulouse have been quite clear in putting a €10m valuation on Ben Yedder so for relatively little expenditure, teams could be in line to secure an excellent player.
Michy Batshuayi – Forward – Marseille
With 17 goals to his name in a disappointing Marseille side, Michy Batshuayi has certainly drawn the attention of a number of admirers. Tottenham and West Ham are the two sides most closely linked with a move for the Belgian striker. Interim Marseille coach Franck Passi added fuel to the fire by suggesting that it was unlikely the club would be able to keep hold of Batshuayi this summer. With pace, good movement and relatively clinical finishing in front of goal, Batshuayi certainly has a lot going for him.
The main areas he needs to improve on are his selfishness and decision making. Too many times last season he chose not to make the obvious pass and instead ran into trouble, wasting the opportunity. If he can learn to look up and bring teammates into the attack he could certainly develop from being a good striker into an excellent one. He probably won’t come cheap with a transfer fee upwards of €30m likely to secure his signature. Those willing to pay that amount will get a striker who with a little work could become one of Europe’s most prolific.