Le50 2017 – Alexis Blin

Blin TFC

Sometimes the obvious stats are misleading. It’s no goals and no assists so far for Alexis Blin in his club career, but maybe that’s not what he’s there for – yet. A defensive midfielder in the ‘what needs to be done’ mould, Blin specialises in tackling, blocking, intercepting, basically frustrating opponents in their attempts to develop attacks. He’s also decent in the air, which could well become an offensive asset at set-pieces, as well as being a defensive attribute as at present.

Formed at Le Mans, Blin moved to Toulouse at the age of 17, and made a couple of appearances in the second half of the 2014/15 season, while still a youth player. With Tongo Doumbia’s absence at CAN 2015 requiring a midfield rejig, he earned three starts that January, and a couple of substitute appearances later, to win himself a professional contract.

A frequent-flyer at several youth levels for France, from U17 to the U21s, Blin does have four goals in his country’s colours; three in friendlies, but also the winner – a glancing header from a freekick – as France beat Austria 1-0 in the 2015 U19 Euros, after playing a key part in qualifying, as les Bleuets topped their group before being knocked out by Spain in the semi-final. As the 2015/16 season hoved into view, therefore, he was set to make an impact.

2015/16 was a season of nerves and change for Toulouse, as they hit the relegation zone early and stayed there, looking doomed. Nine of Blin’s ten league appearances in 2015 were as substitute, but he won himself a starting spot after the winter break, while Dominique Arribage was still ‘in charge’, and then continued after Pascal Dupraz came in to rescue the situation in March. In the second half of the season, all his 14 appearances were starts, almost always playing the full 90 minutes. He missed the final, redemptive game against Angers that saw TFC pull off the great escape, but played a key role in the Dupraz-inspired recovery that kept them up.

So, onwards and upwards, and last season Blin made himself even more important to the team, starting 26 league games and again almost always playing the full 90 minutes. Absences were down to injury (against Metz in the Coupe de la Ligue, affecting December, and against Caen to miss the last two games of the season) but also two suspensions, one for card accumulation and one for being sent off for two bookings against Rennes.

This, as well as the lack of offensive product, is the weakness that needs to be worked on. There was another in the previous season – but even that isn’t that bad for a deeper-lying midfielder working in Ligue 1: Whoscored have ‘passing’ as a weakness, even though he has the second-best completion rate in his team – perhaps indicative of TFC’s still sometimes hell-for-leather style – but if he can work on that to back up his defensive contribution, the auguries are good.

After the nail-biting finish of 2015/16, a 13th-placed finish, well away from danger, and with the fourth-best defence in the league, will have calmed the Toulousain fans’ nerves. But next season they will want more, and with a currently not-that-prolific attack, the contribution of players like Blin, to support that stalwart defence but also start moving things forward, will be key.

Philippa Booth

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