Ligue 1 is a curious division in which PSG dominate – but do not always win the league – and young stars are produced at a rate of knots.
While it’s the smallest of the big five leagues, there’s plenty to be excited about in French football. The talent is particularly impressive, too, and although many of these players are on the rise and may well depart, the level of quality is staggering.
Here’s our pick for the 10 best players in the league right now.
10. Jonathan David
Lille frontman Jonathan David is a joy to watch. The Canadian is a blur of movement, capable of dropping deep, running beyond his defender and linking the play around him exquisitely.
Not only has he helped send his nation to their second-ever World Cup in 2022, he’s gone from strength to strength as a forward with an output of almost a goal every other game. At 22, the Brooklyn-born attacker is only going to improve – and is already on the radar of every big team in Europe.
9. Amine Gouiri
Eyebrows were raised when starlet Amine Gouiri swapped Lyon for Nice for just over £ 6m in the middle of the first lockdown. It’s turned out to be a masterstroke for his career.
The 22-year-old has adapted to become a more powerful no.9 after time on the left-wing, displaying scintillating dribbling ability and the capability to score or assist. In a Nice attack with the likes of Calvin Stengs, Justin Kluivert and Alexis Claude-Maurice, Gouiri is the undisputed star.
8. Marco Verratti
He’d be the best midfielder on Earth right now, were it not for consistent injuries – but Marco Verratti is still one of the most skilful footballers to watch in Europe when he’s in full flight.
Now approaching prime age for a midfielder, the Italian schemer is supreme in possession, able to find needle-threading passes, shield the ball and go on mazy runs. So often, he is the difference for Paris Saint-Germain – and they miss him like hell when he’s not around.
7. Lucas Paqueta
Lucas Paqueta is maturing into a fantastic footballer at Lyon, just like Brazilians before him have done. The midfielder has become the beating heart of the side in recent months, grabbing club and country by the scruff of the neck when necessary.
With goals, assists and a work-rate to match his talent, the ex-Milan man has receded deeper into Lyon’s system to stride box-to-box and cover more of the pitch. With minutes up front too, it’s clear just how game-changing his spark of brilliance can be.
6. Aurelien Tchouameni
Aurelien Tchouameni could well be the future of France’s midfield for the next decade.
At just 22, the Monaco man is already looking mature beyond his tender years, able to break up play, progress it and control games with the composure of a seasoned veteran. The principality club’s midfield is built on his physicality and technical security: he may be the most irreplaceable player in the division.
Much maligned and mickey-taken, Neymar might not be the new Pele that Brazilian football thought he’d be when he burst through at Santos – but he’s still one of the best footballers on Earth.
Paris Saint-Germain’s no.10 has endured a tough season, not putting up his usual performances or numbers. But his talent is still obvious: he has the ball control, vision and ability to dictate a football match like so few others of his generation. He’s still a superstar.
Part of the reason PSG were so happy to lose Thiago Silva was because they essentially had a regen in Marquinhos, down to the passport and passing ability. Thomas Tuchel liked him at DM but he’s still one of the premier center-backs in world football.
The rock on which PSG are built, he leads by example, organises and has even chipped in with vital goals in the last couple of years. There are only a handful of defenders better over the last two years and he’s a huge hope for Brazilians in Qatar this winter.
3. Achraf Hakimi
The most expensive full-back on Earth, Achraf Hakimi has license has get forward, create and, basically, enjoy himself. It’s a joy to watch, too.
The Moroccan has the kind of speed and incision that looks and feels like a cheat code. His attacking drive enables PSG’s attackers to stay narrow and in working with Mauricio Pochettino, he’s improved the unpredictability in his game, too.
2. Lionel Messi
Even if, as the critics pine, Lionel Messi is a shadow of his former self… he’s still the most watchable and dangerous footballer on any given football pitch. And life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses since swapping Catalonia for Paris – but he’s still among the cream of French football.
The little genius is no longer capable of the explosive sprints, restricting his game to shoulder feints and his legendary vision to lay on more chances for teammates and orchestrate the game around him. With superstars right, left and center, he still steals the spotlight – and though he’s not scored as many, he’s shown moments of majesty in a PSG shirt this season.
1. Kylian Mbappe
The shining light of French football and the best footballer in the world right now. Kylian Mbappe has gone from being a cheeky speed merchant to a complete forward and he spends his weekends destroying French defences for fun.
The World Cup winner has added strength and hold-up play to make him equally dangerous running behind or receiving to feet. His finishing is vicious, his creative abilities underrated and wherever he plays across the frontline, he’s able to adapt his game. He may well become the best footballer of his era.
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