Nantes already owed a lot of the points they have this season to Alban Lafont, but on Saturday he outdid himself with a stunning performance in Les Canaris‘shock 3-1 win over PSG.
Lafont made save after saves against the Parisian stars, including a crucial one to deny Neymar from the penalty spot. With his feline physicality, the Nantes goalkeeper got the better of some of Ligue 1 Uber Eats’ – and the world – greatest. The youngster whom Antoine Kombouaré made club captain in April 2020 has silenced critics who dismissed him as too inconsistent this season.
Rise to power
Propelled into Ligue 1 Uber Eats with Toulouse aged just 16 years and 10 months before a three-year spell with Fiorentina, the native of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) has undeniably taken on a new dimension since his arrival at FC Nantes.
“He is growing in power, especially since the beginning of the season, and the fact that we are where we are on the table, the fact that we’re strong in defense, owes a lot to him,” said Antoine Kombouaré on Saturday night after Nantes climbed to seventh on the Ligue 1 Uber Eats table with the epic win. “His work ethic is exemplary.”
After arriving in Nantes on a two-year loan from Fiorentina in the summer of 2019, Lafont made his tenure at the Stade de la Beaujoire permanent when Nantes chose to exercise the option to buy on a deal that runs to 2024. Although it is possible that club president Waldemar Kita will choose to cash in on his captain – for whom there is no shortage of interest – Lafont clearly is not concerned.
“I want to help the group to go higher,” he said on the day he signed for Les Canaris. He has been true to his word.
Against Paris Saint-Germain, Lafont, 23, repelled almost everything in his own particular feline style, finding a way to intervene at the feet of Lionel Messi (3 ‘, 8’), to repel Kylian Mbappé’s attempt (19 ‘), to block Idrissa Gueye’s close-range shot (27 ‘) and deny Neymar’s attempt (28’) and Mbappé’s run (54 ‘) …
Speed of execution
The FC Nantes goalkeeper confirmed his predilection for one-on-one situations, notably with his ability to drop smartly at full length or to throw his opposite foot without giving any indication to the shooter.
But it was primarily his speed of execution that frustrated the Parisian stars. What can we say about Neymar’s sluggish penalty, which Lafont got both hands to and held, or Mbappé’s miss from close range? Basically, Alban Lafont kept a watchful eye on everything the Parisian attack could conjure right up to the end of the match, notably denying Julian Draxler in the 84th minute before confidently coming off his line – and out of the box – to nip an Mbappé break in the bud.
“Everyone was very strong but Alban especially,” commented Kombouaré. “With that penalty save he really broke their forwards’ hearts.”
In an electric atmosphere at the Stade de la Beaujoire boiling, Lafont was the boss, the leader of a band of hungry, willing fighters without the slightest inferiority complex. The captain’s armband has transformed him; he has taken a step forward and he has matured, as his coach likes to say. At the final whistle, he was content with a friendly pat to his defenders, before going to greet PSG goalkeeper, Keylor Navas who, unlike him, did not necessarily have much to do other than picking the ball out of the net three times.
The former France youth international ruled himself out of the U21 Euros in 2021 in order to help FC Nantes maintain their Ligue 1 Uber Eats status in a Play-off against Ligue 2 BKT side (and Lafont’s old club) at the end of last season. But a lot has changed since then – thanks in no small part to him – and now he and his fellow Canaris are dreaming of a European finish.
Chapeau, Monsieur Lafont!
>> TOP SCORERS
>> LEAGUE TABLES
>> FIXTURES / RESULTS