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We’ve reviewed and graded 2015/16’s most exciting young talents to watch in the Netherlands, England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany on Just Football. Now it’s time for us to announce the Just Football 70 Class of 2016/17 – the lowdown on the 70 best young players to watch in Europe this season.
Here’s The #JF70 2016/17 – French Ligue 1 edition, our pick of the most exciting young talents to watch in Ligue 1 this season…. (NOTE: Criteria for selection = 22 or under as of 1st September 2016 and must not have appeared in previous editions.)
The #JF70 – 10 France Ligue 1 young talents to watch in 2016/17:
(AS Monaco, 22 years old)
Ligue 1 is currently experiencing something of a renaissance when it comes to producing defensive midfielders. N’Golo Kante and Nampalys Mendy have blossomed and taken the next steps in their careers. Following them could be Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.
The former Rennes midfielder joined Monaco in the summer of 2014 after a number of standout performances for the Breton side. Whilst it has taken a little time for him to find his place in the side due to the presence of the likes of #JF70 alumni Geoffrey Kondogbia and Jeremy Toulalan, their departures look set to give Bakayoko his time to shine.
He is strong, tackles well and provides a reassuring shield for the Monaco defence. He has made an excellent start to the season and put in arguably his best ever performance as he dominated the game in Monaco’s 3-1 victory over PSG in August.
His ability to read the game and position accordingly has improved dramatically too. With a starting place in Monaco looking more certain, Bakayoko could prove to be one of this season’s key players.
1️⃣ Baka (63%)
2️⃣ Silva (16%)
3️⃣ Fabinho (12%) pic.twitter.com/fXf0ZFHlnR
— AS MONACO (@AS_Monaco) September 5, 2016
(Girondins Bordeaux, 19 years old)
A young player who burst onto the scene last season, it will be interesting to see how Adam Ounas will cope now teams know a little more about him. When he emerged for Bordeaux midway through the first half of last season he made quite the impression, with two goals in his first three games announcing his arrival.
Ounas finished the season with six goals and will be keen to better that this campaign. He can operate on either wing, but is probably at his best when operating in a more central role behind the striker.
He is skilful, fleet-footed and capable at running with the ball at speed. When played out on the right, which he was frequently asked to do last season, he proved most threatening when cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.
If he looks to improve on his decision-making (he can often look to take too much on himself) then with the raw talent he possesses and under the tutelage of a highly-rated coach in Jocelyn Gourvennec there is then no reason Adam Ounas cannot further demonstrate what an exciting player he is – and why he was linked with Manchester United this summer.
(Olympique Lyonnais, 19 years old)
Lyon’s exciting forward Maxwel Cornet enjoyed an impressive Ligue 1 breakthrough last season and will look to build on that this year. After joining from Metz in January 2015 it took the teenager a few months to bed in with the French giants, before he burst onto the scene later in the year.
With Mathieu Valbuena failing to perform as expected and Nabil Fekir out for most of the season, Cornet was asked to step up. He hit the ground running.
Cornet passed that test with flying colours. He then took his performances to a higher level once Bruno Genesio was appointed coach in December 2015. Across the season, Cornet scored 12 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions but it was his energy, pace and desire which really stood out as he made the left wing role his own for les Gones.
Still only 19, Cornet is also surprisingly strong. That combined with his other strong characteristics make him a significant threat out wide.
He is still not perhaps as clinical as he could be, with his end product sometimes lacking consistency be it a final pass or a shot on goal. This should of course improve over time. If he can take any advice from his teammate Alexandre Lacazette in this department then he should evolve into a very good player indeed.
(AS Monaco, 20 years old)
The classy Thomas Lemar looks set to build on an excellent first season with Monaco following his move from Caen. Five goals and three assists in 26 Ligue 1 appearances don’t really begin to tell the full story, as a superb start to the season was interrupted by an injury that kept him out of action for over a month.
The young forward possesses a majestic left foot and is capable of finding the net from distance – at set pieces in particular. With great vision he brings teammates into the game and creates chances with his excellent range of passing. Lemar can play on either flank or through the middle and links up very well with #JF70 alumni Bernardo Silva to give Monaco two of the league’s most potent dribblers.
Monaco will look for Lemar to perhaps develop his strength as he can be outmuscled on occasion. If he can do this and add a few more goals to his game Lemar will continue to be a key player for ASM. The side from the Principality supposedly turned down a €20 million offer from Atletico Madrid in the summer. If Lemar can kick on from last season that number will only increase come the end of 2016/17.
(OGC Nice, 20 years old)
Despite his small stature and baby-faced appearance, there is nothing boyish about Nice midfielder Vincent Koziello. The fiery youngster was one of the most impressive Ligue 1 young talents last season in arguably the division’s most impressive side, as he broke through with a vengeance.
Alongside Jean-Michael Seri and the now departed Nampalys Mendy, Koziello formed a hugely combative, hardworking and effective midfield trio.
Blessed with hugely deceptive strength and tenacity, Koziello seemingly has endless energy as he plays the “milieu relayeur” role to near perfection. He can be found at one end of the pitch fighting to break up an attack and winning the ball back before popping up at the other end to get on the scoresheet.
Three goals and four assists from central midfield for an inexperienced player playing behind headline maker Hatem Ben Arfa represents an excellent return.
Koziello could do with working on his over-exuberance as he does find himself going a little over the top in his tackling, leading to a high card count. That though can easily be put down to his age and inexperience; at times last season it was easy to forget just how little he’s played previously. Watching his development this season will be an exciting spectacle.
Félicitations à Vincent Koziello (19 ans) qui signe pro à l'OGC Nice !http://t.co/8AYw204n0M
— OGC Nice (@ogcnice) June 8, 2015
(FC Metz, 20 years old)
The Metz goalkeeper has enjoyed a successful 12 months during which he established himself as number one for his club, secured promotion to Ligue 1 and made his debut for the French Under-21 side. All just reward for a very promising young goalkeeper.
Thomas Didillon’s strengths lay in two key areas for goalkeepers; excellent pure shot-stopping ability and agile reflexes. Last season in Ligue 2 only one other goalkeeper had a better percentage of clean sheets to appearances based on more than 25 outings.
Despite his age, the man likened to Manuel Neuer by France Football is more than capable of dominating his area too, proving an assured and reliable presence between the posts. He can still work on his distribution, which can be a little wayward at times, and, as is usual for a player so young, consistency will come with experience.
The 20-year-old has taken to life in Ligue 1 well and secured his first clean sheet in a strong performance in week three against Angers. Although conceding three when Metz travelled to PSG, it would have been far more were it not for a string of saves by Didillon.
If Metz are to stay in Ligue 1 this season a strong campaign from Thomas Didillon will be a must. He’ll be more than up for the fight.
(Toulouse, 19 years old)
Whilst Pascal Dupraz took the majority of the plaudits for masterminding Toulouse’s great escape from relegation last season, there were a number of players who also made a name for themselves. Few arguably made as much of an impression as powerful centre-back Issa Diop.
He was drafted into the side by former coach Dominique Arribage at the end of November and he’s been an ever present ever since. In that time only five other Ligue 1 teams have had a better defensive record than Toulouse.
Along with his sheer physical presence, Diop benefits from a sharp turn of speed, good reading of the game and strong tackling. He’s also good on the ball but does need to learn when clear the ball versus running it out himself. In his France Under-21 debut he dribbled the ball out in the dying minutes against the Ukraine and was dispossessed, leading to the move from which Ukraine scored the winner.
This though was an incredibly rare example and in fairness he has everything in his locker to hit the top level. With a growing fan base including Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, Issa Diop could achieve big things sooner rather than later.
(PSG, 21 years old)
With Thiago Silva, David Luiz and #JF70 alumni Marquinhos ahead of him in the PSG central defensive pecking order it has been tough for young Presnel Kimpembe to show what he can offer the champions. He has only been able to play a handful of games across the previous two seasons but with Luiz now gone and question marks over Silva’s long term fitness and future, this could be the chance for Kimpembe to shine.
We’ve been talking about the youngster for some time on Just Football, and to be fair to him, whenever he’s played he’s rarely let his side down, putting in a number of assured performances. With Silva out injured and Marquinhos on a delayed return after the Olympics, Kimpembe started the first three league games of the season and alongside Luiz, looked by far the more accomplished and composed of his more experienced partner.
Learning from Silva will do Kimpembe the world of good but he already has a good base set of skills; he is strong, athletic, quick and has great vision and can play at left-back too. He has awareness, he just needs to continue playing regularly and his progression and development will come.
(AS Monaco, 17 years old)
If you’re going to break one of Thierry Henry’s records, you had better be a player of some potential. Fortunately for Kylian Mbappe he looks like he could be just that. He broke Henry’s records for youngest debutant and goalscorer at Monaco last season and has been enhancing his reputation ever since.
The link between Mpabbe and Henry continues beyond that record as both are at their best drifting out wide on the left before cutting back in with sheer pace and skill. Mbappe has been used mostly as a substitute for Monaco but with Europe’s biggest clubs showing a keen interest, they may need to give him the opportunities he deserves.
In the summer he played a vital role as France won the Under-19 European Championships, with Mbappe finding the net five times. His performances in that tournament highlighted all the best of his attributes: coolness in front of goal, electric pace and a wonderful range of tricks. His sombrero in the final against Italy that ultimately lead to a goal for Issa Diop was a thing of beauty.
A bit of a wildcard, but certainly a player to keep a close eye on.
(En Avant de Guingamp, 18 years old)
Ludovic Blas is another player to have emerged from the summer with an enhanced reputation, as he also played an important part of France’s success at the U19 European Championships.
The Guingamp youngster can play across the midfield but looked at his best playing out wide for France in the summer. Playing there ensures his speed and dribbling ability are used in the most effective manner. His two goals and tournament highlights give testament to that.
Blas will have consistency issues but he only took the step up to the first team in December 2015 and only become a regular first team participant in February. Under first Jocelyn Gourvennec and now Antoine Kombouare, Blas will have the perfect coaches to guide him through his formative years.
He has certainly made a very bright start but will need to ensure he focuses on the basic skills and not just the tricks in order to fully blossom.