French starlets set to impress in Ligue 1

by Richard Chambers

The new Ligue 1 season has started at a riproaring pace. Traditional heavyweights OL, OM and Bordeaux have produced middling form early this season, while younger sides such as Stade Rennais have earned plaudits.

With the league now in full-swing, the time is right to examine just some of the players who will be looking to create an impact in a league with no shortage of starlets in coming months.

Football Fans Know Better

Johann Carrasso, GK, Stade Rennais: Included simply because inducting Hugo Lloris would be too obvious, the younger brother of French international Cedric Carrasso has impressed when called upon by his club side. Johann, bought by Rennes this summer from Montpellier, had rotated at the position with incumbent goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez in the preseason. Given Douchez’s problems with injury last season, it is foreseeable that the France Under 21 ‘keeper will have plenty of opportunities to supersede Douchez in 2010.

Mapou Yanga-M’Bila, Right-back, Montpellier: Versatile, pacy and solid, Mapou Yanga-M’Bila was a mainstay of the Montpellier side which surprised Ligue 1 with a fifth-placed finish in their first season back in Ligue 1. His efforts have seen him earn call-ups to Eric Mombaert’s France Under-21 squad.

Mamadou Sakho, Centre-back, PSG: An exceptionally talented defender, Mamadou Sakho has brought maturity and impressive physical qualities to Paris St-Germain’s backline despite his young age. His positional awareness and vision compliment his tremendous technical ability. This has been recognised by new Les Bleus coach, Laurent Blanc, who named Sakho in his squad for the recent friendly against Norway. Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been linked with bids for the Parisian.


Samuel Souprayen, Centre-back, Stade Rennais: Another representative of a young and talented Rennes side, Souprayen has yet to command a place in Frédéric Antonetti’s starting eleven. That is not to say that the 21-year old does not feature in the plans at Rennais, with a new two-year contract extension testament to this fact. Souprayen is regarded as one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Rennais’ famed academy in recent years and has starred for the Breton club in pre-season. Having represented France at all levels from Under-18 to Under-21, a call-up for the senior side may come in the future.

Aly Cissokho, Left-back, Olympique Lyonnais: A dynamic attacking-threat from left-back, Cissokho has been on the radar of Europe’s top clubs. The former Porto player has become an established member of the OL first-team and earned praise for his displays during Lyon’s impressive run to the Champions League Semi-Final last year. As is the case with many wing-backs, Cissokho’s defensive capabilities have been questioned by some critics. The ever-improving Cissokho, of Senegalese descent, has begun to combine the requisite positional awareness and tenacity to his commendable control of the football and should feature prominently for France while Patrice Evra serves a suspension for his part in the World Cup fiasco.

Yann M’Vila, Central midfielder, Stade Rennais: Yann M’Vila was a surprise inclusion in Raymond Domenech’s preliminary squad for this summer’s ill-fated World Cup campaign. Domenech’s decision to cut the deep-lying midfielder from his final squad has been to M’Vila’s benefit, as he was given the chance to impress the newly appointed Laurent Blanc in the recent friendly against Norway. The Amiens born player possesses all of the attributes needed to succeed amongst Europe’s elite, even in these early years of the 20-year old’s career. Comparisons with fellow defensive-midfielder, Claude Makelele, are misguided. While M’Vila is an able tackler and is notably adept at relieving his back-four, the incisiveness of his passing and his creativity are very encouraging indeed.


Blaise Matuidi, Central midfielder, St-Étienne: Technically gifted and tireless in the heart of midfield, the Saint-Étienne captain looks to be a strong contender for a place in France’s new generation under Laurent Blanc. His call-up for the experimental friendly against Norway was heralded as a ‘dream come true’ for the former Troyes player. Matuidi, 23, is most comfortable just in front of the defence, from where he spots and delivers passes with remarkable accuracy.

Moussa Sissoko, Central midfielder, Toulouse: Having attracted the attention of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Sissoko may not have much time remaining in Ligue 1. The interest in Sissoko is of little surprise to many, given the midfielders credentials. Sissoko’s bustling approach to the box-to-box role have earned accurate comparisons with Patrick Vieira and Michael Essien. Sissoko, 21, had a central role in Toulouse’s unexpected qualification for the Champions League in 2009 and remains key to the ambitions of the Midi-Pyrénées side.

Clément Grenier, Attacking midfielder, Olympique Lyonnais: The 19 year old Lyon midfielder is poised to be a star of the future. As is the case with so many young French players, the playmaker has already been linked with a move to Arsenal, at whose ground Grenier impressed in the recent Emirates’ Cup. Lyon’s outspoken chairman, Jean-Michael Aulas, has been adamant in his praise for Grenier and is determined to keep the Annonay native at the club, where he made three appearances for the senior side last season. The gifted teenager’s innate flair and prolificness at set-pieces ensure that he will, at the very least, be the star of many YouTube highlights packages in the coming years.


Yannis Tafer, Striker, Olympique Lyonnais: Tafer is one member of an impressive attacking-trio at Les Gones, where he combines effectively with Jimmy Briand and Lisandro Lopez. The Under-19 international boasts exceptional control and a turn of pace which more than compensates for his slight physique. It is almost certain that Tafer, born to Algerian parents, will see more playing time this season having made nine league appearances last season.

Emmanuel Riviere, Striker, Saint-Étienne: Footballer’s careers are often defined by their contributions in ‘the big games’. For Emmanuel Riviere, his crucial goals in the final games of last season saved Les Verts from relegation and may have earned him a move to Arsenal if the French tabloids are to be believed. Riviere, who has supported Saint-Étienne since childhood, is known for his agility, spectacular goals and equally spectacular celebrations. Should Riviere remain at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, he will spearhead the club’s endeavours to improve on their disappointing league position of last season.

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