The French connection: part I

  • by Misko
  • Filed: Tuesday, 14th June 2022

It's fair to say KUMB Forum member Misko knows a thing or two about French football and Ligue 1.

The Lyon supporter joined the KUMB Forum when his side played West Ham United in the Europa League quarter finals and liked it so much, he stayed!

Since then Misko has become a vital contributor to the Forum especially where transfer rumours relating to the French leagues are concerned, offering detailed critiques on numerous players linked in recent weeks with a move to east London - many of which you will see below.

Additionally, he has also provided KUMB with a list of French-based players who he feels could prove successful in the Premier League - which we have combined to bring you your handy guide to Ligue 1's stars all in one place. Part one of our comprehensive guide concentrates on the goalkeeping and defensive positions...


Alban Lafont (Nantes, 23yo, 6'4)

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Probably the hottest prospect as a goalkeeper. Tall, with an impressive wing span, he is a very dynamic and capable of making incredible saves. He commands the box and is efficient in clearing crosses and set pieces. He also is good at penalty saving (three out of seven this year). His distribution skills are weak though and he has to improve his decision-making against fast counter attacks. With the aging French internationals, he might be the future of French selection if he can develop as a world class player.

Predrag Rajkovic (Reims, 26yo, 6'3)

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A Serbian international and a very dependable 'keeper. He has no exceptional strengths but no significant weaknesses either. He plays in a defensive-minded team, which likes to sit deep in the pitch. He excels in such conditions and he doesn't concede any easy goals. Valued at €9m on transfermarkt makes Rajkovic very good value for money, I reckon.

Matz Sels (Strasbourg, 30yo, 6'2)

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The player is definitely not a "sexy" one, but Strasbourg are very happy to count on him. His main asset is his distribution, he really adds something to the offensive power of the team. He of course can do the goalkeeping work well, I wouldn't mention him otherwise. One weakness however that might be highly problematic in the English game is that I find him average on crosses, but at Strasbourg he is well protected by his defence.

Left backs

Caio Henrique (Monaco, 24yo, 5'10)

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A Brazilian with a Spanish passport and a former Atletico player, he has blossomed in Monaco as a very offensive-minded full back. He is not physically spectacular, of just average height, speed, stamina. He is also not the toughest defender either, relying on anticipation and positioning more than direct challenges - but he is, by far, the most dangerous left back when attacking. Skilful with good vision, his foot work is nice and his left foot is lethal. Crosses, long balls, direct passes and set pieces, you name it, he can hurt the opposition any way possible. He can play in the midfield as well, sometimes as a central attacking midfielder. He may more suited to the continental game, but something tells me he would thrive in a team like Manchester City. He is likely to leave Monaco this summer or the next for a truckload of money.

Juan Bernat (PSG, 29yo, 5'9)

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Normally, as I am not here to offer obvious names, I would not mention PSG players but Bernat is a bit forgotten on the bench whereas he is a very good full back. It seems he is on a £150k per week which is ludicrous, but this is Paris style. I think he would consider a move to a decent EPL team with a four or five year contract, even with reduced wages. He is the epitome of a Spanish full back, quick, running forward as soon as possible with a highly accurate passing game. He can bring danger all right and is a superb team player, always looking for the unmarked man. He is ok defensively, with a good fighting spirit and the occasional impressive sliding tackle, although he can find it difficult to deal with lightning fast wingers and he is weak in the air. He's still an experienced quality player who could be a nice asset to an ambitious team (I'd take him in our squad at Lyon any time).

Adrien Truffert (Rennes, 20yo, 5'7)

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Rennes boast one of the finest academies in France and Truffert is one of their latest hot prospects. He impressed everyone at the beginning of last season with explosive performances on the left side, producing fast counters, neat crosses and powerful shots. He showed some limit in his consistency, struggling against the more structured teams who quickly learned how to contain the danger he brought. After his two first pro seasons he's started 41 games, scoring four goals and making five assists. He has to develop for a more tactical approach of the game, but he is pure TNT in open play, with superior offensive skills.

Melvin Bard (Nice, 21yo, 5'7)

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I am a little surprised to be mentioning Bard here. He is from the OL Academy but I always considered him as a potential mid-table player. Nice recruited him last summer for €3m which proved to be a bargain. He quickly established himself as a starter, pushing Hassane Kamara out of the team - and he was one of the good surprises of last season. I would have mentioned him here last summer had I been producing a similar list (he ended up in Watford, being quite average I think; things change fast). Bard is as down to earth as Truffert is explosive. He is a defender first and foremost, showing great abilities in duels. The physical wingers have a hard time dictating their game to him. He seems very strong mentally, rarely letting himself be beaten. On the attacking side he is quite ordinary, going forward when needed with a nice passing ability. He managed two goals and two assists in 33 games, which is not bad at all. I would consider him as possibly the most sensible signing for a Premier League team looking for a young left back to grow as a consistent starter for the coming years.

Right backs

Zeki Celik (Lille, 25yo, 5'9)

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Celik is one solid full back. He is very disciplined defensively, reliable with the ball, tireless and remarkably consistent. He'll never be a superstar but never will let his team down either. He is capable of sending dangerous crosses in the box from deep and is one of the most clever players on the pitch in a hard-working Lille team.

Ruben Aguilar (Monaco, 29yo, 5'6)

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French international Aguilar is a tough warrior on the pitch. He is never far away if things get messy and he definitely falls into the hot-head category, but he gives a hell of a hard time to his opponents as nothing is easy with him. His discipline can be an issue as you could imagine, but he has great qualities - he's quick, good with and without the ball plus he has very consistent offensive stats for such a warrior. He is the archetype of the player you love in your team and love to hate when he plays against you! He also is able to play in midfield and sometimes as a centre back in a three, despite being very short!

Vanderson (Monaco, 21yo, 5'9)

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Another nebulous signing by Monaco (they sign numerous young players, you never really know how they end up there). Vanderson is still just a prospect but he proved himself a key player in Monaco's amazing run at the end of the season. He played right midfield as much as right back, but he sure has defensive skills primarily: powerful and pacey, he is a brilliant tackler. He showed typical Brazilian footwork and made some nice runs along the wing. He is not decisive in the last 20 yards yet, but I have no doubt it will come. He reminds me a bit of Maicon, for those who remember him. I think he is solely Brazilian, which could make a move in the Premier League a bit complicated (I don't know how it stands now for the work permits). However, I think he is the next big thing for Monaco and his value will increase drastically next year, which will make him unaffordable to most teams.

Malo Gusto (Lyon, 19yo, 5'9)

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You saw him in action during the Europa League tie against Lyon. He is an offensive-minded right back, but better as right wing back. He overtook Léo Dubois, a French international and this year's captain, as a starter at right back. Gusto is physically dominant, powerful and super quick, the only player I saw able to follow M'Bappe for 30 yards at full speed. He started football late (at the age of 10) and was initially trained as an attacker/winger. He kept from this excellent ability in the final third, sending great crosses in the box. He delivered four assists in Ligue 1, all in the second part of the season when he got substantial playing time. Defensively, his positioning improved a lot in a short time but remains questionable. His physical skills enable him to get it right most of the time, but he is still occasionally error prone. He has an excellent mentality and I really think he has all the tools to make a consistent career for himself at the highest level. I reckon that next year might be more difficult for him as he'll be the designated starter, which brings much more pressure, while he still is a very young player. That will be a good test.

Akim Zedadka (Clermont-Ferrand, 26yo, 5'8)

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An Algerian international, Zedadka is the perfect underdog. He discovered the top level in France this year with a fearless team that kept on attacking despite having the smallest budget in the division by far. Clermont secured their spot in Ligue 1 quite early and he was one the key players for them, going forward tirelessly, crossing the ball from all kind of positions with great accuracy. He is not a top defender but he does the job alright, using his pace and anticipation to steal the ball and start quick-fire counter attacks. He is out of contract this summer and I really think the team going for him would be making a very smart move, if they intend to play accordingly to his qualities.

Honorary mentions: The two young PSG right backs, Pembele (on loan to Bordeaux) and Dagba are also good players but it is a bit hard to evaluate them as one played for a woeful team (Bordeaux) and the other one for a massively dominant one (PSG) this year.

Centre backs

Nayef Aguerd (Rennes, 26yo, 6'2)

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I've shared my opinion about him on the Forum's summer transfer thread; I find him a perfect match for West Ham and Kurt Zouma. Aguerd is good in the air, very solid defensively and doesn't give away anything easily but his main asset is his brilliant passing game. He has a really sweet left foot and good vision, being a perfect launch base for lightning-quick counter attacks. Rennes scored 82 goals this year, that performance was based on the quality of the build-up from the defensive line. Aguerd likes to play rather low, facing the game; in this context, he is incredibly hard to pass. I would be a bit concerned by his ability to turn as this is the way I saw him getting in trouble, even if he keeps his head cool, not conceding any easy free kicks. I didn't see Rennes vs Leicester, which was probably the best way to see him in a 'Premier League' context but his career is on a very structured and progressive path: small club in Morocco > big club in Morocco > small club in France > top seven club in France > top seven club in England (probably).

Duje Caleta-Car (Marseille, 25yo, 6'2)

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Pronounced 'Chaleta-Tsar', if you're wondering! His profile is quite similar to Aguerd's, so I think Moyes has a clear view about what he wants as a centre half to pair with Zouma. However I'm much less enthusiastic about this one. He is a brilliant passer but I find him less effective defensively. He is massive and hard to move, but I find his positioning and defensive awareness much less tidy. He is also error-prone (see the gaffe he made in the Conference League semi final against Feyenoord) and blows and hot cold. He was recruited for big money over his undisputable potential, but he fails to fully express it three years later in my view.

Sven Botman (Lille, 22yo, 6'4)

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The first time I heard his name and saw his face I thought it was a joke, so tall, strong and emotionless he was. He definitely has something robotic in him. Good in the air, good positioning, immune to pressure... If you had to create the archetypal centre back, you'd probably end up with a player like Botman. Of course, he is not perfect; I guess he lacks of that touch of magic to be truly among the best. I've never seen him doing more than what was expected from him, that twist that would make him a real game changer - but don't get me wrong, what he already provides is more than sufficient.

Guillermo Maripan (Monaco, 28yo, 6'3)

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Another surprise from Monaco. This Peruvian player was totally unknown to most people yet he quickly established himself as the cornerstone of Monaco's central defence. Capable of playing in a back three as well as a four, Maripan is a very intelligent defender, covering space and not allowing any easy moves for the opponents. Add on top of that his ability to be a serious threat on set pieces plus his competence with the ball (last season he secured a 90% pass completion rate, with 80% for long ones!) As he is 28, his value will not skyrocket, but he is one very dependable centre half.

Axel Disasi (Monaco, 24yo, 6'2)

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The third element of the impressive Monaco central defence, along with Badiashile and Maripan, Disasi is probably the least exciting one but he is still a good player and a bit more physical than Maripan. He also compiles excellent passing records, so he is a valuable ball player. When compared to his team mates he is probably the weakest link as he has less composure, commits more fouls and I saw him in distress sometimes when facing the most technical strikers. Nonetheless, he is a good centre back with a complete set of skills.

Castello Lukeba (Lyon, 19yo, 6'0)

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Probably the best player for OL this year. OK, the season was awful but it is a remarkable feat for a player who never played a single minute at pro level before. The story is even more unbelievable as Lukeba was not even tagged as the most promising talent from the Academy. Being shorter than other defenders he had to work harder than everyone and it is paying off this year. Hopefully he can maintain his progression. He reads the game particularly well, intercepting a lot of balls and stopping numerous attacks with great anticipation (the team played so dreadfully that he had a lot to do and he did it well, much better than the far more experienced Denayer and Boateng). He also is super reliable with the ball, he touches the ball more than the other defenders, completes more passes with great accuracy and, makes many progressive carries. He is also fast and dynamic, I saw him (way too often) getting back to block a shot from an attacker who had a decisive advantage. Of course being only 6'0 he is not dominant in the air, but he compensates with his dynamism and anticipation. The next season, the confirmation one, will be decisive in ranging him from true potential superstar to "just" a good player.

Jean-Clair Todibo (Nice, 22yo, 6'2)

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The name could probably ring a bell as Todibo played for Barcelona, Schalke and Benfica before settling in Nice. He was originally from the Toulouse Academy, where he attracted big clubs very early. He was earlier considered more a defensive midfielder than a centre half but he blossomed in defence. He is strong, pacey and aggressive and is very comfortable on the ball. He possesses all the tools to become a major player if - and this is a big if - he improves his behaviour both on and off the pitch. It seems to be improving but he has proved himself to be very immature in the past, hence the multiple clubs at such a young age.

Anthony Rouault (Toulouse, 20yo, 6'1)

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What I write is mostly from hearsay as I've not seen much of him, but Rouault is another highly intelligent defender, extremely tough and disciplined. The kind fans love. He just won Ligue 2 with Toulouse and will discover Ligue 1 next year. No doubt that if he performs well at this level, he'll be targeted by much bigger clubs. One stat to show how good and important he has been for his club: Toulouse averaged 2.4 points per game when he played, 1.1 during his foot injury this winter (10 games).

Honorary mentions: I would also mention Isaak Touré who is set to join Marseille in the summer, but I have never seen him play. He seems a physical freak (6'7 with pace). I guess he is some kind of raw material (19yo, first year as a pro) but the word is that he really is special (to what extent we're yet to see).

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