The French connection: part II

  • 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 league are concerned, offering detailed critiques on numerous players linked in recent weeks with a move to east London.

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 in one place! Part two of our comprehensive guide concentrates on the midfield and forward positions; part one (goalkeepers and defenders) may be read here...

Defensive Midfielders

Cheick Doucoure (Lens, 22yo, 5'10)

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For the second season in a row Lens did better than expected, finishing in seventh place once again. One of the key players in their success is undeniably Doucoure, even if others are attracting more attention. He is a very intelligent player, reads the game perfectly and stops many opponent's passes every game. Once he recovers the ball, he makes a very good use of it through progressive passes or carries. He doesn't try to show off, he plays simply and well. His power makes him a very hard player to pass although he probably needs to level up his game if he is to play in Premier League, although my gut feeling is that he has what it takes to do so.

Ibrahima Sissoko (Strasbourg, 24yo, 6'3)

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Physically impressive, he is quite well rounded. He can play as a deep lying defensive midfielder or as a powerful box-to-box midfielder. He can also drop down in central defence where his height and power are rather useful. He covers a lot of distance during a game, blocking many balls thanks to his very long legs. His passing game might be tagged as average, but he still delivered five assists this year. He can create havoc in the opponent's defence when he is carrying the ball thanks to his power and pace. His footwork is surprisingly effective given his stature but his decision-making is far from being clinical. He also tends to commit numerous fouls, mostly in challenges against smaller players who really look like children being bullied by an out-of-control grown up.

Bonke Innocent (Lorient, 26yo, 6'0)

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Now this is a name that should never make a list for the Premier League. He played all his professional career in Norway and Sweden, getting to play in the Champions League with Malmo this year. Out of contract last winter, Lorient snatched him on a free. He has never scored a goal at pro level and barely recorded any assists, so why the hell am I wasting everyone's time with him now? Because I really love the intensity he brings to the game. He is a very old-fashioned DM, harassing the opponents, fighting, tacking and pressing non-stop. He is everywhere, you can't get rid of him. He has ridiculous offensive stats but amazing defensive ones. With the ball, his only capability is to pass it to a more skilful player, but he does it well averaging 90% in pass completion (short, mid and long distance all at the same level). I find him a great utility player and he would be available for almost nothing.

Honourable mentions: Xekaand Benjamin Andre are 2 CDMs (both "oldies", 28 and 31) from Lille who are the kind of blokes you love in your team. Hard working, aggressive (one could say nasty), not bothered by the ball, they definitely do the job well. The former will be out of contact this summer.

Lucien Agoume (on loan to Brest from Inter) is a young powerful CDM. Athleticism is not an issue here, just he is still raw material making errors and having discipline issues. A bit the same goes for Khephren Thuram, the son of the 1998 World Champion Lilian. He plays in Nice where he blows hot and cold but he is for sure an impact player. When he starts, it's better getting out of his way.

Central Midfielders

Gerson (Marseille, 25yo, 6'1)

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A totally different player. He is very skilful, elegant and smooth. His defensive contribution is limited but he's great at holding the ball up. He possesses good vision and has a great connection with his team mates Guendouzi and Payet to create danger in the middle of static defences. He needed a bit of time to adapt to European football when he came from Brazil, but he still got nine goals and four assists. I think he is a quality player but he probably needs to be in a possession-heavy team with a rather slow approach to the game.

Renato Sanches (Lille, 24yo, 5'9)

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Frankly speaking, I hate this player - but if I do, it's probably because he's good. He is a very provocative fellow, having the knack of getting his opponents off their game. He would drive you mad in England with all his diving, screaming and rolling around the pitch but, he is super skilful with the ball at his feet. He can dribble past anybody, his long passes are most of the time brilliant and he is very dangerous on long shots. He plays in a defensive-minded team and on counter attacks he creates maximum danger as he's capable of anything at full speed. Definitively an energizer, but he is very injury-prone and he needs to be 100% fit to perform otherwise he is often poor or even a burden to the rest of the team.

Seko Fofana (Lens, 27yo, 6'0)

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One of the sensations of last season in Ligue 1, Fofana impressed with his goal scoring abilities, his leadership and his ability to be "clutch" (late winners or equalisers, decisive tackles). He plays in a rather box-to-box role but actually contributes very little defensively, but he is really impressive when he carries the ball in crazy runs through the middle of the defence. He is also very good in link-up play in short perimeters. His explosive nature makes all his actions in the final third energizing which seems to fill his team with confidence even against the bigger clubs; Lens made PSG suffer as very few teams could this year. I think his lack of defensive contribution would be a problem at a higher level and I am always suspicious about late bloomers, but he really has something special.

Benjamin Bourigeaud (Rennes, 28yo, 5'10)

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A real underdog. I don't know how to put it without sounding silly, but I am convinced that if Bourigeaud didn't look so "average Joe" and didn't go by a name that cries 'deep rural France', he would be valued much more highly. He can play everywhere across the middle of the park (CM, ACM, LW, RW) and is committed, hard working, elegant, clever and has a deadly right foot. Crosses, long balls, through passes, set pieces, he's master of it all plus he is probably the best corner taker in Ligue 1. 11 goals, 12 assists this year. Of course, he is not the fastest, the tallest nor the strongest but give him partners who run and he'll feed them over and over. One year left on the contract, reportedly willing to discover a new country, targetted by Mourinho for AS Roma it seems. No doubt there is a potential steal to be had here.

Honourable mentions: Adrien Thomasson from Strasbourg is cut from the same cloth as Bourigeaud. Same profile, same qualities, same limits. He's just slightly less effective but he is one consistent player.

Branco van den Boomen was probably the best player of Ligue 2 with Toulouse. The Dutch CM had 12 goals and 21 assists. Brilliant on set pieces, he is the epitome of the old-fashioned playmaker (one daring comparison that crossed my mind is with Stefan Effenberg, if you remember him). A late bloomer (at 27) or a one-season wonder?

Attacking midfielders

Lucas Paqueta (Lyon, 24yo, 5'10)

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There is a high probability he'll go to Newcastle, to join his very close friend Bruno Guimaraes, but Paqueta is a special talent. He mostly plays as a central attacking midfielder even though he ha played a bit everywhere. His ball control is divine, he is strong enough to resist the toughest challenges and he can dribble past four or five players in a small perimeter. He also has unbelievable vision for through balls. More surprisingly for that kind of player, his work rate is high and he really can fight for a ball like a stray dog. When he goes berserk, he is absolutely insane. However, there is a major problem with him: he is way too emotional. This can get him out of a game, or even out of form for a long period (he was awful against West Ham for instance). This made him fail at Milan and some of the OL fans would not be unhappy to see him go because of his lack of consistency and his poor decision-making during bad periods.

Lovro Majer (Rennes, 24yo, 5'9)

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I am slightly afraid to praise a Croatian offensive midfielder here! But there is something quite Modric-esque about Majer. A lot of skills, a nice touch on the ball and great passing. He also provides good activity off the ball and, despite his lack of power, he applies a lot of pressure to the opponents and tackles a lot during a game. Would he be able to adjust to the Premier League? I think he could, like Modric did, with the same qualities and the same limits.

Sofiane Diop (Monaco, 22yo, 5'5)

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I am also afraid to mention a hot prospect named Diop on here, but this young winger is really talented. He has a good all-round game, he can dribble, pass and shoot with great ease. His decision-making is rather good for such a young player and he also works hard on the defensive side of his game. Of course he is small and can find it difficult against the most physical opponents, but they better be well organised as he has all the tools to unlock tight defences. I really like the way he plays; I think he has a bit of Ludovic Giuly in him.


Mohamed Bayo (Clermont-Ferrand, 24yo, 6'2)

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Bayo had a tremendous season in Ligue 2 last year, helping the team get promoted to Ligue 1 with 22 goals and seven assists. He scored three goals and delivered two assists in his first four Ligue 1 games which brought him under the spotlight. I really thought he would find it difficult to maintain his good form, but he kept on scoring a lot until the ACON during winter. It was a little more difficult for him afterwards, but the whole Clermont team was struggling at the time. He finished the season well with four goals and two assists in the last six games, so he is definitely not just on fire temporarily. He is a tall and powerful striker who was trained as a right winger during his youth. He kept from it nice footwork and the ability to dribble at a player, but he mainly impressed with his natural instinct in the box, consistently being in the right place at the right time and nicking it into the net with a single touch. He may be not great in the patient building up of attacks or the hardest working forward you can imagine, but on open plays and set pieces he is a consistent threat. I like his story as he is a local boy (he was born in Clermont-Ferrand) who developed into a potential football star while it was never really expected from him.

Kevin Volland (Monaco, 30yo, 5'10)

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An unusual player, I think Volland would be best described as a secondary striker. Despite limited height, he is very good in the air and Monaco use him as an anchor through which to launch their attacks. His scoring ability is questionable, with ugly misses and long drought periods but he is still a real problem for defences who just don't know how to deal with that kind of player. I guess there is a bit of Michail Antonio in his profile, though he doesn't have the pace and the physical strength the West Ham striker has. His record stands at nine goals and nine assists this season.

Martin Terrier (Rennes, 25yo, 6'0)

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A quick striker with clinical finishing, Terrier really blossomed this year especially being played wide on the left. A smart player, he doesn't carry the ball much as he is much better in link-up play with players like Bourigeaud, Majer or Laborde. He is great on open plays but can struggle against tighter defences. His time in Lyon was not so great, he failed to secure a starting position and the fans considered him as lacking mental strength but he proved them wrong on that point. I think he is a very nice fellow, very sound of mind but I reckon he needs a positive environment next to him to perform which he didn't have here at Lyon unfortunately.

Gaetan Laborde (Rennes, 28yo, 5'11)

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One of my favourite players, I might be biased when it comes to Laborde. He is tall (edit: not as tall as I thought in fact, his aerial skills made him appear taller, I think) and rather powerful, but his main assets are good vision and a soft touch which helped him produce 15 goals and eight assists in a very offensive side. He will probably never be a massive stats player, but he has an incredibly stylish way of playing. He is also very good in the air, which gives Rennes another dimension to their game. He can play on both wings as well where he would create danger with quick movement and cutting inside the box. He offers a lot of different tools for his manager/s to exploit.

Moussa Dembele (Lyon, 26yo, 6'0)

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I know how poor an impression Dembele made with West Ham fans but he is a prolific goalscorer (among the best in Europe in 2022). Many Lyon fans don't like him for his lack of ability in lay-offs and link-ups in small perimeters, which they insist is the way OL have to play. He is not well suited for a team playing a high line with high possession rates and patient build up; on the contrary he is particularly efficient on transitions, turning around defenders and making a difference from 25 yards, being resistant to challenges thanks to his raw power and ability to nick it any way possible in the net. He is also blamed for big misses, but when you look at the stats, he creates himself a fair amount of chances and his conversion rate is not bad at all. He had a woeful 2020-2021 season but he managed to resurrect his form this year (21 goals, 16 without penalties in 30 games) which tells me he is well committed to his job now. I can see him coming back to and thriving in English football.

Karl Toko-Ekambi (Lyon, 30yo, 6'0)

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In my initial posts on the KUMB Forum I think I described Toko-Ekambi as 100% ugly, 100% hard boiled and 20% efficient. I still stick to this statement. I see him giving hard times to opposition defences on a regular basis even if he is not an academic player. Cutting into the box from the left wing, dribbling his way to the goal oddly he creates a lot of trouble. He has a major quality the rest of the OL squad lacks - he loves to run, offering numerous solutions for deep passes and thus stretching defences. However he tends to be a bit selfish, taking a difficult shot when a team mate was easily reachable. If his decision making was better, he would probably never play for OL anyway. At the end of the season, there were great tensions between him and the hardcore fans and I wouldn't be surprised if he asks to go this summer. Being 30, it is probably his last chance for a big contract in a big league and Wolves are said to be interested.

Rayan Cherki (Lyon, 19yo, 5'9)

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Now, this is one player I would normally not mention in a list like this according to his actual performances, but the thing is Cherki has only one year left on his contract and seems reluctant to renew it which means Lyon could be selling him this summer. And as he had been tagged as a very hot prospect since he was 14, he still could attract big teams. He is a pure talent, his dribbling skills are amazing and he is way too good for the youth teams. The problem is that he fails at becoming a real pro. His defensive contribution is erratic and his decision-making appalling most of the time. On top of that, he suffered a major injury in February at the very moment he was finally getting some regular playing time. Now he reaches a turning point in his career; will he grow up, or keep on being a useless one-trick freak?

Hugo Ekitike (Reims, 20yo, 6'2)

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This kid is attracting a lot of attention, more than his actual performances probably warrant. Why? Because the potential seems almost limitless, in the sense that Ekitike is tall, athletic, dynamic, very skilled with a correct left foot for a right-footed player and a good instinct. He is also hard-working defensively. He still has to improve his decision making and, this season, he was sometimes better out of the bench against tired defences than when starting games - but he improved a lot, and fast.

Jonathan David (Lille, 22yo, 5'10)

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I note he has been linked with West Ham but honestly, I am underwhelmed by David. The €45m value for him seems crazy to me. I understand that he is young, fast, quite a good finisher with good feet and capable of nice footwork in the box, but he really blows hot and cold. He needed six months to adapt to Ligue 1 and was goalless once again for a long period of time in 2022. He needs to be paired with another forward who will have to be in charge of holding the ball up and creating space for him. On the defensive side, he is hard working and rather committed which of course is positive. I am very curious to see how his career will progress.

Elye Wahi (Montpellier, 19yo, 6'0)

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A young striker who has impressed with his speed when turning around a defender. Wahi has the power, the balance and the acceleration to create himself space when he receives a ball with a defender guarding him closely. He also has nice finishing skills with many different ways to score a goal. Of course, he is still very inexperienced and lacks some of the tools a seasoned pro needs, but I really like the impact he can make in the game.

Honourable mentions: Among the other promising strikers, it is worth mentioning Amine Gouiri who had an exceptional season last year but failed to confirm with Nice, Mohamed-Ali Cho from Angers who is a super explosive striker who needs to refine his game and Arnaud Kalimuendo, the PSG youngster who had a good season on loan at Lens (where he scored 12 goals).

A quick note also about Rhys Healey, the English striker at Toulouse who is the best goalscorer in Ligue 2. At 27, he just had the best season of his life. He is a good finisher, is able to eliminate defenders in the box to make his way to the goal. With true grit and a hard worker despite average technical skills, I like him but I am not sure he can make it at a higher level. His next season will be interesting to follow.

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