20 Ligue 1 Players to Watch out for in 2014
On an almost annual basis, Ligue 1 gets raided of its best young talent and players that represent good value for money.
Yet French football clubs continue to produce quality players and replace those lost to rival domestic or foreign sides with them.
With Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco boasting some of the world game’s deepest pockets, Le Championnat is also getting the chance to see some of the best young talent come to France to ply their trade.
Heading into 2014, there are plenty of top potential stars primed to make their breakthrough and to either go on to dominate France’s top flight or to join one of Europe’s biggest sides.
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup on the horizon as well, plenty of those have a potential squad place at stake.
Here are 20 players currently in Ligue 1 to watch out for in 2014.
Olympique de Marseille’s Giannelli Imbula is just 21 years old and, following his summer signing from EA Guingamp, has already gone on to establish himself in OM’s first team.
Although this season has not gone according to plan for club or player so far, the tenacious midfielder has still impressed at times and particularly in the Champions League.
Imbula was reportedly attracting the interest of Chelsea before Marseille managed to sign him and according to the Express, could rekindle that interest as early as January.
With just 10 league starts and one goal to his name at present, a big 2014 is required from the French under-21 international.
Despite being limited to just four starts for Olympique Lyonnais this season, Yassine Benzia is a promising young talent from the OL academy.
The French under-21 international has scored twice and set up another two goals so far this season.
One goal and both assists came in a 3-1 win away at FC Sochaux-Montbeliard earlier in the season, while the other strike came in OL’s recent 3-1 away win at SC Bastia.
Despite making a relatively positive contribution when on the field, Benzia has seen his chances of regular playing time stalled by the reintegration of Bafetimbi Gomis and Jimmy Briand.
2014 may see Benzia exit the Stade Gerland to finally be able to reward his considerable talent with the regular football that it deserves.
If you have not already heard of PSG’s Adrien Rabiot, you will do soon.
Despite being just a tender 18-year-old, the classy French midfielder has been in and around the champions’ first team for over a year now.
Rabiot broke through last season under Carlo Ancelotti at just 17 and a loan spell with Toulouse FC in the second half of the campaign helped speed up his development.
This term, the French under-21 international has been an important part of Laurent Blanc’s first team and Rabiot is maturing at a faster rate than many predicted.
With one goal in 16 league appearances (six starts) so far this campaign, he is already stating his case for being more of a regular starter and a potential senior international.
2014 promises to be a great year for Rabiot.
AS Saint-Etienne’s Kurt Zouma is only 19 years old, but it feels like he has been around for ages already.
After making his debut in 2011, the French under-21 international has become a key player for Les Verts.
His imposing physical build, brutality and athleticism make the U20 World Cup winner an attractive player to foreign clubs, particularly those in the English Premier League.
Zouma has already been called up to the senior French national side, demonstrating his immense potential, but his current 10 match ban for breaking an opponent’s leg with a rash challenge also indicates that his talent is still largely unrefined.
2014 could be another breakout year for Zouma, but this time on a much larger stage.
AS Monaco may now be able to boast millions of Euros with which they can rival PSG, but despite spending huge amounts of money on the likes Radamel Falcao, Les Monegasques’ youth academy is still producing plenty of talent.
The latest off the Stade Louis II production line is Layvin Kurzawa, a 21-year-old French left-back, who has broken into Claudio Ranieri’s first-team plans this season.
A French under-21 international, Kurzawa is one of a number of home-grown stars to have been given a chance to play a part in the principality outfit’s ambitious plans for the future.
So far this season Kurzawa has made 17 starts, scoring once and providing two assists.
2013 packed in more than enough controversy to last for Florian Thauvin’s entire career, including a move to current side Olympique de Marseille from Lille OSC without having played a single game.
Thankfully for the 20-year-old attacking talent, he has backed up his bigheaded behaviour off the pitch with some sublime stuff on it.
Thauvin has five goals and two assists in 12 league starts this campaign. If the French under-20 World Cup winner keeps that form up, he could be experiencing the World Cup in Brazil come this summer.
Although Olympique Lyonnais are not enjoying the best of times at present, the seven-time Ligue 1 winners are still producing a healthy amount of academy graduates.
One of those young stars who can now be considered a relative veteran of the side, despite being just 20, is Samuel Umtiti.
The defender is in his third season of first team football with Remi Garde’s side and is rapidly becoming one of French football’s most talented prospects in that position.
An U20 World Cup winner with Les Bleuets, 2014 could present Umtiti with the chance to take his talent to a bigger stage at club or international level.
Another Olympique Lyonnais youth prospect who is set for a big year is Jordan Ferri.
The versatile 21-year-old has been breaking through this campaign at a difficult time for the seven-time Ligue 1 champions.
However Ferri has still managed to make 15 appearances, five of them starts, scoring one goal.
Predominantly a midfielder but also capable of filling in at the back when needed, Ferri is certain to figure in the future plans of Remi Garde who will surely see another handful of first-team stars sold off over the next 12 months.
Following his move from Lille OSC to Paris Saint-Germain last summer, Lucas Digne initially struggled to break into the champions’ side.
Now, thanks largely to an inopportune injury to regular left-back Maxwell, the French U20 World Cup winner is getting the regular game time that he craves.
Prior to his move to PSG, Digne was touted as a potential senior French international. Considering Didier Deschamps’ lack of current options and the 20-year-old’s continued development, a place on the plane to Brazil in the summer is not unrealistic.
AS Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia has not had the easiest of times since completing his move from Sevilla to Ligue 1’s new money men.
Following his arrival at the Stade Louis II, the French international has started just four matches and is struggling to usurp Jeremy Toulalan and Mounir Obbadi in Claudio Ranieri’s starting XI.
Although Les Monegasques will be loath to part with such a prized asset after just six months, a loan move is certainly not out of the question.
Before the start of the season, Kondogbia was in the French national team at senior level.
Since then, Juventus’ Paul Pogba has overtaken him in Les Bleus’ set-up.
The 20-year-old is in danger of missing the boat to Brazil, but if he were to be playing regularly for the reminder of the season, he could yet persuade Didier Deschamps to take him as a squad member.
There is no doubt that Kondogbia is capable of being a future starter for France, but in order to force his way into contention ahead of Euro 2016 on home soil, he needs to be starting matches regularly in 2014.
Despite having tumbled down the Ligue 1 table over the past month or so, Toulouse FC’s 5-1 win over struggling Sochaux has boosted them up toward mid-table.
One consistently good performer, despite TFC’s mixed form this year, has been versatile Ivory Coast international Serge Aurier at right-back.
The 20-year-old has contributed one goal and four assists so far from his defensive berth, but is capable of playing further forward as well.
Despite Aurier telling L’Equipe (h/t Sky Sports) recently that he is happy at the Stade Municipal and wants to continue to progress under Alain Casanova, a reasonable bid might be enough to force the club’s hand.
2014 may well be the year that the Toulouse man gets the move to a bigger club that his ability deserves.
FC Lorient’s gamble on snapping up Cameroonian Vincent Aboubakar on a free transfer from Valenciennes has paid off handsomely.
The 21-year-old attacker has racked up 11 goals in just 19 starts for Les Merlus and is the reason that they are currently in ninth place in the Ligue 1 table and not scrapping away in the relegation dogfight.
Physically imposing, strong and athletic, Aboubakar is arguably suited to the English Premier League and should be targeting a move in this next year.
One of the main heroes of France’s U20 World Cup triumph last summer was PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who was heroic in the penalty shoot-out final and saved two of Uruguay’s penalties.
On loan at second tier outfit RC Lens, coached by former PSG boss Antoine Kombouare, the 20-year-old is demonstrating his first-team credentials already with the promotion hopefuls.
With Euro 2016 already on the horizon, PSG will be keen to get their man back this summer and assess whether or not he is capable of challenging Salvatore Sirigu (pictured) for a first team place.
Areola certainly looks capable of becoming PSG’s undisputed first choice goalkeeper over time, but how quickly he continues to develop may dictate whether or not 2014 becomes a crucial decision-making year for the Frenchman regarding his future.
Yannick Ferreira Carrasco
One of the revelations of this Ligue 1 season so far has been AS Monaco’s Belgian under-21 international starlet Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
The 20-year-old pacey wide-man had proven indispensable to Claudio Ranieri until an injury ended 2013 early for him. At the time of his injury in early November, he had three goals and one assist to his name from 12 starts.
However, 2014 promises much for Ferreira Carrasco. A good second half of the season could even be enough to push him into Marc Wilmots’ World Cup plans for Belgium.
Another Belgian prospect ready to make his mark in 2014 is Lille OSC’s Divock Origi.
The 18-year-old attacking talent managed a goal on the opening day of the season to secure a 1-0 home win over FC Lorient, but since then Origi has been largely restricted to 10 substitute appearances and one other start.
With Rene Girard's side (pictured) flying high in Le Championnat, the Belgian will continue to get his chances.
Although this summer’s World Cup is almost certainly a step too far at this point, Euro 2016 is a realistic aim for Origi who needs a good 2014 to be on course for Belgium’s tournament in two years’ time.
Over the course of the first half of the 2013-2014 Ligue 1 season, Marco Verratti has been one of the outstanding performers in PSG’s brilliant three-man midfield instigated by coach Laurent Blanc.
It is easy to forget sometimes that the Italian international is still just 21 years old because he has become such a key component in the capital club’s starting XI.
Verratti has matured impressively into one of world football’s most promising deep-lying midfielders and his playmaking abilities have really come to the fore since the start of the campaign.
At present, the PSG man has four assists in 14 starts and has already been named player of the month once this term (September).
2014 could be the year that the diminutive Azzurri star becomes a national hero at the World Cup in Brazil, not to mention experiences Champions League success with the French champions.
Another PSG star who is set for a massive year is Brazilian sensation Marquinhos.
The 19-year-old defender burst onto the scene in 2013, becoming a key player for AS Roma before a €32million move to the French capital in the summer.
Marquinhos’ development has not stopped there and he has become a regular fixture in Laurent Blanc’s first team already and was an outstanding performer in the group stages of the Champions League.
Now a senior Brazilian international as well, 2014 could witness the teenager become a European champions with PSG and a world champion on home soil with Brazil in the World Cup.
Despite the absence of Radamel Falcao in recent weeks, AS Monaco have managed to keep the pressure on Ligue 1 leaders PSG.
That is largely thanks to the goals scored by French teenage sensation Anthony Martial who replaced the Colombian in Claudio Ranieri’s plans (pictured) while El Tigre was out.
Martial has netted two goals and provided one assist in five league starts and at 18 years of age, has burst onto the scene earlier than Les Monegasques probably expected him to.
2014 is now an important year for the French under-21 international who has proved that he is ready for senior football and should no longer be happy to sit on the bench.
Another AS Monaco talent who is primed for a big year in 2014 is Argentine starlet Lucas Ocampos.
The 19-year-old has taken his time to find his feet in France, but finally looks to be approaching his best form at the Stade Louis II.
Two goals in nine starts is a decent return, but Ocampos will want to contribute more in this next year as he aims to move into international contention.
2013 did not work out as Lucas Moura had planned.
The Brazilian completed his big-money move to PSG in January and, despite an impressive start to life in the French capital, was soon hampered by injuries.
One year later, the Selecao star is no longer guaranteed his place in the national team and is fighting for a starting berth at club level.
Despite three goals and four assists in nine starts, Laurent Blanc does not appear to have complete faith in Moura and the 21-year-old is embarking upon a crucial year in his development.
January is crucial for the Brazilian who is desperate for guaranteed starts leading up to the World Cup in order to get himself back into contention.