5 Young Ligue 1 Players Set to Break out in 2014

Nicholas McGeeContributor IJanuary 16, 2014

Lorient striker Vicent Aboubakar
Lorient striker Vicent AboubakarPhoto courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ligue 1, while often regarded as one of the lesser European leagues, has long been viewed as a proving ground for young, exciting players.

Recent years have seen the likes of Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all the make move to more high profile teams after enjoying great success in the French domestic game.

But who will be the next fledgling star to enhance their reputation in 2014? Here, I take a look at the five young Ligue 1 players poised to enjoy breakout years.

Adrien Rabiot, Paris Saint-Germain

Defending Ligue 1 champions already have an array of midfield options, which Laurent Blanc has added to by affording Adrien Rabiot the chance to play in the first team at the Parc des Princes.

Rabiot made sporadic appearances for PSG in 2012-13 before moving on loan to Toulouse, and that stint at Alain Casanova's side appears to have worked wonders for the 18-year-old.

Indeed, the teenager is now a firm part of Blanc's rotation and has already scored twice for PSG, including one in their 3-1 Coupe de la Ligue triumph at Bordeaux on Tuesday.

Still, it would be wrong to define a season that has featured just 11 starts as a "breakout year." However, if the France Under-21 international can maintain the form that has seen him earn the trust of Blanc, then Rabiot could soon establish himself as one of the best young midfielders in European football.

Vincent Aboubakar, Lorient

It has taken him a few years to do so, but Vincent Aboubakar appears poised to fulfill his potential with Lorient.

The Cameroon striker moved to Brittany from Valenciennes in the summer and has harnessed the talent that was obvious from early in his career.

Aboubakar has scored 11 times for Christian Gourcuff's men this season and has helped Les Merlus move into the top half of the table.

Gourcuff will hope that Aboubakar can continue his fine form in the second half of season, however, Lorient may not be able to hang on to the 21-year-old if he enjoys a stellar 2014.

Gianelli Imbula, Marseille

Big things could already be on the horizon for Gianelli Imbula following his summer move from Guingamp to Marseille.

It has been a disappointing season so far for Marseille, but combative young midfielder Imbula has been one of the few bright spots for the men from Provence.

The 21-year-old has displayed enough quality to break his way into Marseille's first team in his first campaign at the Stade Velodrome and has already made 23 appearances at OM.

Imbula is physically robust and composed on the ballaveraging 37 passes a game in Ligue 1 at an 89 per cent success rate (WhoScored)and his displays have already appeared to have attracted attention.

Indeed, Chelsea are thought to be interested in Imbula's services (The Daily Express). However, it would likely be more beneficial to his development for Imbula to enjoy at least another 12 months at a Marseille side that appears keen to build a young, dynamic team, rather than moving to a Premier League side where the Belgian-born midfielder could struggle for playing time.

Alphonse Areola, Lens (on loan from PSG)

Tottenham's Hugo Lloris may have the France number one jersey locked down for now, but he could soon have a challenger in Alphonse Areola.

The 20-year-old is still early in his development at PSG and has dropped down a level to help sleeping giants Lens in their bid for promotion following relegation from the top flight in 2011.

Areola has kept seven clean sheets in 19 league games for second-placed Lens, playing a key role in a fine first half of the campaign from the northerners.

It remains to be seen whether Areola will be allowed to return to the Stade Felix Bollaert for another loan spell should Lens win promotion, but there can be no doubt that the shot-stopper, who won the Under-20 World Cup with France in the summer, would benefit from regular top-flight experience.

The coming year promises to be a big one for Areola and, whether it be at Lens or elsewhere, the future appears bright for this potential France star.

Kurt Zouma, Saint-Étienne

Another Frenchman to be linked with Chelsea (Sky Sports), Kurt Zouma's days in Ligue 1 could well be numbered.

The centre-back has long been considered to be one of the brightest prospects in the French top flight, although his 2013-14 season has been disrupted due a lengthy suspension he received for a woeful tackle on Sochaux's Thomas Guerbert in November.

Still, despite that moment of madness, Zouma is a player of great potential and should be able to re-establish himself in the starting XI at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard in 2014.

And a big move will surely be around the corner if the 19-year-old can recapture the form that helped build his already considerable reputation.