Every weekend we pick out one under-23 player from around Europe and analyse their performance to provide you with an in-depth scouting report.
This week, Ligue 1 provides the opening stage of competitive action as defending champions Monaco edged out Toulouse 3-2.
Brazilian Neymar may dominate the headlines and bring renewed hope to Paris Saint-Germain but Monaco showed they won’t be giving up their Ligue 1 crown easily with a stoic performance.
PSG will expect €222million-man Neymar to fire them not just to domestic glory but also European success following his sensational move from Barcelona.
But Monaco are the champions and proved in their Ligue 1 opener they will provide a formidable challenge to the mega-rich Parisians with goals from Brazilian Jemerson, Colombia’s Radamel Falcao and Kamil Glik of Poland allowing them to twice come from behind and snatch three points.
We focus on one man, though, and analyse the performance of 21-year-old Arsenal and Liverpool target Thomas Lemar.
Goals – 0
Shots – 4 (Tied first)
Shots on target – 1 (Tied second)
Touches – 73 (Fifth)
Passes – 47 (Fifth)
Key passes – 3 (Tied second)
Dribbles – 1 (Tied second)
Dispossessed – 1 (Tied second)
Operating in his habitual left-wing spot in a two behind Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe, the 21-year-old was cemented to the touchline for the majority of the first half as Monaco’s pedestrian pace of play in the opening 20 minutes saw him rarely used as an outlet.
He dropped deeper to link up with and allow the rampaging full-back Jorge to deliver the ball into the box, though, the avenue was largely shut off.
Lemar’s lack of movement was frustrating and so too his tenancy to misplace passes but after the break he started to make more of an impression with his set-piece play particularly impressing.
From corners and free-kicks his laser-like left foot frequently found a target and his only shot on target came from a deliciously curled set-piece from around 30 yards out.
He switched onto the right five minutes before the hour mark as the champions found themselves 2-1 down and he showed more desire to get in behind as Falcao and Gilk eventually put them ahead.
It was an otherwise quiet display from the France international.
36th min – He was dispossessed on the edge of the Toulouse box and the visitors countered through the goalscorer Zinedine Machach but last-man Jemerson expertly slid across to shuffle the ball out of danger.
47th min – Cut inside from his left-wing position and was bundled to the floor around 30 yards out. The Frenchman displayed his set-piece prowess as Toulouse stopper Alban Lafont sprawled across his goalline to narrowly tip his stunning effort around the post for a corner.
67th min – Switched out onto the right side and sprinted deep into Toulouse territory but infuriatingly he misplaced a deep pass back and the visitors were free of danger
84th min – Back out onto the left for the last 10 minutes as Toulouse chased an equaliser, he found space on the edge of the box and as he ran onto the ball, shot first time but skied his effort well over the bar
A solid but not spectacular performance.
There is quality in that left foot no doubt about it as his teasing crosses had the Toulouse backline penned back at times but he needed to show a little more appetite in searching for the ball.
He was fixed to the touchline too much for the first hour, though, he did show a little more enterprise when moved onto the right.
Still, a performance which showed a glimpse of what he has to offer, particularly from dead-ball positions.
Few clubs have a soft spot for Brazilian players quite like Paris Saint-Germain and with Neymar signing for €222million from Barcelona, the forward will become the 34th Samba star to turn out for the Ligue 1 giants.
The 25-year-old was unveiled in the French capital today as he set out his ambition to make history with the Parisians.
There is every chance he could go on to become the most distinguished Brazilian to turn out for the club as he extends a long Paris romance.
We take a look back at the five most prominent Selecao stars to play for PSG.
The younger brother of the legendary Socrates, Rai was a talismanic figure for PSG in the 90s.
Signed from Sao Paulo in 1993, the attacking midfielder arrived having been named the South American Player of the Year with a reputation as a creative genius.
He oozed class and plundered goals during his five seasons in France and remained loyal despite opportunities to join some of Europe’s bigger sides.
On the back of his goalscoring form in Ligue 1 and after guiding PSG to the Cup Winners’ Cup, he earned a World Cup winner’s medal with Brazil before leaving in 1998 to rejoin Sao Paulo.
The versatile left-sided defender/midfielder returned to Europe in 1996 after spells in Brazil and Japan to sign for PSG and his single year with the club proved a success.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of his time in Paris came in the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup when he slotted home a rebound from close range to open the scoring in the first-leg tie with Liverpool.
PSG went on to knock the Reds out and triumph in the final against Rapid Wien.
He left for AC Milan at the conclusion of the 1997 season but his association with the club didn’t end there as he returned as general manager to kick off PSG’s domestic domination following Qatar Investment Authority’s takeover in 2011.
Arguably the greatest Brazilian to have played for PSG, Ronaldinho would twice be named Player of the Year while playing for Barcelona but he arrived in the European consciousnesses after his two-year stint in Paris.
Having displayed sufficient promise to break into Brazil’s XI, Ronaldinho had caught the eye of Europe’s elite but he chose instead to make the surprise switch from Gremio to PSG in a low-key step up.
With the 2002 World Cup on the horizon, the attacker did not want to be languishing in the reserves of a top-level side and so PSG prospered – eventually.
Indeed, Ronaldinho got off to a slow start with the Parisians, mainly operating from the bench but with Nicolas Anelka jettisoned to Liverpool the following January, he thrived leading their attack.
His form in France provided the platform for a stunning World Cup as he guided Brazil to the Jules Rimet Trophy in 2002 and after 86 appearances and 25 goals, he departed for Barcelona where he would evolve into one of the world’s premier playmakers.
Since the Qatari takeover in 2011, PSG have signed eight Brazilians but the first to arrive was dependable defender Maxwell.
Almost a complete antithesis to the flamboyance of other samba stars, Maxwell was discrete but all class.
Like Neymar, Maxwell was signed from Barcelona, though the Ligue 1 giants only parted with €3.5million for his services, as he replaced Siaka Tiene at left-back who had departed for Montpellier.
His darting runs and commitment to the cause earned him the affections of the PSG faithful as he became one of the most decorated players in club-football history having amassed 36 trophies during his distinguished career – 14 in France.
He retired at the conclusion of last season but his influence did not end there as he is said to have played a role in luring compatriots Neymar and Dani Alves to the club this summer.
Bought from Chelsea for a then world-record fee for a defender of £50million, David Luiz formed a partnership with compatriot Thiago Silva in the heart of PSG’s defence.
There was always a sense, though, that Luiz only retained his place in the side because of Silva’s wishes to play alongside him rather than because of his performances with the talented Marquinhos considered the better option.
While the former Benfica man was a popular figure, both with players and the fans, his disjointed displays were never of the level required for a defender costing £50million.
With Antonio Conte’s desire to operate with a three-man defence, Luiz was brought back to Stamford Bridge in a £32million deal and although the move was largely lamented, he flourished as Chelsea stormed to the league title last term.
Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Neymar, Lucas Moura, Marquinhos
Neymar has completed his box office €222million move to Paris Saint-Germain and it means Barcelona are left with money to burn.
We look at the five signings boss Ernesto Valverde could make to replace Neymar.
Although he is perhaps the least celebrated of Neymar’s potential replacements, the 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund star may well be the best long-term option.
Dembele’s ability to beat defenders with either pace or trickery allow him to add dangerous penetration to any attack, and the prospect of him racing onto Lionel Messi through balls is extremely enticing.
But Dembele is also raw and inexperienced, having played just two years at senior level, and it is unrealistic to expect him to immediately start playing 50 games per campaign for Barca – especially as he’d have to switch positions from the right flank to the left.
If they are prepared to nurture his undoubted talent, however, the Catalan side could land themselves with an unpolished gem – and the kind of player new boss Ernesto Valverde has succeeded in developing well in the past.
And although Dortmund would be reluctant to lose a player they only signed a year ago, they would not be able to withstand a serious offer from Barca if the Camp Nou club pursue him vigorously.
With the greatest respect to Atletico Madrid, there has always been a sense that Griezmann is too good a player to stay with his current club for too much longer.
Indeed, Griezmann came extremely close to joining Manchester United earlier this summer before the move was scotched by Atletico’s transfer ban from FIFA being upheld.
Griezmann declined the opportunity to join United because he didn’t want to leave Atletico at a time when they’d be unable to sign a replacement, and there’s little reason to think he’d backtrack on that decision so quickly.
So, however perfect Griezmann might be for Barca considering his age, experience, versatile skill set and familiarity with La Liga, it almost certainly won’t happen.
The Juventus star has been long linked with Camp Nou, with stories of their supposed interest predictably intensifying after he scored two brilliant goals to mastermind Juve’s Champions League quarter-final victory over Barca in the spring.
There’s little doubt that Barca have closely tracked the progress of the 23-year-old for several months, and a move this summer would be no surprise.
However, for all the abilities possessed by Dybala, playing on the left flank is not one – or not one that we’ve seen so far.
He is, therefore, more likely to be a player Barca sign in addition to a Neymar replacement, rather than being the man they seek to fill the new vacancy on the left wing.
Considering their similar styles, there must also be a question mark over how Dybala and Lionel Messi can function together in the same team, something which has rarely looked like working well at international level.
Without doubt the biggest breakthrough talent in world football last season was the Monaco starlet, so it’s inevitable that Barca are reportedly ready to splurge a large chunk of their new transfer coffers on him.
Furthermore, although he’s more commonly been fielded as a central striker, Mbappe’s movement and mobility should allow him to adapt pretty easily to the left-sided role in a front three.
But there’s a big problem in this potential move, and it’s called Real Madrid.
Barca’s eternal rivals – and specifically the forward’s compatriot manager Zinedine Zidane – have been tracking Mbappe for years, and Los Blancos are surely well ahead in the race for his signature.
Madrid would not have sold Alvaro Morata if they didn’t believe that Mbappe was within reach, and losing out to Barcelona for his services seems almost implausible.
Over the last few years, alongside Neymar the best left-sided attackers in world football has probably been Chelsea’s electric but occasionally enigmatic Belgian.
And in terms of a like for like replacement who could immediately step in and fill the same role, he’s probably the best option Barca could hope for.
Hazard has also been regularly linked with a move to Spain – albeit to Real Madrid, not Barcelona – and his relationship with Antonio Conte has not always been plain sailing.
Chelsea will be reluctant to sell and the London club’s financial might puts them in a position of strength but, as we’ve seen with Neymar, players now possess an immense amount of power.
So if Barca are prepared to break the bank, landing Hazard is a distinct possibility.