Ahead of the January transfer window, Sport360 is running a series of features across European football’s top leagues which look at the players who may be on the move this winter.
This time around, it’s Ligue 1, with the futures of Paris Saint-Germain starsEzequiel Lavezzi and Salvatore Sirigu uncertain as teams from the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A eye talent from the top league in France.
Sofiane Boufal (LOSC)
Clubs interested: PSG, Manchester City, Internazionale
A rare glimmer of consistency in LOSC’s underwhelming season, Sofiane Boufal has had an outstanding calendar year. Bought by Lille in January from boyhood club SCO Angers, where he made his professional debut three years ago in the French Second League, Boufal has surprised every observer since.
The French-Moroccan winger, courted by Didier Deschamps but who has not yet made a decision on his international future, has been his side’s key attacking threat over the past year. Thanks to a low centre of gravity and acute positional awareness, he is nigh-on unstoppable in one-on-one situations. Across the past 18 months he has honed his finishing skills and is his team’s top goalscorer with five goals.
In spite of the relative lack of coordination in LOSC’s midfield and their poor transitional play across the board, Boufal has demonstrated outstanding abilities and attracted interest from a number of European sides. PSG are thought to be leading the chase with Laurent Blanc recently hailing the winger’s technical skills and youthful exuberance.
Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG)
Clubs interested: Juventus, Internazionale, Flamengo
With the PSG coaching staff having reportedly set their sights on Boufal, there is little doubt the player most likely to be replaced numerically in the Parisian set-up is 30-year-old Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Having never been a standard fixture in Laurent Blanc’s plans, and despite the summer arrival of his like-minded compatriot Angel di Maria, it looks as though Lavezzi’s time at PSG is dawning.
A terrific player on his day, the former Palermo star failed to reproduce the impact he once had in Serie A and perform week-in, week-out. Consistency is an absolute necessity in a team where competitors are named Di Maria, Lucas Moura, Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore.
Despite having accomodated most of his players one way or another at some stage during his tenure, Blanc has never made room for Lavezzi to express the magnitude of his capabilities. Despite a brilliant 2014 World Cup, and the option for him to be paired with Di Maria on a regular basis, the PSG staff keep overlooking the Argentinian who will be keen on a return to Italy if given the chance.
Salvatore Sirigu (PSG)
Clubs interested: Aston Villa, AS Roma, AS Monaco
The Italy international was unexpectedly demoted to the substitutes’ bench over the summer and replaced by Kevin Trapp. Although his distribution and influence in the box had not been convincing over the past 18 months, Sirigu had become a feature of this PSG side and felt strongly about not competing for a starting spot any more. His lack of playing time was compounded by Trapp’s own shortcomings on various occasions, leading many observers to wonder how much of an upgrade the German has really provided on his Italian predecessor.
With two good if not great goalkeepers in their ranks, and Sirigu the older of the pair (he will turn 29 in January) it seems PSG will look to integrate homegrown loanee Alphonse Areola in their first team while the Italian considers his options. He recently refused to take part in a Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk in order to avoid being cup-tied, hinting he has set his sights on an English or Italian club that may be competing in a European competition as soon as this season.
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Rennes)
Clubs interested: Sunderland, Napoli
When Abdoulaye Doucouré crossed the Channel on September 1st, Premier League club Watford had agreed terms with his boyhood club FC Rennes for the midfielder to strengthen Quique Flores’ side.
With the prospect of Quintero and Gourcuff joining the Breton outfit, prospects had dimmed for a player whose physical abilities had not gone unnoticed in England.
Positioned as an advanced playmaker just behind the strikers, Doucouré has been a driving force for Rennes in the past six months and fully capitalised on his midfield rivals missing action through injury or inconsistency.
Originating from the Parisian suburbs of Les Mureaux, the 23-year-old demonstrated leadership qualities early on as he was voted a junior member of his city’s municipal council and contributed to building a 5-a-side ground in his neighbourhood.
Although he suffered two setbacks in 2011 and 2013 with ACL injuries to his left knee, Doucouré has developed into a box-to-box midfielder with a peerless verticality. Despite Ligue 1’s physicality, he is a stand-out performer and probably did well to bide his time. If he crosses the Channel in January it will be for substantially more lucrative terms than what he was offered back in September.
Cheikh N’Doye (SCO Angers)
Clubs interested: Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Leicester City
The 29-year-old was working as a carpenter six years ago in his native Senegal and after a failed trial at Stoke City in 2007 and a botched move to Saudi Arabia in 2008, his career almost came to an end due to an untimely injury. But he found the strength to come back and is now enjoying his life as a Ligue 1 late bloomer.
Moving to Sedan in 2009, where he discovered tactical discipline, he grabbed the Ligue 2 headlines three years later at US Créteil. Scoring 32 goals as a defensive midfielder, he attracted the interest of Angers who signed him upon their promotion to the first league this season. Since then he has translated his form to the French top flight and his side has lost just once with him in the starting line-up.
Henri Saivet (Bordeaux)
Clubs interested: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton
One of the best talents to emerge from the Girondins de Bordeaux academy, Saivet was an all-round striker before turning into a versatile midfielder last summer.
His coach Willy Sagnol convinced him to take on defensive duties and the Dakar-born player, who turned 25 last October, duly obliged.
Having been scouted by virtually a dozen Premier League sides this season, especially during his side’s Europa League clashes with Liverpool, it appears Saivet ticks all the boxes to follow in the footsteps of the countless Ligue 1 players to have crossed the Channel in the past months.
Whether he will continue being lined up as a box-to-box midfielder or perhaps go back to his original position is uncertain, but the Senegal international seems destined to make an impact whatever his next destination.
Bernardo Silva (Monaco)
Clubs interested: Atletico Madrid, Juventus
The Monaco midfielder might not stand out for his physical frame (173cm, 62kg) but his flair and technical skills with the ball are second to none. Acquired less than a year ago, he has lost the ball less times than the number of days when there was rain on the French Riviera.
Tutored by his countryman Joao Moutinho, the Portuguese international can play across the midfield and has been excellent in whatever role he has been assigned this season, contributing to his side’s second-place spot in the league table.
With a natural instinct to time his runs harmoniously and a great passing range, he is a constant threat regardless of the space left behind by opponents’ back lines.
There is every chance this could be his last season in Ligue 1, and very few clubs across Europe can afford to overlook his services going forward.
Paul Bernardoni (Troyes)
Clubs interested: AS Monaco, Aston Villa
Troyes sit at the bottom of the Ligue 1 table and it is increasingly likely they will drop to the second tier of French football at the end of the season. However, their 18-year-old goalkeeper will probably stay up, such has been his ability between the posts this season.
His progress has been stellar since making his professional debut on March 6th, helped indeed by an impeccable work ethic. Players around him hail his discreet manners off the pitch and the way he has gradually gained influence in his penalty box, exuding more confidence than his senior team-mates despite the team’s poor results.
The France under-19 international secured his A-Levels this year and the area where he can still be educated on is certainly distribution, although there is plenty of time for him to fulfill his undeniable potential.
Michy Batshuayi (Marseille)
Clubs interested: Chelsea, Arsenal, Valencia
Perhaps the most natural finisher in Ligue 1 not playing for PSG, the Belgium international has demonstrated all-round capabilities but also excessive selfishness at times. His coach Michel recently expressed his discontent and several team-mates are said to be annoyed by the striker’s lack of commitment towards the team.
Despite these flaws, the 22-year-old has 11 goals and two assists to his name this term. His confidence and natural goalscoring instinct are a joy to behold and have attracted a number of English Premier League scouts to the Stade Velodrome.
His obvious talent coupled with ongoing fueds inside the OM dressing room (most recently with Abdelaziz Barrada) hint that the right offer might lure him away from southern France as early as this January.
This is a player with five-star potential but who still tends to drift in and out of games and offers little when he is not scoring, either in link-up play or defensive application. Whoever polishes the Belgian jewel will have an outstanding striker in their ranks.
Corentin Tolisso (Lyon)
Clubs interested: AC Milan, Atletico Madrid
On paper, there is no chance Tolisso will leave his boyhood club, which he joined aged 13. The midfielder, who has featured in every league game this season, with 17 of them being from the start, was even used as a right-back recently.
Although head coach Hubert Fournier insists on playing a talent whose intelligence on the ball and physical abilities stood out last season, but has so far failed to shine this term, it looks like a conflict is brewing between both men.
Fournier recently criticised the player’s attitude to the media, which caused a backlash that only compounds the complicated season the club is going through. Similarly to Batshuayi at Marseille, the talented player seems to have unsettled his team-mates despite being able to carry the team on his shoulders occasionally.
Tolisso’s output has clearly not been as effective as last season, when he emerged as a highly-skilled midfield talent able to single-handedly dictate the tempo of games.
This season, he and fellow academy graduates Alexandre Lacazette or Maxime Gonalons have clearly not been up to par, hardly helped by the long-term injury sustained by Nabil Fekir early in the season. Lyon are ninth in the league table and the various controversies surrounding Tolisso perhaps hint that the club hierarchy could consider an offer at the right price for their talented 21-year-old, unless it is head coach Fournier who is asked to make way.
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“You have too many games, that’s for sure,” Klopp told the BBC’s Football Focus programme.
“You have no break, too many tournaments. I think everybody knows that’s not the way to be successful.
“Everybody thinks (England coach) Roy Hodgson should lead these boys to the Euro 2016 title, they have really good players.
“But they’ve had no break for one year. All the other teams have. You can be (successful) but it’s much harder.”