Yet another incredible football season has reached its conclusion. The beautiful game has not failed to disappoint, providing the fans with some jaw dropping – as well as heartbreaking – moments over the last nine months.
We have witnessed some brilliant one-off individual displays and a few consistent performers. We’ve had breakout players, impressing at a young age and veterans proving that age is just a number.
As part of our end-of-the-season awards for Europe’s top-five leagues, we’re honouring the Player of the Year and Breakthrough Player of the Year (stars aged 23 and under who made significant strides in 2018/19).
Here, we look at the winners from Ligue 1.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain, 20 years old
It had to be him. Mbappe has been a clear tier above any other player from Ligue 1 this season. With Neymar missing a big part of the campaign through injury, the 20-year-old filled the gap and led from the front. Only two players have reached the 30-goal mark from Europe’s top-five leagues this season – Mbappe and Lionel Messi. That’s genuinely the company he keeps now because Mbappe is football’s next superstar, if he isn’t already. The most interesting aspect of Mbappe is just how well he’s taken to a more central role. Indeed, last season and in the beginning of this term, Mbappe was used almost exclusively on the right of a front three. When Edinson Cavani and Neymar both dropped out through injury, he meshed so well with the No9 role because it’s not just his lightning-quick pace, but also his intelligence to use it in the right spots. PSG have endured a bit of a weird season but within that, Mbappe has taken another massive step in his development.
Best performance: ‘Poker’ against Lyon
Against Lyon – arguably PSG’s toughest opponent in Ligue 1 – Mbappe scored four second-half goals in 13 minutes, the first three were plundered in only eight minutes.
What next for Mbappe?
Having dominated Ligue 1 at such a young age, similar to Eden Hazard when he was at Lille, the World Cup winner must consider testing himself in a much more demanding environment. There is less scope for growth the longer he continues to sweep up league titles with ease. But, he’s not just a massive asset in purely footballing terms, Mbappe is a marketing dream and while the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City would cast wanting eyes in his direction, there will be zero desire from PSG to sell, now or in the near future.
Honourable mentions: Nicolas Pepe (Lille), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain)
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Rafael Leao, Lille, 19 years old
The entire world is watching Leao and justifiably so because this teenager is something special. Ligue 1 is quite the mine for young diamonds and sitting alongside Mbappe is this Portuguese phenomenon. Leao was one of the players to leave Sporting Lisbon in the aftermath of the ugly violence directed at the squad and although it took him some time to get going in French football, when he did, he set it alight. He’s contributed to 11 goals this season (eight strikes and three assists) and since the turn of the year, has turned heads. He’s been the perfect support system for Lille’s other shining jewel, Nicolas Pepe, as Lille have all-but secured second spot and a return to the Champions League. What we’ve witnessed this season is an attacker with explosive qualities. He’s a bit like an early iteration of Cristiano Ronaldo in that sense, because he blends blurring acceleration with skill. He’s show an ability to play anywhere across the front three and Leao will be electric in the Champions League next season, whether that’s at Lille or elsewhere.
Best performance: Goal+assist against Nice
Leao scored the opener and assisted Pepe for the second in Lille’s 4-0 thrashing of Nice.
What next for Leao?
The teenager has already attracted interest from top European clubs, most notably Barcelona and Manchester City. Although he could develop immensely under a manager like Pep Guardiola, game time is paramount at this stage in his career. There’s areas of his game which need rounding out, only natural for a player of his age, so it’s unlikely he’ll leave this season. The elite sides will no doubt be watching his progress in Europe next term.
Honourable mentions: Houssem Aouar (Lyon), Youcef Atal (Nice)
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