AS expected, defending champions Paris Saint-Germain will finish the year 2019 top of the pile in France, but there is plenty of intrigue in the places below them, with André Villas-Boas’s Marseille unexpectedly leading the chasing pack and just seven points separating third-place Lille and 14th-place Nice.
With one round of fixtures to play before the winter break, here’s my Ligue 1 Team of the Season so far.
Goalkeeper: Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Injury problems, poor form and weight issues made last season the worst campaign of Mandanda’s career, but after losing several kilos at an Alpine fitness retreat over the summer, he is back to his best. The 34-year-old’s remarkable reflexes and assured handling have helped to propel Marseille to second place in the Ligue 1 table and he has also stepped in for the injured Hugo Lloris with France.
Right Back: Léo Dubois (Lyon)
A disciplined and dogged defender who possesses a dangerous cross, Dubois has emerged as the outstanding right-back in the French top flight over the last season and a half, with his performances for Lyon since arriving from Nantes in 2018 allowing him to install himself as Didier Deschamps’s preferred alternative to Benjamin Pavard in the national squad. Sadly for Deschamps and OL coach Rudi Garcia, Dubois is facing up to four months on the sidelines after damaging knee ligaments at the end of November.
Centre-back: Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain)
Silva turned 35 in September and will be out of contract at the end of the season, but the PSG captain’s exceptional performances since the start of the campaign have helped Thomas Tuchel’s side to keep a league-high 11 clean sheets. Despite a rotating cast of centre-back partners – Marquinhos, Abdou Diallo, Presnel Kimpembé – ‘O Monstro’ rarely looks anything less than completely in control.
Centre-back: Yunis Abdelhamid (Reims)
Only PSG can match the tally of nine league goals conceded by Reims this season and Abdelhamid has played a major role in turning the team from champagne country into one of the most effective defensive sides in Europe. The tall, rugged Morocco international produced a masterful performance in his side’s shock 2-0 win away to Paris at the end of September.
Left-back: Jordan Amavi (Marseille)
Former Aston Villa left-back Amavi struggled so badly last season that then Marseille coach Rudi Garcia took to playing Hiroki Sakai – a right-footed right-back – in his place on the left flank of the OM defence. But after some initial struggles this season, the 25-year-old has been reborn under new coach André Villas-Boas and his return to form has coincided with Marseille’s surge up the standings. “When you see where I’ve come from, it gives me huge pleasure,” Amavi told Canal+ after scoring in Marseille’s 3-1 win over Bordeaux earlier this month.
— Stade de Reims (@StadeDeReims) December 18, 2019
Right midfield: Ángel Di María (Paris Saint-Germain)
With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé absent through injury and Mauro Icardi still bedding in following his loan move from Inter Milan, it was left to Di María to pick up the slack for Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of the campaign. The Argentina international was his side’s go-to man in the season’s early weeks and he approaches the campaign’s mid-point having scored 10 goals and provided 11 assists in all competitions. His first goal in PSG’s 4-1 win at Nice in October – an outside-of-the-foot lob from a tight angle on the right – was a work of art.
Central midfield: Benjamin André (Lille)
One of the lynchpins of Rennes’ shock Coupe de France success last season, André swapped Brittany for northern France in the summer when he joined Lille on a four-year contract. A tireless runner and consummate midfield organiser, the uncapped 29-year-old already looks at home at the heart of the Lille midfield and has made sure that Thiago Mendes – who left for Lyon in the summer – has not been missed.
Central midfield: Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)
Camavinga, who only turned 17 in November, has been the revelation of the Ligue 1 season and is already reported to be attracting interest from Real Madrid. Staggeringly composed for his age, the left-footed holding midfielder has produced a succession of stand-out performances and looks destined for the very top. “If he continues like this, he’s certain to have a glorious future in front of him,” says Rennes coach Julien Stéphan.
Left midfield: Dimitri Payet (Marseille)
André Villas-Boas’s introduction of a 4-3-3 formation at Marseille obliged Payet to abandon his preferred number 10 role for a position on the left flank, but after a slow start to the campaign, the former West Ham United player has rediscovered his best form in recent weeks and is now being linked with a France recall. His signature performance was a magnificent two-goal display in Marseille’s 2-1 win over Lyon at a raucous Stade Vélodrome in November.
90 – Dimitri Payet has delivered 90 assists in Ligue 1 since Opta analyzes the competition (2006/07), at least 30 more than any other player in that period. Gift . @OM_English #OMFCGB pic.twitter.com/2nd24KICcJ
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 8, 2019
Striker: Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco)
After three progressively more prolific seasons in Spain with Sevilla, Ben Yedder returned to Ligue 1 this summer with the goal of nailing down a place in Didier Deschamps’s France squad for Euro 2020. It has been a difficult campaign to date for the side from the principality, but Ben Yedder has been one of the few bright spots, forming a devastating partnership with fellow new arrival Islam Slimani and streaking to the top of the scoring charts with 11 goals in 14 games.
Striker: Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain)
A thigh injury sustained in August obliged Mbappé to endure a stop-start opening to the campaign, but the 21-year-old World Cup star has since returned to his scintillating best, scoring eight goals and laying on two assists in his last seven league outings. Now increasingly deployed in a central role, his transition from speedy wide player to goal-hungry centre-forward appears to be nearing completion.