European Football

Ligue 1 Team of the Season Part 3: The Attack

Let’s add a bit of “va-va-voom”, as Thierry Henry would say…

Welcome back to the Ligue 1 Team of the Season, where we name our front three. You might know who is in this, but I would be ready for a surprise near the end…

Let’s get started.

Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain)

Yeah, Mbappé still had to be here.

The Ligue 1 Golden Boot winner has enjoyed an outstanding campaign, one that saw him become arguably PSG’s most important outfield player with a string of strong domestic and European performances. We all know what makes him an elite player at this point, and that was reinforced this season. His searing pace, incredible confidence on the ball, and ability to make things happen from nothing is what turned him into a star in Paris, and this shone to the forefront even more this season. He has been involved in a goal in basically every single league game he has played for his team, a stat that is always a mark of a truly remarkable attacking talent. It was enough to earn him a nomination for Ligue 1 Player of the Season, an award he has already won previously in his career and one that he will likely be the favorite to win this season.

Now, yes, PSG are in a bit of a predicament when it comes to the title race. They have been the architects of their own downfall, with their title fate now out of their control going into the final day of the season. It is looking very possible that Mbappé will not finish the season as a league champion for the first time since his professional debut season for Monaco in 2015-16 (which is quite a remarkable stat when you think about it), but I would think it to be very harsh to blame PSG’s misfortune on him. PSG are a quite flawed team, especially in the midfield and defense, but Mbappé did his best to keep them in the title race and get them to the point where they could win it on the final day.

Mbappé is an incredible footballing talent, we all know this. This should not be a surprise to anyone. He is arguably the best player in Ligue 1, and while he would not be my choice for Ligue 1 Player of the Season, I would not be surprised if he ended up winning it. Should this be his last season in Paris, given that he has yet to extend his contract, he will leave the club as one of their most talented ever players.

Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyonnais)

Now here is my pick for Ligue 1 Player of the Season. Yes, I support Lyon. Yes, I am biased. No, that does not mean I am wrong.

While Mbappé will likely win, and the Frenchman’s win would be warranted, I genuinely do not think that there is a player who has been more important and influential to their team’s success this season than Memphis Depay has been for Lyon. The Dutchman was quite literally the focal point of Lyon’s attack for most of the season, operating as a false nine in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3, and his incredible form in the first half of the season was the key contributor to Les Gones finishing the first half of the season as the league leaders. Yes, the system started falling apart in the second half of the season, but I am much more willing to blame those issues on Garcia than any of the players, and Depay has adapted well to moving back on the left for the final run in. It is his incredible understanding of space, ability on the ball, and tenacity that allows him to be such a deadly attacker. He is confident and skilled enough to beat a defender off the dribble, while being talented enough on the ball to play a crucial through pass to set up a teammate or take a chance at goal himself. It is these skills that has allowed him to be the league’s second-leading scorer and leading assister going into the final day of the season and accounting for nearly 40% of Lyon’s league goals this season.

And then there is the effect on team mentality that he has, and that used to be a negative statement before now. Memphis is Lyon’s captain, their main leader on the pitch, and someone who seems to elevate the play of everyone around him. Gone are the attitude problems and reputation that followed Memphis when he arrived in the Rhône a few years ago, he is now the main leader of this team. His relentless, never-say-die mentality rubs off on his teammates, and it also helps that he always finds himself in the right place at the right time when Lyon need a goal or a chance created. He boosts this team in so many tangible and intangible ways, and without him, I highly doubt Lyon would have finished the season in the top four, let alone be close to the title race.

Yes, I am still very biased. Yes, Mbappé still had a very good season. But to me, I do not think there is a player more important for his team than Memphis for Lyon, and I do not think there is a player that has had more of an impact on where his team finishes the season than the Dutchman has had. He is an easy inclusion in a team of the season, but he is also my slightly controversial pick for player of the season.

Wissam Ben Yedder (AS Monaco)

And here we have everyone’s least favorite player to go against on FIFA Ultimate Team. Wissam Ben Yedder was always solid for Toulouse and Sevilla, but he has seemingly unlocked another side of his game since joining Monaco, and he has helped elevate the Principality team out of their post-title banter era and into the Champions League once again.

Ben Yedder is a player who is not very physical, but he makes up for this lack of strength with an incredible confidence and ability on the ball, which comes from his futsal background. He operates very well in close quarters, and he combines this dribbling ability with a smart positional sense and lethal finishing ability. He is very adept with both feet, able to pass and score well with his left and his right, which makes him an even more dangerous attacker. He had some inconsistencies this season, but tallying 20 goals and seven assists in the league is still a very respectable return, and he was very important in ensuring Monaco were finishing near the top of the table once again.

Now, I hear what you might be thinking. This is not Neymar. Neymar is not in this team, and he is also not in the honorable mentions (spoiler alert) for the simple reason that he only played half of the season. In that half of a season, his statistical returns were not all that mind-blowing, and while he had some good individual performances, he was clearly not at his best for most of the season and was a level below the Neymar we have seen in Paris in previous years. Despite this, he did get a nomination for Ligue 1 Player of the Season, alongside the aforementioned Ben Yedder, Depay, and Mbappé, but I cannot really consider a player who played for half of a season in a Team of the Season just because of his name value. Ben Yedder was more influential and helped his team more this season than Neymar did. That might be very controversial, and clearly the UNFP did not agree with me, as Neymar made their team of the season over Ben Yedder, but I simply cannot agree with that. It is a team of the season, not a team of half of the season.

And there you have it, the front three of our Ligue 1 Team of the Season. Agree with my picks? Think that I left someone out? Let me know in the comments.

Join us next time when we will highlight some honorable mentions that did not quite do enough to make the full team.

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