A chance for the rest of the league to shine…
Welcome back to the Ligue 1 Team of the Season, where we will be wrapping this up by naming our honorable mentions. It was an incredibly competitive season, meaning some very talented players missed out on being in the main team, so we now get the chance to talk about those who were great, but not great enough…
Keylor Navas (Paris Saint-Germain)
The other side of that difficult choice. Navas is a fantastic goalkeeper, and he did end up winning the award for best goalkeeper in Ligue 1 from the UNFP, but I just cannot put him ahead of Maignan. Yes, Navas is largely the reason why PSG stayed as close as they did in the title race, but he was just second best to, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in the world.
Navas is athletic, he has cat-like reflexes, he is very composed on the ball as a goalkeeper, and he is so, incredibly reliable. He might be one of the most important signings in PSG’s history, as anyone who followed French football for the years prior to the Costa Rican’s arrival in Paris will attest to how much of a mess their goalkeeper situation was. Navas is easily PSG’s most important player this season, more so than Neymar or Mbappé in my mind, and without him, I doubt they would have kept the title race as close. He is unlucky to miss out on the main team, but there was no way I could not select Maignan.
Jason Denayer (Olympique Lyonnais)
Outside of the top two center backs in the league, there was not really any candidate that was incredibly consistent for the entire season. Either due to a drop off in form or injury issues, most other center backs in Ligue 1 enjoyed up and down seasons at best. Arguably the best of that grouping, however, is Lyon’s Jason Denayer. The Belgian was the foundation of the OL defense and was crucial in Lyon’s success this season, especially during their strong run in the first half of the season. It was largely thanks to a stout defense that Lyon were able to finish the first half of the season top of the league.
Denayer is a very solid defender, positionally sound and able to play without fear or doubt. He is strong in the tackle and particularly very willing to throw his body into difficult places to block shots or passes. He is composed on the ball, often being the main man who plays the ball out from the back for OL. Despite a drop in form and injury issues during the second half of the season, I feel confident about giving him a honorable mention position, even over the likes of PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe, who also had a strong season.
Fabien Centonze (FC Metz)
And now we get into some of the fun parts. Due to the strong seasons from four different clubs, we unfortunately had very little representation from the rest of Ligue 1 in the main Team of the Season, but that will change dramatically here.
Fabien Centonze has had a bit of a journeyman start to his career. Despite being only 25, he has already played for Évian Thonon, Clermont, Lens, and now Metz. Despite that jumping around, he is still a very solid player, and he has enjoyed the best season of his professional career this year, helping to solidify Metz from newly promoted yo-yo club to fairly comfortably mid table this season. Centonze is a right back, we do not have many good right backs in the world at the moment, so he is that much more important. While he is not the greatest going forward, with only a goal to his name this season, he is incredibly stout defensively. He is a very smart player in positioning and tackling, which reflects his statistical positioning as being at or near the top in tackles, blocks, and interceptions this season. Metz had one of the best goal difference margins of the mid-table Ligue 1 teams, and the solidity that players like Centonze provided went a long way to ensure that Les Grenats remained in the first division this season. He might be a player to keep an eye on when the transfer window opens.
Farid Boulaya (FC Metz)
Staying with FC Metz, we have their main creative spark up next. Farid Boulaya, like Centonze, is a bit of a journeyman. The 28 year old Franco-Algerian midfielder has already played for Istres, Clermont, Bastia, and Girona in his career before joining Metz in 2018. He has since found a home at the club, becoming a central player in Metz’s promotion efforts and helping them retain their place in Ligue 1.
This season is probably the best of his professional career. Not only was he easily Metz’s best player, he was among the best creative midfielders in Ligue 1. Despite playing for a team that, admittedly, is not that good, his assist and chance creation numbers are among the best in the league. Much of Metz’s success this season could be credited to Boulaya’s fantastic performances. He even earned Player of the Month honors, as well as a maiden Algeria call up, as a reward for his strong season. The midfield of the starting team was fairly locked in stone, but if there was a player that was on the verge of breaking in this season, it would have been Boulaya.
Jonathan Bamba (Lille OSC)
We go from mid table to the champions, where Jonathan Bamba again picked up the mantle of unsung hero for Les Dogues this season. Taking a more creative role, Bamba produced less in the goalscoring department compared to previous seasons, but his creative work from the left wing was noticeable in Lille’s play. He finished among the league leaders in assists, while being near the top in key passes and other creative statistics. He started the season very well, which led to him earning Ligue 1 Player of the Month honors early on.
Bamba’s presence in the honorable mentions, instead of the starting team, comes from the unfortunate drop off in form that hit him about midway through the season. Despite this, he returned to being a fairly consistent performer for Lille by the end of the season, and his contributions at the beginning have to be commended when discussing Lille’s title triumph. While he is not among the most important players in this team, he was a constant and fairly reliable for most of the season. He deserves his credit.
Kevin Volland (AS Monaco)
Ben Yedder may have been the most prolific of Monaco’s forwards, but you can make a genuine argument that Kevin Volland was the most important. The German arrived in the Principality before this season, having been the main signing brought to the club by Niko Kovač. Volland repaid that faith with a very strong season, scoring 16 times in the league and being among the top in the league in goal contributions in a season where Monaco had the chance to win the title.
Now, his numbers do not look as stellar as many other forwards in this league, especially when compared to Mbappé or Depay, but you can tell how crucial he is to Monaco by watching them play. With Ben Yedder as the main striker, Volland was often asked to drop deeper and link play between the midfield and attack. While this did not turn into assists, it did mean that he helped the team flow through possession from midfield to attack, much to the benefit of players like Ben Yedder. Not quite enough to make the full team, but more than worthy of inclusion as an honorable mention due to his importance for the Monegasque attack.
Burak Yilmaz (Lille OSC)
Ok, time for me to be honest. Upon further reflection, I probably should have put Yilmaz in the starting team over Ben Yedder. Despite not having as good stats, I do think he was better this season. But since we cannot change the past, we can give him his due here.
Burak Yilmaz was the signing of the season in Ligue 1. Joining Lille on a free transfer, the 35 year old Turkish striker seemed to defy the laws of nature and aging, putting in several crucial performances and being probably the most important outfield player in this Lille title-winning team, earning Player of the Month honors and a nomination for Player of the Season in Ligue 1. His 16 goals made him among the league’s leading scorers, and many of his goals came at very important times, including two goals in a 3-2 comeback victory over Lyon near the end of the season. His 16 goals also came in only 28 games, while, for comparison, Depay and Ben Yedder both got 20 goals in 37 games. Playing nine less games and scoring nearly as many goals as the players he is being compared against is a very notable achievement. Had Yilmaz not missed nearly two months due to a calf injury, it is very possible that he would score even more goals. Had he not gotten injured, it is also very possible that Lille run away with the league instead of leaving it to the final day. That was the importance and influence that the Turk brought to the team, a player who was there when he was needed.
He should have been in the main team. Sorry Burak, my fault. But here is some of the praise that you more than deserve.
Andy Delort (Montpellier HSC)
And we finish this team of the season with another of the most underrated players in the league. Montpellier’s Andy Delort has been Mr. Reliable for several years. He usually always scored quite a few goals, he usually added a decent number of assists to that total, and he was almost always Montpellier’s best player. This season, all of that is still true, but it is cranked up to 11.
Montpellier were, at least until late in the season, genuinely in the running for a European place. La Paillade were genuinely a fun and engaging attacking side, and that potency revolved around two players. One being Gaëtan Laborde, who was a very difficult choice to leave off of this list, and the other was Delort. The Franco-Algerian striker was nothing short of outstanding this season, showing a very well-rounded skillset that made him one of the best forwards in Ligue 1 this season. He was strong enough to hold the ball up well as a target man, composed enough on the ball to provide for his teammates, and clinical enough to be among the league’s best goalscorers. He was responsible for just shy of a third of Montpellier’s goals this season, which is quite a notable statistic. While Montpellier did not end their season in the position they would have wanted, Delort did enough to almost get them there.
And there you have it, our Ligue 1 Team of the Season, the best players of what was undoubtedly the best Ligue 1 season in recent memory. Agree with my picks? Think I left anyone out? Let me know in the comments.
Join us in about a week for the final part of this series, where we look at the final major league left to cover: Serie A!
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