Even before the start of the 2021/22 Ligue 1 season, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary year. As a whole, there’ve always been questions over the quality of the French top flight. Many have argued that despite it being one of the best leagues in the world, it doesn’t offer the same competitiveness as do other competitions. However, with the formation of a superteam over at Paris Saint-Germain, more eyes will be focusing on the league than ever before and some of the other Ligue 1 standout players to watch for in the 2021/22 season.
Apart from your typical Paris superstars like Lionel Messi, Achraf Hakimi, and Kylian Mbappe, there is a wealth of incredible talent elsewhere in France at the moment. A number of promising players have shown great improvements since last season and have turned some heads through the first nine rounds.
With the league heading into the international break just before Matchweek 10, here’s an analysis of some of the most prominent names to look out for thus far.
Ligue 1 Standout Players To Watch
His performances so far for Angers SCO have been nothing short of impressive. The 27-year-old French wingback has come to life after a notable switch to his positional role in the side. Traditionally a right-winger, Jimmy Cabot’s switch to wingback has allowed him to utilize his skillset in a more effective manner. His combination of defensive awareness, forward play, and determination has made him one of the better players in Ligue 1 thus far.
The freedom of the wingback role has suited Cabot well because of the intensity he brings on both sides of the ball. He currently leads the league for total tackles plus interceptions (59), dribblers tackled (21), and total pressures in the attacking third amongst defenders (29). Being 2nd in the league in successful pressures (65), he’s constantly hounding the opposition to force errors and regain the ball for his side. Because he’s such a quick and agile athlete, he covers ground at a rate that allows him to win the ball frequently and with ease.
Another aspect of his game that ties into his quickness is his ability to advance the ball up the pitch. Leading the league for carries into the final third (35) and total progressive dribbling distance (2,204 yards), he’s always moving the play in a positive direction. Because he’s so progressive, he naturally brings his side closer to the opposition goal, leading to more opportunities to create scoring chances.
Cabot’s been a consistent, hardworking, and incredibly productive player for Angers. Without any significant weaknesses to his game, he could easily end up being in the team of the season if he continues this performing at this level.
After playing mostly on the wing last season for OGC Nice, Amine Gouiri has found great success playing as a mobile center-forward. With five goals and three assists, the 21-year-old has shown that he’s capable of both scoring and bringing his teammates into the game. Because of the freedom he’s been given to roam while attacking, his game has really started to flow.
Gouiri’s linkup play and chance creation are really the most standout attribute he’s got apart from his goalscoring. He’s currently 1st in total shot-creating actions (43) and goal-creating actions (7), which demonstrates purpose and decisiveness in his passing. Playing around 2.5 key passes per match, he poses an active threat in the final third of the pitch. He’s also surprisingly quick, with a sharp and controlled dribbling ability. This is a crucial aspect of his playmaking, as he’s either driving in from the wing or receiving through the middle to distribute or take a shot on goal.
The young Frenchmen is off to a great start and is really looking like he can be this productive all season. The biggest downside to his game is definitely his composure as he’s prone to missing quite a few scoring opportunities. Despite this, Gouiri has what it takes to be one of the best forwards in the league and is certainly on the right track.
After helping Clermont Foot gain promotion to the top flight for the first time in its history, it’s no surprise that Mohamed Bayo’s adapted so well to the top level in France. After finishing with 22 goals in 2020-2021, the 23-year-old has shown that he’s got a great knack for scoring.
Bayo’s playstyle is a hybrid mix between a target man and a poacher. He’s the type of number nine that’ll poke in rebounded shots or get on the end of lofted crosses with his heading ability. Ranked 3rd in the league in shots on target per 90 (1.84), he’s able to combine his positioning with his shooting accuracy to force opposing goalkeepers to be on their very best. He stands at 188 cm, has good strength, and can hold the ball up very well with his close control.
With this combination of height, anticipation, and finishing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up with more than 20 league goals this campaign. Positives aside, the biggest downside to the Guinean forward involves his defensive contribution. Although Clermont Foot isn’t a side that puts an emphasis on pressing, Bayo lacks commitment in supporting the team in defense. In the end, his attacking qualities outweigh the drawbacks.
The 26-year-old Nigerian has arguably been one of the most improved players in Ligue 1. In addition to leading the league in assists (5), he’s already managed to equal his assist tally from last season in only nine matches. The improvements he’s made to his game – most notably to his directness and playmaking – have transformed him into a really dangerous player for Nantes.
How effective a winger can be depends on how frequently they attack the opposition fullback and how well they service the center-forward. Moses Simon, as you might’ve guessed, has been able to do just that. Being 2nd in the league for both carries into the penalty area (19) and progressive dribbling distance amongst forward players (1,273 yards) highlights how often he’s looking to get his team into advantageous positions. His speed on the ball allows him to get in behind and play frequent passes into dangerous areas. Simon is 2nd in total key passes (24) and 3rd for crosses into the box (6), proving that he’s been a constant threat out on that left-wing.
His performances between the previous season and the current one are like night and day. However, the one aspect of his game that still needs some improvement is his ball control and composure when receiving. Although he currently leads the league in miscontrolled passes (31), this is a technical quality that can certainly be improved upon over time.
After having been one of the better players in Ligue 1 last season, the 23-year-old has continued to demonstrate his unique and productive qualities on the pitch. Although Stade Brestois has begun the season in poor form, Faivre has maintained as the best player in the squad, notching two goals and four assists in eight matches.
The Frenchman is very good at creating with the ball at his feet, whether it be off the dribble or by linking with his teammates. Being ranked 4th in the league in successful dribbles (21), he’s great at getting out of tight spaces, turning, and running at the opposition defense. What’s great about his style is that he’s progressive on the ball and constantly looks to bring the play forward. With 20 total carries into the final third of the pitch, he naturally moves his side into positions where they can look to create scoring chances. He’s also exceptional from set-pieces, producing the 3rd most shot-creating actions in the league (12) and provided the most assists.
As the campaign progresses, it’s without a doubt that Faivre will continue to play at a high level. He’s one of the most consistent and reliable creators in the league, and he’ll surely continue to prove as such. For those that haven’t recognised his talent as of yet, they’ll open their eyes soon enough.
Despite the poor start that FC Metz has had to the campaign, Matthieu Udol has truly been one of the better players in the squad. The 25-year-old fullback has been an incredibly consistent and reliable defender, putting in good performances against every team he’s faced.
Defensively, Udol is superb. He’s a good athlete, aggressive, and sharp in anticipating opposition attacks. Currently tied with Jimmy Cabot for the most tackles plus interceptions (59), Udol demonstrates how alert he can be at the back. His desire to win the ball accounts for how successful he is in the press for Metz, ranking 5th in successful pressure percentage (45.3%). When he tries to win the ball, he goes in with committed intent and is intense in doing so.
The Frenchman is a bit of an under-the-radar type of player for most Ligue 1 fans, but he’ll be making a name for himself soon if he remains this consistent. Despite not being the most adept player offensively, he’s more than capable of providing solidity for his side’s defense.