Breakthrough stars of 2016-17
By A. Scott
Ligue1.com picks five of the stars to have emerged in the first half of the 2016-17 season.
Wylan Cyprien (OGC Nice)
It seems crazy to think now, but many thought Nice could find the going tough this season after losing several key players in the summer. Among them was captain Nampalys Mendy, the influential midfielder sold to Leicester City. To replace him, Les Aiglons looked to Cyprien, signing the 21-year-old from RC Lens in Ligue 2. He had just one season in the top flight under his belt before arriving at the Allianz Riviera but he has been a revelation for Lucien Favre's side, and just as important an acquisition as Dante, Mario Balotelli and Younès Belhanda. He has played in every league game and weighed in with five goals, among them a long-range winner late on against Olympique de Marseille and a brilliant free-kick in the 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain, when he was outstanding.
Watch: Cyprien scores against PSG
"I know what I am capable of. If I didn't think I had the qualities to make it here, I would have chosen a lesser challenge. The whole club has shown confidence in me. They felt I had the potential and have thrown me straight in," Cyprien, who has broken into the France under-21 set-up, recently told sports daily L'Equipe.
Tiémoué Bakayoko (AS Monaco)
Monaco have scored a remarkable 56 goals in the first half of the season, making them the most prolific side in any of Europe's big five leagues. So it seems odd to highlight the contribution of Bakayoko, a 22-year-old defensive midfielder who nevertheless scored in the principality club's last two outings of the year against Olympique Lyonnais and SM Caen. But the 22-year-old has been superb, leading to inevitable speculation linking him with a big-money switch to the English Premier League. Signed from Stade Rennais FC for a reported €8 million in the summer of 2014, his debut was a disaster - he was substituted after just 32 minutes in a 2-1 home defeat to FC Lorient.
Watch: Bakayoko scores rare goal against Lyon
That first season was a struggle but he took on greater responsibility last season following the departure of Geoffrey Kondgobia and has really emerged as a key player this season, alongside Fabinho in central midfield in Leonardo Jardim's flourishing 4-4-2 system. "The first two seasons were tough, they served as a lesson to me," Bakayoko, a Paris-born France under-21 international of Ivorian origin, told L'Equipe. "I don't regret these two years, they shaped me. Now I feel ready to take on any challenge."
Marçal (EA Guingamp)
What a start to the season it has been for Guingamp, who sit fifth at the halfway stage. Antoine Kombouaré's side have beaten Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain at home, held AS Monaco away and won at the Parc OL, among other fine results. This is a team with no superstars, where everyone has played their part. Among them, the unheralded Brazilian left-back Marçal, a loan signing from Portuguese giants SL Benfica. He has not yet made an impact at Benfica, having spent last season on loan at Gaziantepspor in Turkey. But the Lisbon club will have been keeping close tabs in his displays in Brittany.
Watch: Marçal lays on both goals as Guingamp beat Nancy
The 27-year-old has played in all bar two of Guingamp's games, and has laid on five goals storming forward down the left flank, including Jimmy Briand's second in the 2-2 draw at FC Metz that brought the curtain down on their year.
Maxime Lopez (Olympique de Marseille)
Marseille fans had been waiting a long time to see a local boy emerge through the ranks to star in the first team at the Vélodrome. Since Samir Nasri in fact. In Lopez they have a potential hero for years to come. Just 1.67m tall, he is "a Spanish-style midfielder" in the words of Nasri, these days with Sevilla. "He is a lovely player. I hope he can carry on like this and stay at OM as long as possible." Lopez had been on the fringes of the first team for some time and made three substitute appearances under Franck Passi in the first two months of the season. But the appointment of Rudi Garcia as coach has led to Lopez becoming a first-team regular. He made his first start in a Coupe de la Ligue win at Clermont Foot and has started all nine Ligue 1 games since.
Watch: Lopez scores his first Ligue 1 goal
Lopez, born in Marseille and whose elder brother Julien plays for third-tier Marseille Consolat, put in an outstanding display in a 3-0 win over AS Nancy-Lorraine on his 19th birthday earlier this month and scored his first Ligue 1 goal in the recent win at Dijon FCO. Marseille are improving under Rudi Garcia, and the France under-20 cap's displays have been central to their revival. "When you were born in Marseille and you play for OM alongside players like Florian Thauvin, Bafé Gomis and Lassana Diarra, you can only be happy. A waking dream? A dream full stop, a young lad's dream," said Lopez recently.
Loïs Diony (Dijon FCO)
Dijon are giving themselves every chance of beating the drop on their return to Ligue 1 and Diony has played a large part in helping the Burgundy club grind out some impressive results, particularly at home. The 24-year-old has formed a fine partnership with Julio Tavares in attack and causes frequent problems to opponents by peeling out to the left flank and cutting back inside.
Watch: Diony bags brace in Dijon's win over Rennes
Having spent time on the books at Girondins de Bordeaux and FC Nantes, Diony dropped into the amateur ranks before he joined Dijon in 2014 and scored 11 goals in their run to promotion last season. This season he has five goals - including a brace in a 3-0 win at home to Stade Rennais FC - and five assists. He wants to go on to reach double figures in goals. "It is always good to get to 10 goals. Last year I got 11 in Ligue 2, but 10 in Ligue 1 would not be the same as that," he told France Football.