Team picks: Cream of the crop

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A tenacious tactician, a prodigal son, a re-born superstar, a near-great escape and an unheralded conjurer… join the team for a look at their selected highlights from a superb season in France's top flight.

Andy Scott - Nice work by Favre

Amid all the plaudits given to AS Monaco for their brilliant title win, let's not forget the role played this season by OGC Nice. Commentating on Ligue 1 for an international audience, it has been a pleasure to work on a number of outstanding games involving Lucien Favre's side.

The 3-2 home win over Olympique de Marseille in September, when Mario Balotelli scored twice on his debut, will not be easily forgotten. Nor will the superbly mature performances in holding Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 away in December and then beating Unai Emery's side 3-1 in April - and the score-line in that game flattered PSG. There was also a rousing comeback from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Caen the night Wylan Cyprien - what a season he had on a personal level - suffered a campaign-ending knee injury.

Nice have set a new club points record en route to a first podium finish since 1976. They have done it with a fine and brilliantly balanced young team. Few would have imagined Nice improving on their showing last season when they come fourth under Claude Puel, but they have. Favre has done a remarkable job.   

>> COACH PROFILE: Lucien Favre


Dave Crossan - Return of the Cheick

The giant Malian striker has long been a favourite, so I was delighted to see the former Bordeaux forward return to the French game with Metz in January. I knew from the moment he was brought in by Philippe Hinschberger, on loan from Turkish club Osmanlispor, that there was no way the club were going to get relegated.

Ungainly as he might look at times, the 1m94-tall forward is remarkably effective. Eight important goals in 14 games helped Metz secure their survival with a couple of rounds to spare. In his last four seasons in the French game, Diabaté has bagged an impressive 38 goals in 76 Ligue 1 appearances. 

A round of media interviews has helped the genial Diabaté gain cult status, while his grabbing the microphone to share his joy with the supporters after the Lorraine derby win over Nancy at the end of April only enhanced his status with the Grenat faithful. It looks like the Malian international will still be a Metz player next season and that can only be good news for the club's attempts to make themselves a Ligue 1 fixture.

>> ITW - Diabaté: The power of positivity

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Cheick Diabaté


Ed Solomon - Balotelli's renaissance

AS Monaco may have wowed at the top of the table but the season highlight for me has been the re-emergence of Mario Balotelli as a genuinely world-class striker. The Italian rocked up at OGC Nice having failed to score in double figures since his haul of 14 with AC Milan in the 2013-14 season. Question marks surrounded Lucien Favre's summer signing after an ill-fated spell a Liverpool, but any doubts have been addressed in resounding fashion.

The opener in April's 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, three goals in two games against Olympique de Marseille and a brace against Monaco in May were proof positive that the 26-year-old still has the flair for the big occasion. Favre said recently that signing Balotelli was "a gamble." A haul of seventeen goals in all competitions this season has ensured that Nice have qualified for the biggest of them all - the Champions League - for the first time since the 1959-60 campaign. My, how that gamble has paid off…

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Mario Balotelli


Stephen Willis - Grosicki the Great

Perhaps due his January move from Stade Rennais to EPL side Hull, Poland international (49 caps) Kamil Grosicki didn't receive much end-of-season love for his magnificent strike against Saint-Etienne in Week 16, and I would contend that this is a great loss for football fans everywhere - so here it is:

The 28-year-old has had his fair share of ups and downs - gambling addiction and arrests for driving without a licence as well as the odd disciplinary issue - but the winger has also shown an uncanny knack for spectacular goals and his over-the-shoulder effort to beat Stéphane Ruffier was perhaps his very best.

That he came off the bench to score this amazing goal and seal a 2-0 was little surprise - he was often used as a super-sub, on either wing or behind a striker, as he first helped Rennes to avoid the drop in 2014 before becoming a key element in Rolland Courbis' side (nine goals) as they finished eighth in season 2015-16.

>> Eurostar: Kamil Grosicki (2016)

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Kamil Grosicki

>> CLUB PROFILE: Stade Rennais FC

Ian Holyman - the 'Lorientada'

If there is one Spanish word that everyone in France learned this season, it's 'la remontada'. Barcelona's miraculous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League will live long in the memory. The near-escape of Lorient has been christened the 'Lorientada', and Bernard Casoni's men might still complete it.

They came within a minute of doing it in Week 38 only for Ronny Rodelin's 91st-minute goal at the Parc des Princes to save SM Caen instead and take Lorient into the play-off with Troyes. Considering they looked all but down at the halfway stage of the season, that in itself is a major achievement, and all done by playing their way out of trouble as Olympique Lyonnais — beaten 4-1 at home — and FC Metz — trounced 5-1 in Brittany — can attest.

>> LIGUE 1 TABLE: Final placings


>> LIGUE 1 SURPRISES: Team of the season

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