Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Young guns and revelations of 2018-19

Publish on 17/05/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


Ligue 1 Conforama is not known as the League of Talents for nothing, with some of the brightest young stars in world football strutting their stuff in the French top flight…

Kylian Mbappé might be the best young player in world football, but there are plenty more where the Paris Saint-Germain forward came from.

Join ligue1.com as we take a look at five breakout young stars of a thrilling 2018-19 campaign.

1) Jonathan Ikoné 
Position: Attacking midfielder
Age: 21
Nationality: France (U21 cap)/DR Congo
Goals: 3
Assists: 8

Last season: Ikoné and Mbappé have quite bit in common. The pair were born in Bondy, a north-eastern suburb of Paris, just seven months apart, and grew up playing in the same youth team under Mbappé's father, Wilfried. Both have since pulled on the Rouge et Bleu jersey of PSG, but Ikoné spent last season on loan at Montpellier Hérault SC having struggled to break into the champions' first-team. While he showed promise in helping La Paillade finish 10th, few expected too much from Ikoné's third top-flight season…

This season: LOSC have won points and plaudits and PSG's closest challengers, and although Nicolas Pépé has picked up most of the headlines - and admiring glances from Europe's biggest clubs - with his 22 goals and 11 assists, it is Ikoné who makes the team tick from what has become his favourite No.10 role. Eight deliciously-delivered left-footed assists are his to boast, none sweeter than the two he got in the 5-1 thrashing of former club PSG in April, and a full international debut should be just around the corner for the France U21 star.

2) Youcef Atal
OGC Nice
Position: Right-back/winger
Age: 23
Nationality: Algeria (7 caps/1 goal)
Goals: 6
Clean sheets: 11

Last season: Atal was regarded as one of Algeria's brightest prospects when his performances as a winger-turned-full-back helped Paradou AC win promotion to the Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1 in May 2017, and he was rewarded with a first international call-up that summer. An eye injury curtailed his progress when on loan at Belgian outfit KV Kortijk last season, though, and he only turned out 10 times in the Jupiler Pro League. His subsequent move to Nice seemed like a gamble - if somewhat calculated - on the part of the south coast club.

This season: Nice have had something of a transitional season under Patrick Vieira, but Atal has thrived wherever a gap has needed to be plugged. Most often used at the right of the Arsenal legend's midfield, Atal has also played right-back and left wing, and to devastating effect. Atal snagged his first career hat-trick in firing Les Aiglons to a 3-0 win over EA Guingamp in Week 34 from the left of a front three, and his journey back up the pitch has made him the envy of France and beyond.

3) Moussa Diaby 
Paris Saint-Germain
Position: Winger
Age: 19
Nationality: France (U20 cap)/Mali
Goals: 2
Assists: 6

Diaby (l.) has deputised for Neymar (r.) with aplomb this season.

Last season: Born in Paris, Diaby joined the capital club's youth academy when he was 13, but after a handful of seasons playing in PSG's reserves, it took a loan to Crotone in Italy's Serie A for the flying winger to make his senior professional debut. Playing an hour of the Sharks' 1-1 draw with champions Juventus last April augured well, but Diaby spent the remainder of his time in Calabria on the bench, and the chances of him penetrating the PSG first-team on his return seemed slim at best.

This season: Neymar Jr. may have spent more than 100 days of the season out injured, but with Mbappé, Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler also among those able to occupy the wide attacking positions, it's not much of a stretch to claim that the newly crowned French champions have the biggest embarrassment of riches in that department in world football. That Diaby has played at all is achievement enough, but the teenager has featured in 25 league games, laying on six assists and scoring two goals as Thomas Tuchel's men have roared to an eighth French title.

4) Moussa Dembélé
Olympique Lyonnais
Position: Striker
Age: 22
Nationality: France (U21 cap)/Mali
Goals: 15
Assists: 3

Dembele has scored 19 goals in all competitions for Lyon this season.

Last season: A well-regarded striker who was already a France youth international, Dembélé fired Celtic to back-to-back Scottish Premiership titles in 2017 and 2018. His timing when playing on the shoulder of the last defender and ability to finish with both feet seemed, at times, almost unerring, but making it in Scotland and making it in France are two significantly different things…

This season: Dembélé ended the campaign as Lyon's top scorer with 15 goals despite the fact that 12 of his 31 appearances have been from the bench. Memphis Depay is tasked with leading OL's line more often than not, but Dembélé has proven so clinical that he's barely needed the minutes to prove his worth. Throw in his three assists and the striker has had a hand in a goal every 112 minutes he has played.

5) Boubacar Kamara
Olympique de Marseille
Position: Centre-back/defensive midfielder
Age: 19
Nationality: France (U20 cap)/Mauritius/Senegal
Goals: 1
Clean sheets: 10

Max Gradel (r.) is not the first attacker to have come off second-best against Kamara this term.

Last season: Marseille-born Kamara dipped his toe in Les Phocéens' first-team in 2017/18, starting five games towards the end of the season as Rudi Garcia's men ensured a fourth-place finish. Adil Rami and Rolando - full internationals for France and Portugal respectively - nonetheless seemed safe in their positions as first-choice centre-backs at the Orange Vélodrome.

This season: Standing at 6' flat and weighing less than 11 stone, it is perhaps unsurprising that Kamara has played at full-back and defensive midfield whilst coming up through the OM academy teams, but he has made the heart of Marseille's defence his own this season alongside fellow young gun Duje Caleta-Car of Croatia. Kamara's positional awareness, reading of the game and sense of timing more than make up for a potential lack of physical stature. No OM centre-back has featured in more than his 31 games, and a third of those have ended in clean sheets.