One to watch: Wissam Ben Yedder
Get to know Wissam Ben Yedder, Ligue 1 Conforama's top scorer firing AS Monaco back up the table.
Monaco, French champions as recently as 2017, endured a difficult start to the season, failing to win any of their first six games and finding themselves in the relegation zone until the end of September.
But then Wissam Ben Yedder put together a six-match scoring streak. Signed in the summer from Sevilla FC, the France forward's winner in Friday's 1-0 victory at FC Nantes took him onto nine goals for the season, two clear of Olympique Lyonnais' Moussa Dembélé, LOSC's Victor Osimhen and Habib Diallo of FC Metz.
With four wins in their last five games, Monaco have shot back up to 11th, and league-winning captain Radamel Falcao - who departed for Galatasary SK a month after Ben Yedder's arrival in the principality - is fast fading from Les Rouges et Blancs' memory.
Watch: Highlights of Monaco's 1-0 win over Nantes
Nicknamed Benyebut - a portmanteau of his surname and but, the French for goal - and for good reason, what else is there to know about Wissam Ben Yedder?
Born in 1990 in Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris home to a significant North African diaspora, Ben Yedder grew up alongside Manchester City and Algeria winger Riyadh Mahrez. The pair played futsal and football together in their youth, a time Ben Yedder remembers fondly.
"It's great to look back at when we used to play in the neighbourhood, seeing Mum shouting and also how we grew up playing in football tournaments between the estates," he told uefa.com. "We'd go to another estate and play them. Also, seeing yourself progress bit by bit - those are happy memories."
Ben Yedder's progress in the game was incremental. Initially rejected by major professional football clubs due to his small frame, the aspiring forward found his first successes in futsal, the sport's indoor sister, which he took all the way to international level with France, beyond his teens.
By then, Toulouse FC had seen enough to give him his chance in the game, and he was handed his Ligue 1 Conforama debut by Alain Casanova in October 2010, coming on in a 2-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain. Seventy-one goals in 174 games later and Ben Yedder was off to Spain with perennial UEFA Europa League winners, Sevilla.
Capped by France in March 2018 after impressing in La Liga - having repeatedly spurned the advances of Tunisia - Ben Yedder became the first player to represent Les Bleus at football and futsal. Now, after the start he has made at Monaco, more records appear to be his to break.
Style of play:
With his low centre of gravity - Ben Yedder stands at 1.70m or 5'7" - and knack for being in the right place at the right time, the Monaco man is a menace for opposition defenders. Even when they can get near him, Ben Yedder has filled out significantly since those early rejections, and invariably keeps possession, helped in no small part by his futsal-honed touch.
He is also happy to finish early on both feet. Markers don't know what side to show Ben Yedder onto; goalkeepers don't have time to get into position before they find themselves picking the ball out of their net. It's not dissimilar to how Romario played, for those old enough to remember the Brazil great.
Even when Monaco weren't winning, Ben Yedder was scoring; his first in a 2-2 draw with Nîmes Olympique on his home debut, his second and third coming in a 4-3 loss to Olympique de Marseille - proof positive that the he can feed off scraps.
Ben Yedder's winner against FC Nantes last Friday was taken with aplomb, leaving Fabio and Nicolas Pallois in a heap before finishing high into the goal. It also meant that he has now scored every 73 minutes he has played for Monaco, and he has solidified his place in Didier Deschamps' France squad.
What you didn't know:
Ben Yedder is already racking up the records. As well as being the first player to play for France at football and futsal, he is also Toulouse's top goalscorer since the turn of the century, his 71 goals for them seeing him surpass former France striker André-Pierre Gignac, now of Tigres UANL in Mexico.
With his goal against Nantes, Ben Yedder also became the fastest player to reach nine goals with the principality side across 50 seasons in the French top-flight. For a club that produced Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet and have also fielded George Weah and Falcao over the years, that is quite some achievement.
For a penalty-box predator, Ben Yedder has already scored some delicious goals - the most recent against Nantes and the winner in the previous week's 3-2 win over Stade Rennais FC ( a fine first-time finish from a tight angle) - spring to mind.
Watch: Ben Yedder's fine finish against Montpellier
But none has been better than the finish against Montpellier Hérault SC in Week 9. Trailing 3-0, Monaco might have been forgiven for letting their heads go down, but Ben Yedder was having none of that. In the 68th minute he picked up the ball following Islam Slimani's knock-down, his quick feet took him away from three markers, and his chipped finish over Benjamin Lecomte - on his supposedly weaker left foot - left the goalkeeper with no chance.
What he said:
"I had a pretty difficult childhood. Not many people succeed, there are lots of talented young players and lots of players with huge potential and so it's hard to come looking for players there. It's really tough because there are lots of players who, unfortunately, just lack a bit of success."
- On his early years in Sarcelles
"I've always believed in my own success, I've always given myself the best chance to achieve that and I think the key is to have faith. Never stop believing. Even when things aren't going well, you have to keep believing that you'll make it."
- on his initial setbacks in football
"I have a lot of respect for Tunisia, but France is something else. It's the team I want to play for."
- On his international career
What they said:
"His call-up is not just because of the two goals at Old Trafford [Ben Yedder scored twice in a 2-1 win for Sevilla against Manchester United in March 2018]. Even if it play in his favour. He's scored more than 15 goals for four or five seasons now."
- Deschamps on handing Ben Yedder his France debut last year
"Ben Yedder and Slimani is a beautiful marriage. One of them is strong, powerful and runs in behind. The other has technical finesse and really knows where the goal is."
- Jardim on Ben Yedder and his blossoming striker partnership with Slimani