6 youngsters set for a breakthrough season in Ligue 1: Cherki, Konrad…

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Ligue 1 may be home to football’s most lavishly-assembled team in PSG, but it’s also arguably the biggest and best hotbed for emerging talent in European football. 

The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Eduardo Camavinga have caught the eye in recent years, while last year players such as Sven Botman and Jeremy Doku demonstrated that great prospects just don’t stop coming through in the French top flight.

So who is most likely to follow in their footsteps? We’ve picked out six players that look on the cusp of breaking through.

Konrad De La Fuente

Miami-born, Catalonia-raised winger Konrad established a reputation as a promising player at Barcelona but his only appearances for the first team last term came with brief cameos in the cup competitions.

Following a lack of game time, he moved to Marseille shortly before his 20th birthday and looks like he’ll have much more of a prominent role for Jorge Sampaoli’s all-action side – he even notched an assist off the bench on his Ligue 1 debut for Marseille’s first goal in a three-goal comeback 3-2 victory at Montpellier.

Here’s everything you need to know about how he made his way up through the ranks at Barcelona.

Rayan Cherki

People have been talking up Cherki ever since he made his debut for boyhood club Lyon as a 16-year-old back in October 2019. He went on to make 27 Ligue 1 appearances last term but 22 of those were off the bench and there remains a sense we’re still waiting for him to become a regular first-teamer.

He turns 18 next week and has already been entrusted to start Lyon’s 2021-22 opener, a 1-1 draw at home to Brest. This could well be the year that things click into place for the attacking midfielder, who has outstanding technical ability, ball control and vision.

Many are expecting Cherki to follow in the footsteps of Nabil Fekir, Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa as the next big thing to emerge from Lyon’s esteemed talent factory.

Isaac Lihadji

Lihadji’s decision to sign his first professional contract with Lille, having controversially left Marseille to do so, appears to have been vindicated by their against-all-odds title victory last season.

The 19-year-old forward had a role on the periphery of Christophe Galtier’s miracle workers last term, although 14 of his 15 appearances were from the bench – totalling less than 200 minutes.

He looks set for more minutes under new coach Jocelyn Gourvennec, making a fine first impression by setting up Jonathan Ikone in a 13-minute cameo appearance as Lille fought back to draw 3-3 at Metz in their opening game of the season.

Xavi Simons

Simons famously amassed a million Instagram followers at the age of just 14, so it feels like forever that we’ve been waiting forever for the Dutch La Masia graduate to make it.

“He will not be Iniesta or Xavi, but he has quality and imbalance to be able to develop a career in the first division,” Mauricio Pochettino said following the teenage midfielder’s debut last season. “He is still very young, but he has very good potential.”

Will he have fun playing behind Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar this season? Watch this space.

READ: After all the hype, we’re about to find out if Xavi Simons is the real deal

Enzo Millot

34-year-old Cesc Fabregas offers considerable experience in Monaco’s midfield, but otherwise Niko Kovac has been keen to turn to youth as he builds a dynamic and vibrant side.

The likes of Aurelien Tchouameni and Benoit Badiashile caught the eye in Monaco’s 2020-21 title charge and 19-year-old midfielder Millot may well be the next to make the step up from the academy.

He’s represented France at Under-18, Under-17 and Under-16 levels. While he’s yet to taste regular senior football, the potential there is undeniable.

Timothee Pembele

Pembele has been on Paris Saint-Germain’s books since he was 13 years old, and it’s clear that big things are expected of him – not least the fact he signed a six-year deal when he was just 15.

A centre-back, he made six appearances in Ligue 1 last term and even opened his account in a 4-0 thrashing of Strasbourg.

Following the arrival of Sergio Ramos, Pembele – who represented France at the Tokyo Olympics – appears to have had his pathway to the Parisiens’ first team blocked, so has been sent out on loan to fellow Ligue 1 side Bordeaux. His development under experienced coach Vladimir Petkovic will be worth keeping an eye on this season.


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