Lassana Diarra rejuvenated as one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders

lass diarra

Olympique de Marseilles midfielder Lassana Diarra was named in the 2015/16 Ligue 1 Team of the Year for an outstanding campaign that led to him being recalled to the French national team after a five-year absence. The 31-year-old’s career was spiralling following a failed spell in Russia and subsequent year out of the game due to a contract dispute with a former club, but he returned to the French top-flight in fantastic shape and has since taken the league by storm.

It had been 10 years since Diarra last played in his native country, and from the off he looked right at home. Marseilles endured a disappointing league campaign, having been threatened with relegation in the second-half of the season following an 11-game winless run, but two wins in May ended any chance of them going down. Diarra’s performances remained at a top level despite the club’s struggles, and it led to a return to the French side five years on from his last international appearance.

He’s since added three caps to the 30 accumulated before, and could be in line for one last big move to a European giant if rumours are to be believed. He’s put his name back on the map after being in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year, while also making the shortlist for Ligue Player of the Year. And when looking at Diarra’s skill-set, it’s not hard to see why so many clubs will be keen on his signature in the summer.

Marseilles’ toils this season are likely to see the 31-year-old seek a new challenge – something he’s recently admitted – and Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur and Serie A champions Juventus have been linked with his signature. He was quoted as saying: “There is a great chance I leave Marseille. We will see. I’ve never spoken to other clubs. I hear a lot of things, I say nothing.”

He’s made 25 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, averaging a tackle or interception every 17 minutes. Diarra has been more of a box-to-box player for Marseilles as they’ve been bereft of quality in the middle of the park, and he’s made 75 successful dribbles, and boasts an 87% pass completion ratio. Various reports have suggested he could leave the Stade Vélodrome on a free transfer this summer, so he’s sure to be inundated with offers. Diarra is back as one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders, but where will he end up at the end of the campaign?

Four horse race for the French Ligue 1 title

AS Monaco drew with Saint-Etienne in a French Ligue 1 fixture on Friday night, which means only five points separate the top-four sides in the league with only eight games to go. For most fans of Ligue 1, the title race cannot be any closer, and it seems no side can hold their nerves long enough to pull away from the rest of the pack.

Paris Saint-Germain (59) are currently sitting at the summit, just one point clear of Olympique Lyonnais (58). Third-placed Olympique Marseilles (57) are one point behind Lyon, while Monaco (54) are three points adrift of Marseilles. The top-three sides have all been beaten in their last four games in the league, which makes it an open affair at the business end of the campaign.

The four clubs have rotated positions all throughout the season, and with few points separating them, the table could change even further before the campaign comes to a close. European competition has seen the French league gain some credibility and notoriety, with Paris Saint-Germain knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League last-16, while AS Monaco eliminated Arsenal from the same stage.

Last season, PSG and Monaco finished 1st and 2nd in the table respectively, and unsurprisingly the Parisians are favourites to win a third consecutive title. They haven’t had it all their way this season, yet they are currently ahead as the season edges closer to a dramatic finish.

Before PSG, currently managed by former French international Laurent Blanc, rose to the summit of French football, it was an open league for a number of years. Montpellier (2011/12), Lille (2010/11), Marseilles (2009/10) and Bordeaux (2008/09) were the past winners, with Lyon winning the league between 2001/02 and 2007/08. However, this season hangs in the balance. Paris Saint-Germain stormed to the title in the last two seasons, but are having to deal with strong competition in 2014/15. The Parisians have only been top of the table for a combined duration of a month this season, with Lyon and Marseilles having some spells at the top earlier in the campaign.

PSG still have Marseilles to face before the end of the season, as do Monaco, so there’s every chance of the league changing shape once more in the coming weeks. The holders are the favourites to finish above the rest of the competition, but with mere points between the sides, and recent form of all the contenders showing some vulnerability, the race for the French Ligue 1 title is certainly between the top three clubs along with, to a lesser extent, Monaco.

The next round of games could see the table start to take some shape, and given how many twists and turns there have been so far, it is going to be too close to call.