Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Dante Costa

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When Dante Costa hangs up his boots his story will be told that here is a player that got better as he got older. And at age 35 he put in some terrific displays for his club Nice, to be ranked as the 4th best defender in Ligue 1.

Dante Costa also known as simply Dante joined Nice from Bundesliga side VFL Wolfsburg in 2016, and has now made 96 appearances for the French club. His big break in football didn’t come until his late 20s and since then Dante Costa has not looked back.

His worst point of his career was perhaps when he was picked for Brazil to play in the semi-final of the World Cup against Germany in 2014, as a defender it couldn’t have got any worse when Brazil were infamously beaten 7-1 by the Germans who went onto win that years competition.

This season under the guidance of coach Patrick Vieira who himself this was his first term with Nice, Dante seemed calm, collective and full of confidence in the back four. This was recognised by Vieira who was only too happy to regularly pick the Brazilian for the side. In all Dante played 36 games from 38 and earned a total of 64 points just six points shy of 3rd place.

Dante of course is not expected to score goals or be in the build up to one but he still managed 1 goal and also had one assist. One question mark about him was his aggressiveness which led to 11 yellow cards for the season, though he managed not to get sent off in the league.

With Nice starting poorly in the league this affected Dante and he went the opening 3 games without scoring a point, indeed because of the goals conceded he was down by -3 points. It took sometime for Nice to group together and start believing in themselves and when the team started to gel together it was November and this is when Dante experienced the best period of his season.

He scored points in 6 consecutive games earning a massive 28 points as Nice went on a great run starting at Bordeaux and ending with a 0-0 result against Angers in December.

Dante Costa’s best game where he earned the most points was against Montpellier in April where Nice only won 1-0. But it was an all round game from the Brazilian who scored a goal, the only one for his season and also kept a clean sheet to earn 9 points.

The last match of the season was the local derby in which Nice beat Monaco 2-0 which earned Dante another 5 points. Indeed the defender had a decent consistent season overall if not spectacular, but for his age and being coached by a new manager this was an impressive display over the season.

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Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Malang Sarr

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One of the outstanding defenders in Ligue 1 this past season might not be a household name yet but he has already made an impression at just 20 years old and his name is Malang Sarr.

Sarr who plays for Nice finished 2nd in the European Fantasy League Ligue 1 rankings for defenders with 70 points. He was outstanding value and would have only cost you 5.5m to buy this season. Sarr started 34 games and was part of a defence that kept 15 clean sheets. He also scored a goal and assisted in one. Even though Nice just fell short of picking up any silverware and a European place for next season, personally Sarr shone under the leadership of Nice coach Patrick Vieira.

Sarr was born in Nice and this is already his 3rd season with the club, he has never been afforded the opportunity to play this many games for the club in a season and he has now been established as a regular call up. His next game for Nice will mark his 100th for the club.

The youngster remained very consistent throughout the season with his best points tally being 7 when Nice beat Nimes 1-0, he assisted in the winning goal and also kept a clean sheet.

His worst month was in September when he actually scored no points and indeed because of a booking- his only one of the season, he ended the month of -2 points. From October 28th to December 4th he stepped up his game scoring points in every match between that time and earning 32 points in the process.

Last season Sarr earned just 17 points and that signals a massive improvement this season earning over 3 times that in the past 9 months.

Sarr’s future looks bright. Vieira thinks very highly of him so much so that in the penultimate game of the season he named Sarr as captain of the team- this was partly down to rewarding Sarr for all of his commitment, dedication and hard work.

One wonders what could be in store for Sarr’s future and it could be away from Nice if he continues to be this good. One thing is for sure and that is getting a senior international call up with France. He has played at every level for the nation, and if he keeps in good health and form it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sarr at the 2022 World Cup. However he will also be eyeing up a possible place in next years European Championship, so another good season will be high on his agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Walter Benitez

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Nice may have finished 7th and a huge 35 points adrift of champions PSG but they still had the best goalkeeper statistically in the league in 26 year old Walter Benitez. The Argentinian is still very much unknown so much so that he has never played for the senior national side and if you go to his Wikipedia page you get the following: ‘Walter Daniel Benítez is an Argentine footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Nice’. That is all the information on the world’s leading encyclopaedia on the internet.

And yet Benitez has been outstanding for Nice this season who just missed out on a European spot under coach Patrick Vieira who is in his debut season with the club in Ligue 1.

Benitez finished top of the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1 with 91 points, 7 more than Mike Maignan of Lille and interestingly 29 points more than PSG’s Alphonse Areola. Benitez kept 16 clean sheets the most for any goalkeeper in Ligue 1 and had a superb period in the season which we must talk about.

It started against Amiens in November when Nice beat them 1-0, and it was to be a superb run of games for Benitez where he went the next 5 games without conceding one goal. It was at this time that the 26 year old started to garner attention from other teams and then other leagues including the Premier League. It is true to say that Benitez’s performances this season are like a catch 22 for a club like Nice. Good in the fact that he has undoubtedly won the club many points 10-15 at least but at the same time bad in the fact that they will almost certainly have to sell him at one point and that could be as early as this summer.

Overall Benitez ranks as the 6th best goalkeeper in Europe’s major leagues this past season. If you had Benitez in your fantasy team then you would have picked up a bargain as he is just 6.5m. He is sure to rise next season. There is little doubt that he is arguably one of the most underrated goalkeepers playing in Europe today.

Benitez has impressed Vieira and has been one of the real breakthrough talents in Ligue 1 even with his age in consideration. His benefit is that in his position he can be a goalkeeper easily for another 10 years.

Surely after this season and being ranked No.1. in the Ligue 1 Fantasy Football rankings he will get his break to be the number 1 choice for the Argentina national team. He recently said that getting the chance would be like touching the sky, but surely that will simply be the beginning for him, the sky in his case will not be the limit.

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Top 4 all win in Ligue 1 as relegation battle boils down to Caen and Amiens

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That was more like it from PSG who have been a shadow of themselves since winning the league in April. They beat Dijon 4-0 which included a brace from Kylian Mbappe who ends the season as top goal scorer. Perhaps the real story was that PSG were 2-0 up within the first ten minutes and Edinson Cavani scored. It looks increasingly likely that Cavani will leave the club in the summer and if so, then this is his last match in Paris. He crowned it well.

Neymar was missing as he has been suspended for the last 2 games of the season and of course there is speculation that he will not be at PSG next season. Lille finally confirmed 2nd place and the runners-up spot with a fantastic 5-0 win over Angers and yet again Nicolas Pepe starred for the team and scored a couple of goals. Like others Pepe’s name is now being talked about, could he make a Premier League move next season?

Lyon confirmed 3rd place and the final Champions League spot, although they will have to qualify for the competition proper. They beat Caen 4-0 which was significant given that Caen are fighting relegation. It is now between Caen and Amiens to see who stays up as Monaco look safe. Amiens have a 2 point advantage over Caen.

Saint Etienne won with a great 3-0 victory over Nice to confirm their Europa League participation next season. They have pulled 5 points clear of fifth place, and the European spot was well deserved after such brilliant form especially in the second half of the season.

Montpellier’s draw with Nantes ended their slim hopes of European football next season and the result also let in Marseille who have closed the gap over them to just 1 point. That is because Marseille beat Toulouse in a thrilling match that ended 5-2 to the L’OM. The score was 3-2 in the 90th minute but Florian Thauvin scored 2 goals in a matter of 60 seconds to give the final score more of a gloss.

Nimes drew 2-2 against bottom team Guingamp, but this wasn’t seen as a disappointing result given that both teams were not playing for anything and the season has clearly wound down and both sets of players enjoyed the game, which was entertaining for the fans. Nimes will have to win next weekend or could lose their 7th place to Nice, and as mentioned before Nice’s good form went out the window with a 0-3 loss at Saint Etienne.

If Reims win their last game and Nice and Nimes lose the club could leapfrog both of them. The final round of games will take place this weekend.

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Lille secure Champions League football and Neymar redeems himself ahead of PSG ban

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It’s been a tough month for PSG star Neymar who learned that he would receive a 3 game Champions League ban next season for being critical of match officials when PSG lost to Manchester United. Then the Brazilian was handed a 3 game ban by Ligue 1 after he hit out at a fan at the end of the Coupe de France final. PSG are appealing on that, but he was on target to open the scoring as PSG beat Angers 2-1 at the weekend.

It was Neymar’s 15th goal of the season which with his long term injury considered is a decent return. The win was also PSG’s 2nd win in 5 games as they have gone through the worst form of their season in the last month which included losing in the final of the Coupe de France to Rennes. Of course they became champions weeks ago and the players seem to have switched off but the win away to Angers was still an important one.

The big news came from Lille and saw the side secure their Champions League place for next season after they beat Bordeaux 1-0. They will almost certainly finish 2nd but even if they lost their last two games and Lyon won their next two, they would finish 3rd which would still be good for the qualifying stages, but the odds are looking great for them to finish in the runners up spot. The Bordeaux victory was the clubs 19th of the season.

Lyon went away to Marseille and secured a brilliant 3-0 win to give them a huge advantage in finishing the season in 3rd place and possible Champions League for next season. Playing at Stade Velodrome was no mean task and the game was loaded with tension throughout. Maxwell Cornet who has been brilliant for the team this season scored a brace and was the eventual hero. Lyon remains 6 points behind Lille but have now pulled four points clear of Saint Etienne.

Saint Etienne who had won 4 games on the bounce really had to win at home to Montpellier but they were downed by a Gaetan Laborde goal, which more or less ended their Champions League hopes. They would have to win their last 2 games and hope that Lyon lost both or lost one and drew one and that seems unlikely.

Could Montpellier pip Saint Etienne for that final Europa League place though? The club at least gave themselves a chance by beating the club at the weekend but they are still 4 points adrift and it looks like, despite their heroics, that they will just miss out.

Marseille certainly will as they have just 55 points and the best they can hope for now is to finish in 5th place. The club started strongly this season only to fade away in the winter months and then bounce back again soon after. But they look to be going through poor form once again and have no wins in their last 3 games.

Any European football officially ended for Nice this past weekend but they still pulled off a decent 1-1 draw against Nantes who came into that game having won 5 matches in a row including wins over PSG, Lyon and Marseille. That was the 11th draw this season for Nice though, just 3 of those matches converted into wins and the team would be challenging for Europe.

And Nimes continued their fine form by beating Monaco 1-0, that’s 3 wins from their last four games and they took advantage of Reims poor form to move 3 points clear of them and firmly establish 8th place. Nimes could finish as high as 6th if their form continues and others drop points around them.

Finally matchday 36 was one that saw referees having to work over time with no less than 6 red cards dished out. Four of those to top 8 sides and a few players will have played their last games of the campaign for their respective clubs.

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Lille set for runners up spot as Saint Etienne close the gap on Lyon

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PSG remained 16 points clear of Lille as the champions continue their poor form to wrap up the end of the season. The club could only draw at home against Nice in a match that ended 1-1. Neymar who has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reason recently after getting into an altercation with a fan scored PSG’s goal after he converted a penalty. That goal cancelled out Nice’s opener.

The champions form has been almost alien to them where from the last 5 games they have just 1 win, although they have scored 98 goals this season in the league and with 3 matches left to play the team should certainly pass the 100 mark. Last season the club managed 108 goals.

But all of the excitement was not for PSG who simply want the season to end but for the race for 2nd place and an automatic Champions League qualification. So what better than 2nd playing 3rd, and that is what we witnessed at the weekend. Lyon were at home to Lille who have occupied 2nd place for most of the season and it does look like Lille will finish in that position after this encounter ended 2-2.

Martin Terrier opened the scoring for Lyon who came into this game 6 points behind Lille. But Lille took hold of the game and sped into a 2-1 lead only for Lyon to find the equaliser with 15 minutes to go through Leo Dubois. The draw was a great result for Lille who remain 6 points clear with just 9 points left on the board.

However the pressure was increased for Lyon because Saint Etienne in 4th beat Monaco in a five goal thriller that finished 3-2 to the Verts. Saint Etienne have won 4 games in a row and on form they are the 2nd best team in the league. They are just one point behind Lyon hoping to not only snatch 3rd place but also the final Champions League place.

Montpellier’s poor 1-1 draw at home against Amiens that their chances of a Europa League finish are almost over as they have slipped 7 points behind 4th place. However the draw was enough to move past Marseille on goal difference. Both teams are on 55 points after L’OM could draw against Strasbourg in a match they could have lost given that Strasbourg missed a penalty to go 2-1 up.

One of the biggest success stories of the weekend though was seeing Nimes enter the top 8 as they went to Reims and comprehensively beat them 3-0. Reims form since a European place became unavailable has been back to their early season poor run, but Nimes have been one of the best pound for pound teams in Ligue 1 this season after their promotion from Ligue 2.

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Race for Champions League places hots up in Ligue 1 between Lille, Lyon and Saint Etienne

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Champions PSG had the weekend off in Ligue 1 as they were playing in the Coupe de France final which they sensationally lost on penalties against Rennes after the match finished 2-2 at full time. With PSG not playing it also meant that Montpellier skipped the weekend and they will take on PSG later today in their rescheduled match.

But concentrating on the battle for Champions League places was the main focus of the weekend. Lille in 2nd place reaffirmed their position in style as they beat Nimes 5-0 at Stade Pierry- Mauroy. There was five different scores including man of the moment Nicolas Pepe. Lille’s fans have now seen their club score 10 goals in their last two home matches.

The win ensures that Lille stay 6 points ahead of Lyon with just 4 games remaining and only the top two places in Ligue 1 are assured of automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League.

Lyon who were expected to catch Lille, remain in 3rd after beating Bordeaux 3-2 in a thrilling match. The club were losing 2-1 at half time. Moussa Dembele scored the winning goal for Lyon with just five minutes remaining. It was a very important result for the club because Saint Etienne also won. They beat Toulouse 2-0 at the weekend to remain 3 points behind Lyon for the final Champions League place.

Saint Etienne have been in brilliant form and would in fact based on the last five games be top of the league. They have gained 13 points from their last 15 and have not lost a game in over 6 weeks.

Is a European finish finally over for Marseille? That was the feeling after the club lost 2-1 to in form Nantes at Stade Velodrome. Mario Balotelli came back from injury to score but the club had just 2 shots on target to Nantes 6 the whole game in what was seen as surprise result. It leaves Marseille trailing 4th place by 5 points and while they still have a chance for a possible Europa League place, those hopes are fading fast.

As mentioned above Montpellier will play PSG on Tuesday and if they win they would join Marseille on 54 points. Nice ended a 2 game period without a win and easily swatted aside bottom club Guingamp 3-0. As a result they moved up to 7th place on 51 points, but their best hope for this season would be to finish in the top six.

Finally Reims continued their dismal form with yet another draw- this time 1-1 against Angers which didn’t help either team. The club have not won in their last five games, drawing 3 of their last four and have now slipped a massive 10 points from a European place with just 12 left on the board, and their European dream is now finished.

Next week will see a mouth watering clash between 2nd and 3rd when Lyon take on Lille in what could be a defining moment for who will play in the Champions League next season.

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Kylian Mbappe scores a hat-trick as PSG win 8th Ligue 1 title and Champions League places are still up for grabs

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They say that things come in three’s but it took a 4th attempt for PSG to finally secure the league title in France, and in the end they didn’t even have to kick a ball.

The league was finally theirs, secured on the afternoon of Sunday when 2nd placed Lille could only draw 0-0 away against Toulouse. That draw meant that Lille could not catch PSG- not that they were ever going to anyway, but still it made it all mathematically impossible and PSG were the champions.

Whether PSG wanted it like that or not is open to debate but it was taken out of their hands given some of their surprising displays in weeks past which included folding against Lille 5-1, shocking misses in their 2-2 draw against Strasbourg and losing 3-2 to Nantes. As it was PSG played on Sunday evening and came out of their dressing rooms and onto the pitch to a party atmosphere to play Monaco, the only other team to have won a Ligue 1 title since 2013.

The game was a strange one in the fact that the PSG players really just wanted to party, they were now champions after all and Monaco seemed like the uninvited guest at a showpiece. In the end it was left to the outstanding Kylian Mbappe who scored a hat-trick to underline his greatness to the side. His 3rd goal marked his 30th in Ligue 1 and he easily tops the goal scorer charts and overall he has scored 36 goals this season which marks his finest ever.

Immediately after the game he had to predictably fend off questions that he was off to Real Madrid in the summer, denying that and confirming that he wanted to stay in Paris. Whether it’s true or not it was unfortunate he was asked such a question- if anyone deserved to be happy with a title win without distraction it was Mbappe. And there was to be more good news for PSG as Neymar and Edinson Cavani finally returned back to the squad and played some time in Paris.

Despite the league being over a race for the Champions League isn’t, and unlike, for example, the Premier League in England there is only 3 places up for grabs here. Lille in 2nd place could still in theory lose out but they won’t and at worst if a total collapse does happen they will get 3rd place and have to qualify. But with 5 games left and 15 points on the board they should finish as runners up as they are 6 points clear of Lyon.

The real excitement then is who will finish 3rd? Lyon are in pole position with 59 points but they have a genuine threat in the shape of Saint Etienne who have 56 points. The club went to Reims at the weekend and beat them 2-0 in an impressive result as Reims had not lost at home this year.

Lyon have five matches to play with only 2 at home and one of those games is a crunch match against 2nd place Lille in what should be a cracking game when the teams clash on May 5th- Lyon will be at home.

Marseille have not given up the chase for a Champions League spot as they beat Guingamp 3-1 away to put the side on 54 points and they have now won back to back games. The team remain outsiders but a Europa League spot should be secured, despite the absence of Mario Balotelli who has succumbed to injury.

Montpellier made light work of the inform Strasbourg and beat the team 3-1 to move up to 6th place. Strasbourg had just one shot on target which ended up being their goal in an otherwise disappointing game for the Coupe de la Ligue winners.

Reims poor form continued, and for a club that were in for a small chance of European football, that now looks like a distant dream after their 2-0 loss against a direct rival in Saint Etienne. Reims have now gone their last 4 games without a win and have fallen to 7th place and 8 points shy of a European finish. The famous club have recently unveiled a statue of former player Raymond Kopa- the Reims, Real Madrid and French legend is just what the club need right now.

Nice are in danger of losing their top 8 status to Nimes after Patrick Vieira’s club were shocked by 19th placed Caen as they lost 1-0 at home. It was a game that Nice dominated and Remi Walter missed a penalty early on which was clearly a sign of how the game would play out. Nimes are just 2 points behind Nice, who have to find their form, in a season that has ended prematurely for them.

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Lille destroy PSG in stunning fashion as Lyon lose again

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For the second week in a row PSG have blown the chance to wrap up the league title and both have been in quite stunning fashion. The first was when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting missed the sitter of a century to the club in front against Strasbourg. That was one shock to take away and analyse. But it got worse at the weekend when Paris visited Lille, the 2nd best team in France this season and were soundly demolished 5-1.

It threw shockwaves around the league given that PSG had previously lost just 1 game all season and when, on the rare occasion, they do lose they don’t concede 5 goals. It was a strange game that actually started with a Thomas Meunier own goal to put Lille in front, but PSG were level on the 11th minute through a Juan Bernat effort, but he would later be sent off to compound the misery for the champions.

Both Meunier and then Tiago Silva were taken off early on through injuries and it was shortly after this point that Lille saved their best moments for the game. In 30 second half minutes Lille scored 4 goals, PSG were in shock and the game fell away. The club will put it down to a bad day at the office, but the party poppers just keep getting delayed for a side that are still 18 points clear with a game in hand.

PSG will play Nantes away from home next weekend when all they will need is a single point to win back to back league titles. The sticking point in that game could be that Nantes have just pulled off one of their finest results this season by beating Lyon in 3rd place 2-1. That means back to back defeats for Lyon and with it they look like to have conceded runners up spot to Lille. The gap between the two teams is now 8 points with 18 remaining to be played.

Saint Etienne beat Bordeaux 3-0 and they are now just 3 points behind Lyon for a final Champions League position. In short Lyon simply have not been good enough this past month and could miss out on participating in next seasons competition. Marseille beat Nimes 2-1 in an enjoyable but nervy encounter for the home side which puts them on 51 points and five points behind Lyon just to add the pressure.

Montpellier beat Toulouse 2-1 which was good enough to move up to 6th place. But it was disappointment for France’s most historical club Reims who have had a superb season back in Ligue 1 when they could only 0-0 with Monaco, they are on the same points as Montpellier with 48 but their succession of draws is damaging their chances of finishing in a European position.

Finally Nice make the top 8 and while they remain undefeated in their last 4 games, it was another dour 0-0 draw away to Rennes that doesn’t raise much interest in how the team will finish up this season.

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Dante Costa

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Dante Costa earned 9pts at the weekend and is the Ligue 1 Player of the Weekend in the fantasy Ligue 1 rankings.

The Nice defender and Brazilian player also known simply as Dante has been the bedrock and guiding light in Patrick Vieira’s team and has played every game in Ligue 1 this season for Nice. In truth Dante’s career is supposed to be winding down given that he is 35 years old, but he has been raking in the points especially in the last few weeks- Nice have had 3 clean sheets in the last five games and his display this past weekend was the arguably his best of the season.

At the weekend Nice played Montpellier and this was given extra hype given the teams standings in the league, it was 7th v 8th, and both teams still have  a chance to qualify for next seasons Europa League.

Nice at home were installed as the slight favourites and the match lived up to what was seen beforehand as a close battle. In the end Nice won 1-0, Dante kept a clean sheet and the extra massive bonus for Dante which ended up giving him 9pts for the weekend is that he scored the only goal of the game- the winning goal in the 20th minute after a superb assist from Wylan Cyprien. Not only had Dante greatly contributed to the 3 points he had also scored his first goal of the season.

In all competitions Dante has only scored 3 goals for Nice from 112 games so at the weekend he celebrated the goal as if Nice had won Ligue 1 themselves. But in truth there was still a long way to go and he defended well, led the back line superbly with his experience of playing most of his career in the German Bundesliga and richly deserves to be named as Ligue 1 player of the week.

Patrick Vieira the Nice coach was all praise for his team especially the way his players were organised and focused, he said: “We were able to take control. We created real opportunities, we could have scored more this evening. I saw a very attractive Nice team. I may have changed systems slightly too early, which made us sit back. But the important thing was the spirit we showed over the 90 minutes. The important thing is to continue our run. If you look at our game against Dijon and the one this evening, we showed defensive solidity and we created chances. It’s encouraging for what’s to come. Not everything was perfect but to win against a good Montpellier side is a good thing. We need to continue to work to keep this dynamic.”

Dante will have to keep up his good defensive displays and he might be worth adding to your team given that Nice have the motivation to keep moving up the table and try out for a European spot. Dante has 50pts overall and is 7th in the defender Ligue 1 rankings for fantasy Ligue 1. He can be bought for just 6.5m and is worth keeping on your radar.

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