The France under-19s managed to go one better than their senior counterparts last week, by winning the European Championships.

Ludovic Batelli’s youngsters trounced Italy 4-0 in the final, claiming a third European title at this level for France. In doing so, they demonstrated that there is plenty more young talent coming through for Les Bleus, in addition to the likes of Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé, who have all made their mark in senior football recently.

But France were not the only ones showcasing some outstanding prospects during the tournament in Germany. There were plenty of young players thriving under the spotlight, and marking themselves out as ones to watch for the future. Here are five of the best players from the under-19 Euros who you should be keeping a close eye on in the near future:

Jean-Kévin Augustin (France)

The 19-year-old Paris Saint Germain striker was in phenomenal form throughout the tournament, and finished as the competition’s highest scorer, with a record-equalling tally of six goals from five games.

And it was Jean-Kévin Augustin who got the ball rolling in the final by netting a spectacular and decisive opening goal against Italy. The Italians had started the game well, and were looking to assert their dominance, only for Augustin to pick the ball up 30 yards from goal, burst through the centre of the opponents’ defence and finish coolly.

The teenager made 13 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG last season, and he could be set to add to that number under new manager Unai Emery in the upcoming campaign.

Kylian Mbappé (France)

Kylian Mbappé formed a deadly strike partnership with Augustin in the French attack, as the two men between them netted all of their side’s eight goals in the group stage.

The Monaco striker’s best performance came during the semi-final against Portugal, where he assisted the first goal for Ludovic Blas and scored the next two himself, to seal a 3-1 victory. The speedy striker also demonstrated his incredible technique with one of the most outrageous pieces of skill in the final: picking the ball up on the right touchline, Mpabbé flicked the ball over the head of his marker with the outside of his right foot, before swinging in a dangerous cross that eventually led to France’s fourth goal.

Despite being only 17 years old, Mbappé already has 11 Ligue 1 appearances under his belt, and his name will undoubtedly have been marked down in the notebooks of scouts from across the Continent.

Manuel Locatelli (Italy)

AC Milan midfielder Manuel Locatelli was the heartbeat of the Italy midfield, orchestrating his side’s attacks and conducting the tempo of the action, as the Italians made it all the way to the final before eventually being outclassed by France.

The highlight of Locatelli’s campaign was the stunning free-kick he scored against Austria in the group stage.

The 18-year-old made his Serie A debut for Milan in April, and made his first senior start against Roma on the final day of last season.

Philipp Ochs (Germany)

Hoffenheim winger Philipp Ochs produced a dazzling display when bagging a hat-trick against Portugal in the group stage, although it wasn’t enough to prevent Germany from losing 4-3.

The 18-year-old possesses great speed, superb technique and outstanding dribbling skills.

Having made five Bundesliga appearances to date, Ochs is knocking on the door of a regular place in Die Kraichgauer’s first-team. And Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann will surely appreciate the benefit of giving opportunities to young players, as the 29-year-old is the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.

Dominic Solanke (England)

Chelsea striker Dominic Solanke formed a great understanding with strike partner Isaiah Brown at the tournament, as he helped himself to group stage goals against France and the Netherlands.

Solanke was a key player for the Three Lions as they became the only team to record a victory over France on their run to the semi-final, before losing 2-1 to Italy.

Solanke spent last season on loan with Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie. The 18-year-old scored seven goals in the Dutch top division, and will be hoping to make the breakthrough at Stamford Bridge next season under new manager Antonio Conte.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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France have the chance to establish a new footballing dynasty with Euro 2016 victory

The 2016 UEFA European Championship will get underway when hosts France face Romania at Stade de France on Friday.

Didier Deschamps’ men are among the hot favourites to win this summer’s title and a quick look through Les Bleus’ squad illustrates why they are fancied by so many to claim their third continental crown on home soil.

The current French crop boasts the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Juventus’ Paul Pogba, Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi, Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet and Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris.

Deschamps’ group looks extremely balanced on paper. Added to the fact that they have been handed a favourable draw in Group A, France have the potential to go far in their own backyard.

The 47-year-old tactician’s squad already looks formidable but when you consider that Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, Olympique Lyonnais duo Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, as well as OGC Nice’s Hatem Ben Arfa are all missing, the hosts could be more formidable than they already are.

The crazy thing is that Les Bleus’ well of talent does not run dry there. In fact, if anything, that is only scratching the surface.

PSG pair Alphonse Areola and Adrien Rabiot, not to mention Borussia Dortmund’s teenage sensation Ousmane Dembele, Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte and Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti (who is actually in Deschamps’ Euro squad), are yet to make their senior debuts for the French senior side.

The likes of Inter Milan’s Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stade Rennais’ Paul-Georges Ntep only have a few caps to their name and the under-21 side is loaded with talents capable of making the step up to senior level in the near future.

France has an opportunity with this summer’s European Championship to establish a footballing dynasty that could last for many years.

If the hosts can hoist the Henri Delaunay trophy at Stade de France next month, there is a very good chance that we could see the same thing happen in Russia at Luzhniki Stadium in 2018, in England at Wembley in 2020 and perhaps even in Qatar at Lusail Iconic Stadium in 2022.

The likes of Griezmann, Pogba, Martial and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman all should have at least three more major international tournaments left in them after Euro 2016, arguably more for the latter trio.

With so many top talents on the fringes of Deschamps’ squad or yet to be integrated into the senior setup at all, it is easy to see Les Bleus becoming the world and European order sometime in the next few years.

Germany may well win this summer’s tournament and add the European title to their world crown but France are the most likely side to wrest it away from them in the coming years, should that happen.

What Deschamps’ team needs now is experience; the experience of playing in big international tournaments like the Euro and the experience of going on deep run to the latter stages and possibly all the way.

Once the key younger members of this group have tasted that, the seed for future success will have been sown. All that will be left to do then is for Deschamps, or a similar figure, to harvest the glory that many of these phenomenally talented players are destined for.

The FIFA under-20 World Cup success of 2013, featuring the likes of Pogba, Zouma, Areola, Umtiti, Kondogbia and Lucas Digne was a taste of what should lie ahead of many members of this emerging generation of talent.

What France need now is for some of those players to acquire the necessary experience so that the next wave of gifted footballers can be brought into the senior setup. Once that happens, once Les Bleus enjoy that initial success, they should become a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

This summer’s European Championship on home soil is the perfect opportunity to take that next step and Deschamps’ men could then realistically target World Cup success in Russia after that.

Even if ultimate success does not await the French at Stade de France in July, it surely will not elude them for much longer. One thing is for sure, the future is bright and the future is Bleu.

About the author – Jonathan Johnson

Ligue 1 and French football journalist. Covering PSG in English. Work is published regularly on @EPSNFC,@br_uk, @YahooSportUK and @beINSPORTUSA.

twitter: @Jon_LeGossip


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No matter what the competition is and in which sport, spectators want to see the best competitors taking the field. In football this is no different. All of the squads have now been announced for Euro 2016 and there are numerous high-profile absentees from this year’s tournament.

Out of all of the players that will be absent from the 15th edition of the European Championships, you can compile a very competitive squad and one that would probably challenge for the trophy.


England’s Jack Butland fractured his ankle during England’s 3-2 win over Germany in March, just after he had been given his chance by Roy Hodgson to stake a claim to become first-choice. Our other two keepers, Ron Robert Zieler and Kevin Trapp, haven’t missed out due to injury, but because of the shear wealth of talent that Germany have in goal.


Real Madrid team-mates Raphaël Varane and Daniel Carvajal were both called up for France and Spain respectively. However, Varane picked up an injury in training ahead of the Champions League Final and Carvajal limped off in the aforementioned game with a muscle injury. Belgium’s captain, Vincent Kompany, sustained a thigh injury during the Champions League semi-final second leg and will be a big miss for the Red Devils. 20-year-old Luke Shaw suffered a double broken leg during Manchester United’s Champions League defeat last September and isn’t yet fully recovered. Bayern’s Javi Martínez has had a season disrupted by injury and there were question marks over his fitness ahead of the Euros.


Spain are blessed with a wealth of talent in midfield and that is why Juan MataIsco and Saúl Ñíguez have been omitted. If the trio were of another nationality, then you would have seen them playing in the Euros this summer. Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla was excluded having just returned from a long-term knee injury. Lass Diarra has enjoyed a renaissance this season and was part of France’s squad for the Euros. Unfortunately he had to pull out of the squad after suffering a knee injury during a 3-2 friendly win over Cameroon last week. Italy have arguably been hardest hit in midfield with certain starters Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio missing through injury, significantly weakening their squad. New Manchester City signing, İlkay Gündoğan, will be missing his second successive tournament due to injury.


Gündoğan’s former team-mate, Marco Reus, is also set to miss out on a second consecutive tournament due to concerns over his fitness. Germany will also be missing Karim Bellarabi who was cut from the provisional squad as Joachim Löw has gone for the more experienced Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle. Chelsea’s Diego Costa was omitted from Spain’s squad due to not fitting their style of play. Danny Welbeck scored 6 goals for England during the qualifiers but a knee injury that will keep him out until early 2017 has forced him to miss the Euros. Hosts France will be missing the attacking trio of Karim BenzemaAlexandre Lacazette and Hatem Ben Arfa. The former has been omitted due to an impending court case, whereas the other two miss out due to the wealth of attackers at Didier Deschamp’s disposal.


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With the domestic season coming to a close across Europe, attention and anticipation is beginning to turn to the upcoming European Championship in France.

The tournament, which takes place every four years, will commence on 10 June in the Stade de France, as the host nation take on Romania.

Didier Deschamps’s side are the current favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy when the competition closes on 10 July. Other fancied teams include reigning champions Spain, World Cup winners Germany and the usual cast of established footballing nations like Italy, Belgium and England.

This year’s incarnation of the tournament will, for the first time, feature an expanded cast of 24 nations, opposed to the usual 16. This has meant that some countries who usually fall in the qualifying stage, will now be represented in the finals.

The greater number of teams means that there is added potential for some giant-killing upsets. And aside from the odd freak result that often occurs during knockout competitions, there are a few teams who could be considered dark horses, with the potential to go further than many would expect.


This Austria side is one built on solidity. Having qualified unbeaten (nine wins and one draw) and top of a group which included Russia, Sweden and Montenegro, Marcel Koller’s men conceded only three goals.

Despite still being only 23-years-old, Bayern Munich player David Alaba has already amassed 42 caps for the Austrian national side. The Vienna-born star is undoubtedly Austria’s key man. Despite playing as a left-back with his club – and being perhaps the best player in the world in that position – Koller has utilised Alaba in the centre of midfield. This has proven to be a shrewd move, as Alaba possesses all of the requisite technical ability to operate as a midfielder, and his energy and experience has driven Austria to Euro 2016 qualification.

Ahead of Alaba, the main creative force of Koller’s side is Werder Bremen playmaker Zlatko Junuzović. The 28-year-old former Austria Wien player acts as the main supply-line to FC Basel forward Marko Janko, who was his nation’s top scorer in qualifying with seven goals.

Austria’s Group F opponents Portugal, Iceland and Hungary should provide little resistance to their progression to the knockout stages, at which point they will be a side no one will relish facing.


Chris Coleman’s Wales side is designed with the express intention of squeezing every last drop of productivity from their star man, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale.

Although the Welsh Dragons can rely on the likes of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Swansea City’s Ashley Williams to add quality and experience, Bale is their not-so-secret weapon.

The 26-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur player, since progressing from left-back in his early career, has largely been a winger at club level for some time now. But Coleman has constructed a system which gives Bale licence to roam, finding space and causing damage wherever he sees fit.

And the move has been an unqualified success, as Bale netted seven goals during qualification to fire Wales to their first major tournament since 1958.

In their group, Wales will face off against England Russia and Slovakia. Despite having the competitions fourth favourites England to contend with, this Welsh side, powered by the irrepressible Bale, will fancy their chances.


Poland boast the top scorer through all of qualification among their ranks, and arguably the deadliest marksman on the planet. Bayern Munich’s 27-year-old striker Robert Lewandowski is set to take the European Championship by storm this summer, coming off the back of the most productive season of his career.

The former Borussia Dortmund striker has (at the time of writing) scored 41 times in 49 games this season. Lewandowski is the complete striker: he’s fast, moves intelligently, heads well, can sniff out tap-ins and score from any angle.

Backed up by the likes of Dortmund pair Jakub Błaszczykowski (who spent this season on loan at Fiorentina), Łukasz Piszczek and Sevilla’s sought after defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, Lewandowski can rely on a strong supporting cast.

Having progressed from what was widely considered the toughest of all the qualifying groups (their opponents included world champions Germany, Scotland and Ireland), Poland will be unafraid of their Group C rivals in the finals. They will again face Germany, as well as Northern Ireland and Ukraine. A difficult task, but with Bayern’s number 9 up front, Poland will be confident that they can score against anyone.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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Having taken Ligue 1 by storm since making his professional debut in November, Ousmane Dembélé has been catching the eye of scouts from a host of Europe’s top clubs.

Considered the latest — and perhaps most naturally gifted – attacking player to emerge from the French production line, the 18-year-old Stade Rennais prodigy has already been lined up for a summer move to Borussia Dortmund, if German newspaper Bild is to be believed.

Dembélé’s agent moved quickly to deny the rumours of a Bundesliga switch, but it’s easy to see why BVB — or any top club for that matter — would want to snatch this young star away from the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient.

Since making his first-team debut against Bordeaux on 22 November last year – a game in which he also scored – Dembélé has amassed an impressive tally of 12 goals and five assists from 23 Ligue 1 appearances. In doing so, Dembélé has become the youngest player in the history of the French top division to reach double figures in terms of goals scored.

What sets Dembélé apart is his incredible pace and dribbling ability; dribbling skills that are further augmented by the fact that, although nominally right-footed, the France under-21 international is extremely comfortable using his weaker foot. This ambidextrousness allows Dembélé to change direction quickly and comfortably, making him an unpredictable proposition for opposing defenders.

Dembélé’s ability to effectively use either foot has also made him a versatile attacking weapon for Rennes. Indeed, in his 19 Ligue 1 starts he has played on the left of the attack five times, eight times on the right and six times as a central number 10-type attacking playmaker.

Despite a willingness to operate anywhere across the forward line, Dembélé certainly appears to prefer a central role. This notion is evidenced by his productivity in the position: seven of his eight goals have come while playing as a central attacking midfielder, along with averaging a rating of 8.5 when playing through the middle.

To add to his positional versatility, Dembélé also possesses a diverse skill-set. The aforementioned dribbling skills are complimented by an assuredness in front of goal when presented with a chance. A sound striker of the ball from distance with either foot with an acute eye for a killer pass – all goes toward justifying the hype that has surrounded the young man.

In March, Dembélé registered his first professional hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Nantes. His broad tool-box of attributes was again on full display. His first goal was a toe-poked shot from 18-yards out after a poorly cleared free-kick; a long distance free-kick which bounced in off the post gave Dembélé his second; and the treble was completed by a dribble from the half-way line, before cutting inside to beat his marker and finish neatly past the goalkeeper.

Were it not for the fact that France already boast an enviable array of attacking talent in his position – the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Dimitri Payet, Kingsley Coman and Hatem Ben Arfa – Dembélé would likely have already made his senior international debut, and be a strong contender to be included in his country’s squad for EURO 2016. As it stands, the youngster remains one for the future for France boss Didier Deschamps, but it surely won’t be long before we see Dembélé tearing apart defences for Les Bleus.

Read all about another Les Bleus star, Kinglsey Coman.

Whether or not Dembélé is set for a summer switch away from Ligue 1 remains to be seen. But purely from a style perspective, the Dortmund link makes perfect sense.

Thomas Tuchel’s men are a team who, though comfortable in possession, thrive on rapid transitions from defence to attack. The pace and ball-carrying ability of Dembélé makes him a perfect match for the Black and Yellows.

A parallel could also be drawn between Dembélé and another former Ligue 1 stand-out, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. When Aubameyang joined Dortmund from Saint Etienne in 2013, he was utilised primarily as a right-winger by then BVB boss Jürgen Klopp. But when Robert Lewandowski joined rivals Bayern Munich on a Bosman in 2014, Klopp gave Aubameyang the opportunity to replace the departing Polish international as Dortmund’s primary central striker. Aubameyang has since gone on to become one of the hottest goal-scorers on the continent, terrorising defences with his blistering pace and ever-improving finishing.

Whether at Dortmund or elsewhere, it is not too difficult to imagine Dembélé’s career taking a similar trajectory. Already a more skilled dribbler than Aubameyang, and with pace to burn, the Rennes player’s confidence in front of goal could see him leading the line at some stage.

Meanwhile, Dembélé will continue to learn his trade as a position-shifting attacker, sharpening his tools before honing in on one set position. And if he does indeed end up joining Dortmund – much will depend on whether rumours of a €100m move away from Signal Iduna Park for Aubameyang are true – his versatility will mean he is able to slot in comfortably in several positions.

Wherever Dembélé plays next season, hopefully he will be given the time to iron out the deficiencies in his game, without being under too much pressure to perform every week. The areas in which the 18-year-old’s game is lacking – understanding of defensive responsibility and decision making – are common in most players of his age. Given the time to mature, the young Frenchman promises to have a bright future

“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo come to Manchester United at the same age, and Ousmane has some of the characteristics that remind me of a young Ronaldo,” Said Rennes presidential advisor and former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, when speaking to France Football. “I’m going to go out on a limb, but he could win the Ballon d’Or.”

High praise for and high expectations for Dembélé, but the young player has all the skills to back it up.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB



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Two years ago, nobody knew his name, Kingsley Coman. He left PSG, his former club for Juventus last year and went to Bayern Munich 6 months later to look for something what he had not before: playing time and recognition. The winger was a bright talent, but at 19 years of age was still far too young to have an immediate impact, particularly in what many are referring to as one of the greatest Bayern teams in recent history.

Brought over from Juventus, he has everything fans want to see. He is fast and direct, has brilliant ball control and an eye for goal.  Voted as the World’s best young player after joining Bayern Munich, Coman has adapted brilliantly to his new settings , playing with the maturity of a player well beyond his years and delivering in a big way. Despite cooling off a bit towards the end of the first half of the season, he entered the winter break with four goals and seven assists to his name. Not that bad for a teenager.

The official Bayern website confirmed in August they had a purchase option for Coman, with Italian football expert Tancredi Palmeri reporting on his Twitter account that the option to buy amounted to €20 million, which in today’s world seems small change for a player with such high potential.  Coman will stay until his 21st birthday, and only shortly before that time will Bayern have to decide whether or not to exercise their purchase option.

Coman is much like Robben in that he has blistering pace. He’s not quite at the same level as a dribbler, playmaker or a finisher, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that he’s still very young. Robben wasn’t the player he is now when he was 19. Only a few years from now will we have a true idea of the type of player Coman can be. One area where Coman already has an advantage is his versatility. Robben is almost fixed as a right-winger and struggles to do anything other than run directly at the opposition, whereas Coman is a bit more ambidextrous and has had the tactical flexibility to show up left, right and center and still have a good effect.

It looks to be a question  not of whether he will become a star but when. Still just 19 years of age, Coman looks to have an outstanding future ahead of him and could be a regular for France and Bayern Munich for a long time.

About the author – Damien Sinico

Damien lives in France and has been playing Soccer Manager for 3 years. He is a supporter of Olympique de Marseille and his favourite player is Steve Mandanda. His ambition is to travel the World.


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The man with all the flair, composure and skill to be tipped as the next Ronaldinho. One of few who could stand around and do nothing for 89 minutes, and then pull out an exquisite piece of magic in the last to win his team the game. The man who let himself go – in more ways than one – when he had it all to conquer. The man who’s now kept quiet and formed his remarkable resurgence.

Gérard Houllier once described Ben Arfa as “a genius”, Didier Deschamps says that “He has the ability to make the difference with one move,” and David Ginola was also quick to add praise, “Hatem is an amazingly talented player from France… He is a player that can produce magic when nobody expects it.”

It’s been some turn of events for the player who started his professional career with Lyon. Just last season, Ben Arfa was barred from playing professionally by Fifa after representing both Newcastle United and Hull. The French international had to take an enforced six months out of the game – a perfect timescale to regain his thoughts and composure.

Ben Arfa is emblematic of a player who can produce the desired and extraordinary magic when nobody expects it. From absolutely anywhere on the pitch, too. That’s the utter brilliance that you just can’t teach.

Ben Arfa’s career have reached highs, playing for France in Euro 2012 and being on an established list of winners for winning Trophées UNFP du football. And lows, being banned by Fifa and gaining a vast amount of weight. However, we can only focus on the present and not the past or the future, and the form he is in right now is truly too good to ignore.

With his time off, Ben Arfa went back to his roots – in Tunis, Tunisia. “I went back to the Tunis neighbourhood where I grew up,” he revealed in a recent interview. “It was important to go back. I found old childhood friends. In Tunis, I forgot I was a footballer. I lived a different life. I went to cafes. I found the images and sensations of my childhood.”

“I stayed in the fog a long time, a little lost, a little disorientated. Last winter I was going through an inner conflict. In my head a little devil was telling me to ‘let it [football] go’ and an angel [was] saying ‘don’t let it go’. It was a real fight. I was a prisoner. I had the feeling of being locked in a dark place without a door. I saw hell.”

It was obviously important for Ben Arfa to remind himself of where his origins lay and how far he’s come. To recover his football ability, he’d first need to regain control of his own mindset. And he did just that.

It’s like the Ben Arfa of old has come back out to play. Magical, magisterial runs from half-way, dizzying six defenders, giving the keeper the eyes and slotting it past him with supposedly his weaker foot – and yes, that did happen, in a Ligue Un match vs St Étienne back in September.

Scoring seven goals in 13 appearances, at a rate of a goal every 154 minutes, is truly spectacular from an attacking midfielder who sits behind two strikers. Ben Arfa tucks in-behind the two strikers – Alassane Pléa and Valère Germain – in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation deployed by Claude Puel.

Why Ben Arfa excels in such a tactical formation is the pure freedom he gets in-behind the two focal points of the team. When attacking, Pléa and Germain can peel off into wider areas, with Ben Arfa rising through the middle and taking on defenders one-by-one, something he’s perfectly suited for.

Ben Arfa’s always had a good footballing brain, he just hasn’t always applied it, because he loses concentration and becomes incredibly lazy. Although we are only three months into the new season, the Nice playmaker seems committed to his new team and approaching games with a more matured stance. With this type of demeanour, it has earned him a call-up to the France squad for the first time in three years.

He played well vs Germany at the Stade de France, finding pockets of space in-between the German midfield and defence, but like against England at Wembley on Tuesday night, there were greater matters that dwarfed those of football.

Hatem Ben Arfa’s now 28-years-old, he’s only got one more real chance of showing the world that he can perform consistency at the level that we all know he’s capable of. It would be such a shame if he derailed again and wasted such a special gift.

About the author – Liam Canning

Liam is a free-lance journalist who has featured on The Mirror, Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Independent, Squawka and FoutFourTwo.

twitter: @OffsideLiam


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At half-time, with the score at 0-0 in PSG’s Ligue 1 opener against Lille, Lucas Moura remained extremely confident his side could still run out victors, despite the fact Laurent Blanc’s charges were down to 10 men courtesy of Adrien Rabiot’s sending off on 28 minutes.

“PSG will win the game with 10,” proclaimed the Brazilian.

He was right, backing up his half-time comments emphatically as PSG went on to win 1-0 thanks to his outstanding goal.

Lucas’ strike was significant for both himself and the team, for it signaled his first league goal since January, plus it also propelled PSG to their first win away from home on the opening matchday in 19 years. It took one of the finest team goals you’re likely to witness to break the curse, but doing it in the faceof such adversity certainly made it all the more special.

“It’s my characteristics to run with the ball at my feet and make the difference. I’m very happy I scored and we won 3 points,” he said after
the match.

Starting the contest as PSG’s left winger, Lucas’ intelligent movement and positioning allowed him to thrive throughout. His clever, subtle variations proved too much for Lille to handle, with his ability to identify space, even in the smallest pockets, being a key feature of his work.

While the former Sao Paulo starlet also enjoyed plenty of success when hugging the touchline, where upon obtaining possession he could then isolate himself in 1v1 scenarios with Lille’s inexperienced, 19-year-old fullback Benjamin Pavard, his genius when opting to drift infield was without question the avenue that bore the most fruit for him.

Lucas was always scanning for openings. Whether looking to exploit the half spaces in between Pavard and Renato Civelli (Lille’s right back and right sided centre back), Civelli and Ibrahim Amadou (Lille’s two centre backs) or in and around Les Dogues’ holding midfield pairing of Rio Mavuba
and Florent Balmont, the electric attacker’s movement wreaked so much havoc for the opposition.

His infield forays also effectively made space for his fullback, Maxwell, to surge into, which in turn forced Pavard to mark Maxwell, thus successfully dragging Lucas’ direct opponent away from him. This inherently meant Lucas had the required freedom to roam into central areas, often unimpeded, and make a nuisance of himself.

Once in possession, the 22-year-old called on his wicked technical ability to turn sharply and run at his adversaries. Due to his smart work to get into central areas, when he received the ball the field was open for him to do whatever he pleased. And he did just that. On top of embarking on some sublime dribbles, he linked up beautifully in tight spaces and distributed the ball astutely into the wide areas where there were always
plentiful options.

Blanc chose to deploy Lucas on the right wing for the second half, and although last season’s league champions were largely forced to play on the counter due to Lille having the numerical supremacy, the winger who wears the number seven still influenced the contest heavily by using the aforementioned modes of operation.

It came as little surprise, then, that the away side’s decisive goal was instigated by Lucas’ buzzing movement.

Here, after sneaking into the space to the right of Mavuba, Thiago Motta had the awareness to hit him up. Lucas then turned away sharply from Mavuba and subsequently found Edinson Cavani, who played a neat one touch pass to Blaise Matuidi. Noticing Lucas had continued his run forward, Matuidi slid an inch-perfect first time ball right through the heart of the defence and into Lucas’ path. Still with plenty of work to do, the man capped 31 times for his country masterfully rounded the formidable Vincent Enyeama to coolly finish. It was a sequence so brilliant that it will surely be a goal of the season contender. Lucas’ quality was stamped all over it, his tremendous capabilities shown off magnificently.

To add a futher layer of variety, on the odd occasion the bearded Lucas would push upfield alongside Cavani into positions that resembled that of a traditional centre forward. He’d hover around laterally in these situations, while his defenders and midfielders cycled possession. But once he saw Thiago Silva acquire possession, he was off, knowing his countrymen would look to ping a long ball over the top for him to latch onto, thereby catching the Lille backline off guard and potentially getting into a scoring position.

Although no goals eventuated from the tactic, it was nonetheless an unpredictable and very promising strategy that caught out the Lille backline many times. It made perfect sense, for if Lucas did latch onto the ball, his speed would’ve made him an uncatchable proposition.

All things considered, Lucas’ man of the match performance gave a distinct indication as to just why the club were willing to shell out a staggering €45 million to acquire his services back in 2012, with his capacity to change a game in an instant illustrating what an indispensable player he can be on his day. And that’s the povital caveat with him, on his day he’s unplayable, but finding consistency has been a struggle for him since moving to the French capital.

In fairness to the Brazilian, injuries, adjusting to life in a colder climate and becoming accustomed to a different tactical approach have all combined to play a role in him being unable to persistently perform at his best.

“The most difficult in the beginning was the cold,” he explained. “I arrived in France in the middle of winter and that year it snowed a lot.

“In Brazil, we’re not used to it. When I arrived, it was minus seven degrees. So I played and trained in gloves and two pairs of pants – which is tough to move in!

“The tactical side of the game is also part of the difficulty here because the system is very different to Brazil. Every movement must be perfect, which we’re not used to.”

Last season proved a breakthrough, though, where his encouraging displays demonstrated he might be on the cusp of completely turning the corner and fulfilling his undoubted potential to become a bonafide superstar.

Now adapted to life in Paris and having overcome some major setbacks, which also included him missing the 2014 World Cup as a result of poor form and the 2015 Copa America due to injury, the upcoming campaign looms as a hugely important stage in his career at PSG.

Signing a new contract until 2019 underlined his determination to succeed at the European powerhouse. If his magnificent start to the new season is
anything to go by, there’s no reason to suggest he can’t do just that and evolve into a truly world-class player.

It’s now time for Lucas to seize his opportunity and deliver.

About the author:

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.



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