Top Ligue 1 players to look out for at Russia 2018

It is less than two weeks until the start of the World Cup and not only will players representing their countries be doing their utmost to earn their nations the most prestigious international prize, the summer tournament will also represent an opportunity for various players to market themselves for potential transfers. Below is a list of five noteworthy players to watch out for this summer who currently ply their trade in Ligue 1, France. 

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5- Ismaila Sarr

Club- Rennes

Nation- Senegal

Position- Winger

The Senegalese starlet has certainly had an eventful introduction to his career in Ligue 1. Sarr has only just completed his second professional season, having netted 5 Ligue 1 goals and producing the same number of assists in his breakthrough campaign at FC Metz, only a year after moving from AS Génération Foot in Senegal, the side who he had helped progress from the second tier to the top flight of the Senegalese League. After just a year at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, Sarr completed a €20m move to Rennes, reportedly rejecting a move to Spanish giants Barcelona in the process. 

The young winger has already won 6 caps and scored twice for Senegal, and has already generated comparisons to former Rennes winger Ousmane Dembele and Liverpool’s Senegalese star Sadio Mane, the latter who Sarr came on to replace as a substitute on his international debut in the 2017 AFCON in Gabon. 

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4- Giovanni Lo Celso

Club- PSG

Nation- Argentina

Position- Central Midfield

While PSG were dominating headlines last summer with lavish, high-profile purchases to recruit star-studded talents such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, little coverage in comparison was given the year before to the €9m purchase of Rosario Central’s attacking midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso, who was then immediately loaned back to the Argentine club until the end of 2016. 

After having mustered a mere 82 minutes in his first half season, Lo Celso’s future at PSG was in some considerable doubt. 

However, after Goncalo Guedes was loaned out to Valencia in the following summer transfer window, Unai Emery decided to retain the young Argentine, who was soon to be rewarded for his persistence. 

An injury to Thiago Motta opened an opportunity for an extended run in the first team for Lo Celso, who impressed to such a degree that he was being selected ahead of established international individuals such as Javier Pastore and Julian Draxler.  

Despite having only 4 Argentina caps to his name, Lo Celso was recently named in Argentina’s final 23-man World Cup squad and the dynamic playmaker’s rapid rise will make him one of the young stars to watch in this summer’s tournament.  

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3- Marquinhos

Club- PSG

Nation- Brazil

Position- Central defence

Marquinhos has been a key figurehead in manager Tite’s quest for redemption following their embarrassing semi-final exit to eventual champions Germany on home soil in 2014. 

Only four members of the 23-man squad involved in the 7-1 humiliation have survived since the necessary squad overhaul. 

The 24-year-old PSG centre-back is now one of the first selections on the team sheet, having been a consistent figure since the manager’s arrival in June 2016, an appointment that coincided with the five-time world champions winning eight consecutive qualifiers to smoothly secure their passage to Russia.  

A versatile defender, frequently having been deployed at right-back and defensive midfield on occasions during his spells at Roma and PSG, in addition to his predominant centre-back role.

A strong aerial presence and a more than technically competent ball-playing defender, Marquinhos has developed a healthy chemistry in the qualification stages with the experienced Inter Milan centre-back Miranda.  

If the Brazilian backline offers the comparable stability that has enabled them to qualify with such noticeable confidence and their formidable attack lives up to its significant billing, the ghosts of four years ago could well dissipate from recent memory. 

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2- Neymar

Club- PSG

Nation- Brazil

Position- Forward

The phenomenon who dictated the majority of last summer’s media attention following his £198m move from Barcelona to PSG faces an anxious race against time for fitness for Russia as he recovers from a foot injury.

Neymar has not played since his side’s 3-0 victory over Marseille on February 25 but is hoping to gain some match time in Brazil’s warm-up friendlies against Croatia and Austria. 

Recently asked at Brazil’s confederation headquarters on his recovery progress, he responded; “I am not 100 percent yet. But that comes with time. It is normal that I have this fear of making complete movements. There are still many days (until the opener) and I will be 100 percent then”. 

Despite missing the final third of the season through injury, the Brazilian star had made a substantial impact to Unai Emery’s side beforehand, scoring 19 goals and contributing 13 assists from his 20 appearances in 2017/18. 

Indeed, if the inimitable Neymar can return to the tournament fully fit, he will undeniably be a precious option for Tite to utilise. 

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1- Kylian Mbappe

Club- PSG

Nation- France

Position- Forward

Another individual who has had to become accustomed to the media attention that comes with being the subject of a mega-money summer transfer move to PSG, a transfer that in turn made him the world’s most expensive teenage footballer.

Mbappe’s high-profile move to last year’s league champions has acclimatised the young sensation with the pressures of playing in a side with lofty expectations under intense scrutiny.

The 19-year-old enjoyed a solid debut season in the capital, scoring 13 times and contributing 8 assists to PSG’s cruise to the Ligue 1 title.

4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 are thought to be the preferred line-up options of manager Didier Deschamps for France ahead of the tournament, with Mbappe likely to be at the focal point of both setups.

In the former formation, Mbappe would be likely to operate just ahead of Antoine Griezmann as the centre-forward, whilst in the latter the teen sensation would be used as a lone forward with the Atletico Madrid striker dropped back and played in between Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona.

With players from all over the globe showcasing their impressive talents, the 2018 World Cup will certainly be one to watch for not only the fans but for managers on the look out for new signings. 

Follow Hal on Twitter @HalWalker

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