10 Ligue 1 gems for Premier League clubs to target in January
Leicester have been pretty good in the Premier League this season, haven't they? Jamie Vardy has grabbed most of the headlines, but the England man's had some help firing the Foxes up to their lofty position. Both Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante have caught the eye under Claudio Ranieri’s guidance, having both arrived from across the channel over the last three seasons. Mahrez signed for the East Midlanders from Ligue 2 side Le Havre when they were in the Championship in January 2014, and Kante was a summer signing from unfancied Caen.
But the Foxes aren't the only Premier League club to benefit from French raids. So here are 10 more potential gems who should be interesting English clubs in the January window...
1. Wahbi Khazri (Bordeaux)
Khazri’s strength, determination, balance and fine vision make him a dangerous player all over the pitch
Former France defender Willy Sagnol has failed to build on his initial success in his second season at Bordeaux. Europa League commitments have proved difficult to juggle with league matches, culminating in a dismal 14th-place standing. One bright point, however, has been the leadership and creativity shown by his Tunisian playmaker Khazri.
When les Girondins play well, usually it's down to the 24-year-old. Khazri’s strength, determination, balance and fine vision make him a dangerous player all over the pitch. He has contributed six assists already this season (only Angel Di Maria has more), plus another six goals in all competitions, and would be a tough player to replace if someone was to snap him up. He could suit a West Brom side currently struggling for goals and playing Craig Gardner out wide, but also the similarly goal shy Swansea and Newcastle.
2. Cheikh N'Doye (Angers)
Although 29, N’Doye is a midfielder with years left in the tank. A late bloomer, he signed from Ligue 2 side Creteil in the summer and even without any Ligue 1 experience he's been a revelation in Angers’ successful return to the top flight.
His huge 6ft 3in frame makes him a commanding presence at both ends of the pitch – helping him score five goals this season – but he's also quick along the ground and able to push the ball up the pitch. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who knows how to use his attributes, and thus is able to battle with any midfield challenges. "I am under contract with Angers until 2017," said the Senegalese midfielder who has been linked with Chelsea and Manchester City. "I'm preparing for the January games, I don't think of anything else."
3. Adrien Rabiot (PSG)
PSG trust him a lot and I think he'll remain at the club
When Marco Verratti had to come off injured against Real Madrid, the spotlight turned to Rabiot – and he delivered. An assured performance showed that the 20-year-old has perhaps finally shaken off the bad boy image and control of his mother/agent. Despite this, his place in PSG’s midfield is still not guaranteed and he may need to move on.
Confident on the ball, Rabiot has the energy and vision to move the ball forward quickly, but the defensive awareness to cover and protect his defence. He's been linked with Arsenal in the past, but PSG's sporting director Leonardo has quashed talk of an impending exit. "PSG trust him a lot and I think he'll remain at the club," said the Brazilian. "PSG are playing lot of competitions and they will definitely need him."
4. Henri Saivet (Bordeaux)
He was once tipped as the next Thierry Henry, but under Sagnol the Football Manager hero has been converted from left-winger to a combative central midfielder.
The 25-year-old has shown excellent skill on the ball and an eye for goal to make him a dangerous weapon from the centre of the park. Combining his attacking instincts with power, pace and agility to create an intriguing hybrid, Bordeaux have lost an attacking threat but gained a hard-working rock who could become a top-class midfielder. Sunderland and Norwich could certainly do with his steel in midfield, but Newcastle look best placed to land his signature next month.
5. Didier N'Dong (Lorient)
By following in the footsteps of Laurent Koscielny, Mario Lemina and Jordan Ayew, it's hoped that Gabonese midfielder N’Dong becomes the next player to leave Brittany for a profit once he has suitably impressed at the Stade de Moustoir.
Although he has shown an eye for goal and ability to get into scoring positions, his best play has come as a ball-winner. He's perhaps a little too aggressive at times, but his decision-making will improve with experience. Only 21, N'Dong's future is as bright as his bleached-blond dreadlocks.
6. Nampalys Mendy (Nice)
Claude Puel’s Nice have been a joy to watch this season. Hatem Ben Arfa and Valere Germain have claimed most of the praise, but their freedom to play has come off the excellent midfield work of captain Mendy.
The former Manchester United target is the Cote d’Azur side's beating heart, a neat and tidy player who could anchor almost any side. He reads the game exceptionally well and uses his small frame to bustle and harass the opposition. Leicester made an unsuccessful offer in the summer, but then landed Kante.
7. Abdoulaye Doucoure (Rennes)
After being linked with an £8 million move to Watford in the summer, Doucoure decided to stay at Rennes and has once again shown signs of being a very promising box-to-box midfielder. His style is similar to that of Blaise Matuidi and the aforementioned Kante.
A powerful runner, like his cousin and world champion athlete Ladji Doucoure, Abdoulaye has the handy knack of making well-timed runs into the box. His understanding with Paul-Georges Ntep has been a feature of Rennes' play when both have been fit. Still only 22, you get the feeling there is much more to come from the No.8.
8. Raphael Guerreiro (Lorient)
This time last season, Guerreiro was one of the hottest properties in France. This campaign has been much quieter for the left-sided Portugal international, but that doesn’t make his future any less exciting.
He has matured into a much more potent attacking threat. No longer constrained to the left, the 22-year-old loves to cut inside and find ways to unleash his superb left foot. Guerreiro is still a solid defender and may still be better as a full-back when he does eventually make his next move. The most recent reports link Liverpool as suitors.
9. Wissam Ben Yedder (Toulouse)
The time is right for Ben Yedder to finally leave Toulouse. The 25-year-old striker had hoped to go in the summer, but no one matched the club's asking price. Rather than go stale, or risk selling him as a Ligue 2 club, he will be ripe for the picking in the January transfer window – and Marseille look desperate to land him.
His low centre of gravity and futsal background give him an edge on the ball. He can play off the shoulder or take the ball into feet. The Frenchman may be a little lightweight for the Premier League, but in the right system with the players to combine with, he could develop into an absolute gem.
Ben Yedder has still managed to score four league goals and create three more in a poor Toulouse team. With confidence behind him and a manager who believes in him, the potential for excellence is high.
10. Stephane Ruffier (Saint-Etienne)
While he's capable of pulling off some gravity-defying saves, the 29-year-old has a propensity to mess up routine work elsewhere
It’s hard to imagine a Saint-Etienne team without Ruffier between the sticks. Ever since joining from Monaco in 2011, the France goalkeeper hasn’t missed a single league game in five seasons. That will likely change come January as the shot-stopper has expressed his desire to move to England – but apparently not Newcastle, if reports are to be believed.
Amid fighting for a place in Didier Deschamps' squad this summer, Ruffier has recorded seven clean sheets so far this season. But while he's capable of pulling off some gravity-defying saves, the 29-year-old's propensity to mess up routine work elsewhere has perhaps stopped him from becoming one of Europe's best keepers.