Ligue 1 is back underway after a three-week break over Christmas, with Paris Saint-Germain romping away from the chasing pack, who have been unable to mount even a meek protest against the capital side’s dominance.
It has been an unusual season in that many of the familiar forces, such as Lyon, Marseille and especially Monaco, have struggled to gain any degree of positive momentum, leaving them floundering in the Champions League race – or in the principality side’s case, worse.
Nevertheless, there have been impressive performances from elsewhere in French football’s top flight.
Here are the unheralded heroes from the first half of the season, selected from teams who failed to qualify for Europe this term, with obvious star candidates like Lille pair Nicolas Pepe and Jonathan Bamba, who have been readily associated with big moves throughout this season.
GK: Walter Benitez (Nice, £0.69)
Started the season as second choice but is now very much the go-to play for Patrick Vieira between the sticks. Has conceded only 11 goals in 15 appearances and has been a linchpin for a Nice outfit that has leaned heavily on its defensive strength this season.
RB: Kenny Lala (Strasbourg, £1.38)
No defender in Europe’s big five leagues can boast offensive numbers like former Lens man Lala. He has an incredible six assists to his name in only 17 matches and has three goals to boot. Has recently talked up his chances of getting into the France squad and has been linked with a move to Lyon.
CB: Younes Abdelhamid (Reims, to be IPO’d)
Reims boast one of the best defensive records in Ligue 1 and the 31-year-old centre-back has typified why they have been so strong. Has organised well and has barely put a foot wrong, having played every minute of every match.
CB: Daniel Congre (Montpellier, to be IPO’d)
Montpellier’s defensive strength is the main reason they enjoyed such a strong start to the season. Alongside partners Hilton and Pedro Mendes, Congre has been a reliable figure in the heart of the back five, which is renowned as one of the best in the country.
LB: Fode Ballo-Toure (Lille/Monaco, £0.91)
Made a simply awful start to life in Lille under Marcelo Bielsa but has recovered impressively this season and has earned a move to Monaco, where he will finish the season. While much of the focus on Lille has fallen on on Pepe and Bamba, they have been strong in defence and the left-back was one of their standouts.
CM: Romain Amalfitano (Dijon, £0.50)
It’s been a difficult season for Dijon, but the performances of former Newcastle man Amalfitano have been impressive. He does not have a goal or assist to his name, but he has been asked to play in numerous different roles and has performed them all to a high level.
CM: Damien Le Tallec (Montpellier, £0.76)
Signed in the summer as a utility player who was not necessarily expected to start, the brother of former Liverpool player Anthony is making a name for himself in France in his own right. Currently occupies a defensive midfield role and has been playing it impressively week after week.
CM : Teji Savanier (Nimes, £1.86)
The 27-year-old is experiencing Ligue 1 for the first time this season, but from his performances it is impossible to tell. Has two goals, including one against PSG, and five assists for newly promoted Nimes and these figures would be better if he had not been dismissed against the league leaders and handed a five-game ban.
LM: Flavien Tait (Angers, £1.20)
Over the last couple of years, the winger has gone about his work quietly but very effectively. This season has been little different for a man who will turn 26 next month. Has six assists his name and two goals and is remarkably underappreciated for an attacking player who has been in good form for around a year now.
Undoubtedly the revelation of the season in Ligue 1, Sala was expected to work hard and chip in with semi-frequent goals for Nantes, yet at the halfway point of the season he has 12 to his name. A €20 million price tag has been placed on his shoulders, but given his history that seems a risk.
RM: Wahbi Khazri (Saint-Etienne, £1.37)
Had been expected to stay with Rennes in the summer but eventually moved to Saint-Etienne, where he has established himself as the undoubted leader of their attack, often playing as a false 9. Boasts nine goals and two assists in only 16 Ligue 1 appearances.
Edouard Mendy (Reims, £0.71)
Ruben Aguilar (Montpellier,£0.92)
Jose Fonte (Lille, £0.39)
Ismael Traore (Angers, to be IPO’d)
Eddy Gnahore (Amiens, to be IPO’d)
Andy Delort (Montpellier, £1.18)
Max Gradel (Toulouse, £1.27)
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