With UEFA countries not involved in the current international window, a large number of Ligue 1 players are enjoying a mini winter break this weekend. As such, it’s a chance for us to reflect on the season to this point, as we name our best coach and Ligue 1 team of 2021-22 so far. Spoiler alert – after only managing a single goal in 12 appearances in his debut season for Paris Saint-Germain, there’s no place for Lionel Messi here.
Goalkeeper – Anthony Lopes
Lyon haven’t been having the best of times this season, but their current 11th place in the Ligue 1 standings would be a lot worse if it wasn’t for their goalkeeper. Four teams in the top 10 have conceded more goals than Les Gones, while Nantes have also let in the same number as Lyon, 27. Peter Bosz’s side are unbeaten since early December, a run of six matches with victories in their last two. Lopes has been a key cog in his team only conceding two goals in their last five fixtures, with a win in their game in hand lifting them up into the European mix.
Right-back – Jonathan Clauss
Operating predominantly at right wing-back for Lens, the 29-year-old Clauss has blossomed in his peak years. Tipped by many to finally win his first cap for France with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar looming large, Clauss is currently tied in first place for Ligue 1 assists with Kylian Mbappe and Dimitri Payet. Contributing two goals to go along with his nine assists, the continued strong form of this late bloomer will be crucial to Les Sang et Or’s chances of securing European football in the coming weeks and months.
Centre-back – Marquinhos
With so many superstars within the squad, it’s not easy being the Paris Saint-Germain captain. Marquinhos is doing a great job at the moment though, marshalling Mauricio Pochettino’s back line to tremendous effect. The Brazilian is a genuine leader for the capital club, while he’s also contributed more goals than Messi and the same number as Neymar and Angel Di Maria, thanks to his three strikes so far this term. Only Marseille have conceded fewer goals in Ligue 1 this season than the 18 PSG have let in, providing the sturdy platform needed for Les Rouge-et-Bleu’s glittering array of attacking talent to flourish.
Centre-back – William Saliba
One of the biggest reasons behind Marseille boasting the best defensive record in Ligue 1 at this stage of the campaign is the form of Saliba. The 20-year-old is on loan from Premier League club Arsenal, and has really impressed in his native France after returning home following last season’s loan spell with Nice. Jorge Sampaoli has built his defence around Saliba, and the youngster has rewarded his manager’s faith by helping Les Phoceens climb into the top three. The Stade Velodrome outfit will move above Saliba’s club from last season and fellow Champions League contenders Nice if they win the game in hand they have over the team currently in second place.
Left-back – Achraf Hakimi
Yes, he’s one of the best right-backs in the world, but Hakimi has filled in on the left at times throughout his career and certainly has the ability to do so. The Moroccan has fitted in beautifully at the Parc des Princes since moving to PSG from Serie A champions Inter in the summer, featuring in 18 of Les Rouge-et-Bleu’s 22 matches so far. He has already scored three times and also contributed the same number of assists, as the Parisians have re-established themselves as the team to beat in Ligue 1.
Midfield – Dimitri Payet
Admittedly playing predominantly as a forward or even striker this season, we had to get Payet into this team on account of his performances and stats this season. The Marseille man has managed eight goals and eight assists already in 2021-22, as Les Olympiens continue to stake their claim for a return to the Champions League after missing out during the current campaign. Payet is simply unplayable on his day, and if he can have more good ones than bad, then Marseille will have a great chance of staying within the top three as the season reaches its climax.
Midfield – Johan Gastien
Despite being the son of Clermont manager Pascal Gastien, there can be few claims of nepotism levelled at midfielder Johan Gastien. The 34-year-old veteran has been in superb form this season, leading Les Lanciers to their current 15th-placed position in their first ever season in Ligue 1. Gastien is Clermont’s vice-captain and a real leader on the pitch, and his ability on the ball plays a critical role in his team’s attacking style of play that’s led to widespread praise. The relegation battle looks like being an incredibly close one, and Gastien’s form will be pivotal to Les Lanciers’ survival bid.
Midfield – Seko Fofana
After spending five years in Ligue 2 before returning to the top flight last season, Lens secured an impressive seventh-placed finish in 2020-21. Fofana made 20 appearances during his debut campaign with Les Sang et Or and the Ivorian midfielder has followed it up with an even more influential set of performances this term. Fofana is his club’s joint-top scorer with six league goals so far, with most of those vitally important for his team. Lens are right in the mix for the European places and Fofana’s form will be central to their chances down the home straight.
Forward – Martin Terrier
Although Nice forward Amine Gouiri pushed him hard on the back of his 10 goals and seven assists, it was impossible for us to leave Terrier out of this team. The Frenchman has also scored 10 times this season, with none of those coming from the penalty spot, unlike three of Gouiri’s, while half of them have been Rennes’ first goal in a game. Les Rouge et Noir are on a difficult run at present after losing four of their last five Ligue 1 fixtures, but they did thrash Bordeaux 6-0 in the other game of that sequence and Terrier has netted six goals in his last six matches, with Rennes right in the hunt for Europe.
Forward – Wissam Ben Yedder
Jonathan David pushed him close for a place in our lineup, but Ben Yedder’s current form has given him the edge. The French forward has scored 13 times in his last 16 league games, boasting a minute-per-goal ratio of 99 across the campaign. Six of his goals may have come from the penalty spot, but this is by far the best figure among the Ligue 1 top scorers. Ben Yedder’s form has kept Monaco in European contention, with the Champions League places still within their reach if the Monegasques can improve their consistency.
Forward – Kylian Mbappe
The only member of PSG’s epic front three to make our Ligue 1 team of 2021-22 so far is French World Cup winner Mbappe. The 23-year-old has featured 20 times for Les Rouge-et-Bleu this term, which is as many games as Messi and Neymar have started between them. Mbappe will hope to improve his scoring ratio of exactly one goal every two games over the remainder of the season, after netting 78 times in 80 appearances over the course of the three previous league campaigns. Even so, he has been the standout player as PSG have built a commanding lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.
Coach – Christophe Galtier
Fresh from upsetting all the Ligue 1 odds last season by winning the title with Lille, Galtier is proving his success is no fluke in his new job with Nice. The 55-year-old Frenchman has found the winning formula at the Allianz Riviera after leading his team to five straight league victories heading into this mini break, taking Les Aiglons into second place in the Ligue 1 table, where they haven’t finished as high as since 1976. They may be 11 points behind the superstars of PSG, but if Galtier can deliver Champions League football in his first campaign with Nice, it would rank as another outstanding achievement on his impressive managerial CV.