French Connection: Atal, Leao and Ligue 1’s Five Best Foreign Newcomers

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Another Ligue 1 campaign is drawing to a close, with just a couple of matches left before the summer break. 

And while the established foreign imports such as Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Nicolas Pepe shone as expected, there were a host of new faces who established themselves as top performers over the course of the campaign in Ligue 1.

French Connection Newcomers GFX

Some had flirted with senior football previously and others were just poised to make their big breaks in the game.

With that in mind, here are five outstanding summer signings who were playing in Le Championnat for the first time this season.

Youcef Atal (Nice)

Youcef Atal Nice

The success of Youcef Atal this season can be measured by the fact that the exciting right-back has emerged on the shopping list of many of Europe’s biggest clubs for the summer. The Algeria international arrived in Nice from Algerian side Paradou via a stint in Belgium in the summer and has impressed with his swashbuckling attacking spirit. Having refined the defensive side of his game over the course of the campaign, he has been a key player for Patrick Vieira’s side, even filling in as a winger at points to supplement their attack. Nice will do well to keep hold of the 22-year-old hot prospect.

Juan Bernat (PSG)

Lille PSG Juan Bernat

A relatively low-key arrival in the summer at Paris Saint-Germain, the Spaniard has been a consistently strong performer in the capital, despite what has proven to be a somewhat turbulent season. With Thomas Tuchel’s squad thin and hit by injuries, the 26-year-old has filled in numerous roles and has performed solidly in each one. He also had a knack of coming up with important goals in the Champions League as he netted against Napoli, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Jason Denayer (Lyon)

Jason Denayer Lyon 23112018

Lyon have had central defensive problems since Cris departed in 2012 but Jason Denayer’s arrival in the Rhone Valley suggests that they might finally have found a long-term successor to the man known as ‘The Policeman’. At 23, Denayer still has scope to improve but he has impressed this season with his reading of the game and his pace. He notably stood out in the scoreless Champions League draw against Barcelona, and previously in that competition as Lyon first beat, and then drew, with his former club Manchester City.

Rafael Leao (Lille)

Rafael Leao

It was one of the coups of the summer when Lille were able to sign up Rafael Leao on a free transfer following his decision to leave Sporting CP. Regarded as one of the brightest talents in the Portuguese game, the teenager initially took some time to settle in France but has played his part as LOSC stand on the brink of a return to the Champions League. He has returned eight goals in 24 Ligue 1 outings to date and his importance to the team will only grow if and when Nicolas Pepe departs in the summer.

Matz Sels (Strasbourg)

Matz Sels Strasbourg

Strasbourg have been the recipients of many admiring glances this season, with the performances of right-back Kenny Lala grabbing the spotlight. Underpinning much of Racing’s success, though, has been goalkeeper Matz Sels, who has enjoyed an incredibly consistent campaign. He has justified the faith the club showed in him when he arrived for around €4 million last summer, with the ex-Newcastle shot-stopper revealing that no less than PSG’s Gianluigi Buffon had taken the time to congratulate him on the campaign he has enjoyed with the Alsace side. He can now look forward to European football at Stade de la Meinau next term.