Nuno Tavares, Nicolas Pépé, Malang Sarr: The Premier League’s Ligue 1 loanees reviewed

As the Ligue 1 season draws to an end, Ligue 1’s Premier League loanees prepare to head back to their parent clubs. Generally speaking, many of those that have made the hop across the Channel haven’t thrived this season, and will therefore will return to the English top-flight with their reputations unenhanced. 

Malang Sarr – 2/10

Sarr’s loan hasn’t worked out for any party. Should Chelsea wish to sell the player, they will find that his price has decreased rather than increased, whilst, for AS Monaco, he hasn’t been able to mitigate Benoît Badiashile’s mid-season departure. The Frenchman has been error-prone, as well as injury prone. 

The Chelsea loanee hasn’t featured since mid-March and recently underwent surgery. Prior to that, Sarr was used sparingly, and despite Badiashile’s transfer to Chelsea, Guillermo Maripán has often been preferred alongside Axel Disasi. When Sarr has featured, he hasn’t convinced, and that has shown in Philippe Clement’s selection. The OGC Nice academy product’s longest run in the starting line-up came when Maripán faced a period on the sidelines. 

This season, Monaco have only the 13th-best defence in the league, and for a team challenging for the Champions League, that isn’t good enough. Whilst Sarr is far from being the only one responsible for that record, he hasn’t had the desired effect in the back line. Despite a purchase option being included in the Frenchman’s contract, a return to Chelsea looks highly likely. 

Nicolas Pépé – 2/10 

The Arsenal loanee thrived during his time at Lille OSC, but couldn’t replicate his form for Les Dogues on the Riviera. The Ivory Coast international was shoehorned into Lucien Favre’s 4-4-2 at the beginning of the season, and played up-front due to the player’s inability to carry out defensive instructions. The Swiss manager, who has since left the club, criticised the Arsenal loanee’s defensive work rate. 

Ultimately, Pépé wasn’t brought in to defend, but his attacking output has also underwhelmed. He has eight goals and one assist in 28 games in all competitions this season. Since March, Pépé has suffered from a tendinitis issue in his knee. He was rushed back to feature in Nice’s UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-final against FC Basel, but coming off the bench Pépé missed multiple chances and lost the ball on multiple occasions. 

Given his struggle to find consistency, as well as the ongoing knee issue, Pépé is unlikely to be at Nice next season, and a return to Arsenal is almost certain. Like Sarr, Pépé returns to his parent club with his reputation – and his price tag – diminished. 

Eric Bailly – 2/10

Bailly’s loan spell at Olympique de Marseille from Manchester United will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. His red card in a Coupe de France tie against Hyères is undoubtedly the most memorable moment of his season. That high tackle, which saw his opponent admitted into intensive care as a precaution, saw him receive a seven-game ban. 

The Ivory Coast international has only played in 22 games in all competitions, despite Marseille deploying a back three this season. Stats have been few and far between, and his presence in the starting lineup against Brest last weekend was a first since late February. Bailly hasn’t proved the solidity that Les Phocéens hoped he would, and he will also return to his parent club at the end of the season. 

Joe Rodon – 3/10 

The Tottenham Hotspur defender will return to London without the experience he would have hoped to accrue. Fikayo Tomori’s loan at Rennes proved a springboard for the Englishman, but Rodon hasn’t felt the benefit of his experience. The Welshman has only featured in one of Rennes’ last 14 games. Having begun the season as Arthur Theate’s partner, he has since lost his starting place in the side. 

Theate himself was a summer signing, and the two were very much trying to forge an understanding in the opening weeks of the season, with varying degrees of success. However, whilst Theate has retained his place, Rodon has been replaced by the promising Warmed Omari. This loan spell will do little to bolster Rodon’s reputation or his price tag. 

Nuno Tavares – 4/10

Six goals for Arsenal loanee Tavares makes for positive reading, but that only tells half the story. Three of those goals came in the first four matches of the season. Whilst there are few doubts that Tavares is a major asset going forward, he has been repeatedly exposed for his defensive naivety and consequently, his wing has been targeted by the opposition. 

Alongside Jonathan Clauss on the opposite wing, Tavares was one of Marseille’s most important defensive outlets, especially in the first half of the season, but once his attacking output tailed off, his defensive shortcomings were accentuated. It hasn’t just been a mixed season on the pitch for the Portuguese wing-back. Tavares was also reportedly kicked out of training by Igor Tudor for his lack of application, according to L’Équipe. Whilst, even more recently, he was dropped for poor attitude, according to RMC SportTavares is another player who will return to his parent club with question marks around his future. 

Djed Spence – 2/10

Spence only had half a season to make his impression felt at Roazhon Park, but he leaves having made no impression at all. The England U21 international leaves having made just eight appearances for the club. He has failed to make a goal contribution in that time. In February and March, he made seven consecutive starts for Rennes before dropping to the bench. He sustained an injury at the end of April and hasn’t played since. He subsequently returns to Tottenham Hotspur where his future will be uncertain given the considerable changes at the club since his January departure.

André Gomes – 7/10 

The biggest success of those that made the temporary switch across the Channel. The Portuguese international has been an integral part of Lille OSC’s midfield, and has contributed three goals and two assists in 26 Ligue 1 appearances. Injuries have punctuated the Everton man’s career, but this season, he has shown that with a run of games, he can still control the game. He has been a metronomic force and a stable presence in Les Dogues’ midfield, and certainly a player whose services they should consider retaining. 

Folarin Balogun – 10/10

Perhaps the definition of the perfect loan. Balogun is one of Ligue 1’s top goalscorers with Reims this season with 20 goals in 36 league appearances. The American striker has helped Will Still’s side overachieve this season, and despite being touted as a potential relegation candidate, they could finish in the top half, depending on Saturday’s results.

This is, therefore, a win, win, win scenario. Reims have greatly benefited, Arsenal now possess a valuable striker, who has garnered a reputation as a goalscorer across Europe, and the player himself has accrued crucial experience that will help him going forward. Whilst it is unclear where Balogun’s future lies, should Arsenal decide to cash-in, they will get much more than they would have had they decided to part ways with their academy product last summer. 


GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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