GFFN Team of the Year | The Winners

Whilst a familiar face tops the tree, this tight topsy-turvy Ligue 1 season has thrown up a fair few surprises. Paris Saint-Germain have claimed their third successive title but few would have expected that Stade Brestois, tipped by many for relegation, would have been one of their closest challengers for much of the season. On an individual level, there have been a few surprises too, with some players, notably Pierre Lees-Melou and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ageing like fine wine as they near the back end of their careers. Both are included in the GFFN Team of the Year. 

As was the case for last season’s awards, your votes over the past few weeks have been weighted 50/50 with the GFFN team’s picks to select the winners in each category. Brest’s surprise success is reflected in this season’s team, whilst Lille OSC, who possess one of the most exciting and youthful squads in Europe are well represented. 

In what is his final season with PSG, there is space for Kylian Mbappé, Ligue 1’s Top Scoreur on the left wing, whilst AS Monaco’s summer recruits, Wilfried Singo and Denis Zakaria reflect what has been an accomplished debut season for sporting director Thiago Scuro and manager Adi Hütter at the Principality club. 

Goalkeeper – Lucas Chevalier (Lille)

Ligue 1 has often been a proven stomping ground for developing emerging goalkeeping talents. Lille’s Lucas Chevalier (22) has continued that trend this season with his impressive development between the sticks for Les Dogues

Prior to this season, the France U21 international had been prone to a mistake and possessed the nervy disposition which is all too common of young goalkeepers thrown in the deep end at the top level. 

The 2023/24 season has been different though. Chevalier has shown strength and maturity between the sticks, which has made him hugely dependable for Paulo Fonseca. With several big stops, the former Valenciennes loanee saved an estimated 5.6 goals across the season for Les Dogues, according to post-shot xG. In addition, due to his heroic antics, he managed the second-most clean sheets across the season with 15 shutouts. Liam Wraith

Right-back – Wilfried Singo (Monaco)

Amongst the bigger-name signings at AS Monaco last summer, Wilfried Singo’s move to the Principality went under the radar. He was somewhat of an unknown quantity when he arrived for a meagre fee from Torino but that is no longer the case. Singo has played centre-back and right-back in a back-four for Les Monégasques this season, as well as on the right-hand-side of a back-three and looked equally as comfortable in each position. His aerial ability and devastating speed have been put to good use both in attack and in defence. His performance against PSG, including that now famous “Stop that Chokbar” flick over Bradley Barcola’s head, lives long in the memory but Singo, who also won the AFCON with the Ivory Coast this season, has been consistent throughout and a big reason behind Monaco’s second-place finish in Ligue 1. LE

Centre-backs – Jean-Clair Todibo (Nice), Leny Yoro (Lille)

Alongside the age-defying Dante, Jean-Clair Todibo has formed the cornerstone of the strongest defence in Ligue 1 this season. With just 27 goals conceded across the campaign, going into the final game of the season, Nice also have the fourth-best defensive record of any team in Europe’s top five leagues. Todibo has been a big part of that record, featuring 32 times for Le Gym in all competitions. It is a year in which he has consolidated his place in the France set-up, earning him a place in Didier Deschamps’ Euros squad, whilst his form will almost certainly see him make a move up the ladder this summer. 

Earlier in the campaign, Todibo admitted that he was “happy in his comfort zone” at Nice but he is now aware that the time has come to move on, having got his career back on-track after that failed move to Barcelona at a young age. In that sense, Nice have given Todibo the springboard to bounce back, and in return, he has played a starring role in bringing European football back to the Allianz Riviera. LE

________

Leny Yoro is the latest name in France to be discussed around Europe and with his impressive defensive performance for Lille across the season it is not difficult to understand why. At just 18 years of age, Yoro has staked his claim as one of the most promising centre-backs the game has to offer. 

The 18-year-old has been at the heart of one of the best defences in France and held an impressive run in the team when his partners at the back have often differed with Bafodé Diakité and Alexsandro sharing minutes. The lack of a consistent partner has placed the onus upon Yoro to become an organiser at the back and with such responsibility he has not looked phased. 

Polished would be a fair way to describe the work of the young Lille defender. Yoro possesses an assuredness to his defending which is often visible with the game’s greatest defenders. With such quality, it is not a surprise to see him linked with the likes of PSG and Real Madrid. LW

Left-back – Bradley Locko (Brest)

Brest have been the fairytale story in Ligue 1 this season under the stewardship of Eric Roy as they may qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Bradley Locko has been instrumental in helping Les Pirates achieve the greatest achievement in the club’s history. 

Previously, left-backs were never associated with great influence on the game. However, in the modern game that has changed yet Locko does not fall into the norm of modern-day fullbacks. 

Locko has the ability to be productive in the attacking sense which has been shown with three assists in Ligue 1 this season. Yet it is the defensive side of his game which stands out within his skillset. A high degree of defensive output with over four tackles and interceptions per 90 has highlighted that a more conservative approach to being a left-back is not lost in the modern game and he will be awarded for his efforts with European football next season. LW

Midfielders – Pierre Lees-Melou (Brest), Vitinha (PSG), Denis Zakaria (Monaco)

In the space of just under a decade, Pierre Lees-Melou has climbed from playing sixth-tier football to establishing himself as Ligue 1’s finest midfielder. That winding journey – which included a short-lived spell in the Premier League – has culminated in a season that has seen him lead Brest’s unlikely charge to Champions League football.

Pairing industrious defensive work with an unwavering willingness to venture forward, the 30-year-old has been the league’s most complete performer this year, and as SB29 sporting director Grégory Lorenzi told GFFN, he is “ageing like a fine wine.” As modest off the pitch as he is daring on it, the former Bordeaux academy player – discarded at 16 for his frail build – has been central to Les Ty-Zefs’ newfound success.

Lees-Melou’s season – which was prematurely ended by a calf injury at the start of May – has included several pivotal moments to keep the Bretons on course for Europe. Among them, a strike against Reims after a driving run from his own half and a solo effort to win the game against Marseille notably spring to mind.

Behind those headline moments, though, Lees-Melou has also laid much of the groundwork for Brest’s sensational rise in his reliably consistent tackling, interceptions, and line-breaking passes. It may not have been enough to crack France’s squad for the Euros – much to his manager Eric Roy’s disappointment – but Lees-Melou’s talents will not go unnoticed on the continental stage next year. Raphaël Jucobin

________

Denis Zakaria ended the 2022/23 season as an outcast at Chelsea. “It’s never easy to have a season where you play so little,” he admitted earlier this season. The Swiss international returned to Juventus in need of a move that would revitalise his career and he got it. Reunited with former manager Adi Hütter at Monaco, Zakaria seamlessly slotted into the side, initially in an unfamiliar centre-back role before returning to his more favoured midfield berth.

His press resistance has been a key asset in build-up for Monaco, who bar PSG, have the best attacking output in Ligue 1 this season. With the second-highest successful take-on percentage in France’s top flight, Zakaria has been a driving force in midfield and has allowed his partner in the pivot, Youssouf Fofana, to have his most accomplished season at the club. “On a personal level, I think I’ve had a complete season […] it has done me good,” said Zakaria. His contribution has done plenty of good for Monaco too. LE

_________

After a failed loan move to Wolves in the Premier League, many were astonished when PSG paid Porto €40m for Vitinha. This season he has shown why patience is often required in football. 

The Portuguese international has become the ultimate midfield controller for Luis Enrique this season. With a captivating ability and versatility to run the show from midfield, Vitinha has become the first name on the teamsheet for Les Parisiens. Pinpoint passing and progressive vision have made the former Wolves loanee the glue between defence and attack for the Ligue 1 champions. 

Not only has Vitinha cemented himself as one of the most impressive passers in Europe, but he has shown a proven goalscoring ability which is often rare for midfielders. The 24-year-old has scored nine goals in 45 appearances for PSG and displayed his qualities with match-winning moments in a title-winning season.  

Emerging talents and big-money signings this season could have easily stunted Vitinha’s progress at the heart of midfield. Nevertheless, the former Wolves flop is now someone that Luis Enrique is unable to drop. LW

_________

Left-wing – Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Whilst it was Kylian Mbappé’s last season in France but he certainly didn’t let that stop him from producing another incredible season with Les Parisiens. The France captain has been imperial once again both domestically and in Europe and has staked his claim as one of, if not,  the best to play in Ligue 1. 

The 25-year-old has registered an astonishing 54 goal contributions in 45 appearances and will win the Ligue 1 Golden Boot for a record sixth time after registering 27 goals in the French top-flight. In addition, he collected the UNFP Player of the Year award to add to his impressive list of individual accolades.

Whilst it has been another impressive season individually for Mbappé with a hatful of goals, assists and decisive moments, it has been another trophy-laden season for the former Monaco man. Another Ligue 1 title and Trophée des Champions success have been added to his tally and the Coupe de France is still up for grabs as he looks to leave France with a bang. 

The elusive Champions League crown has escaped his collection whilst at PSG once again, but that cannot dampen the celebration as a chapter of a generational talent’s wonderful career comes to a close in France. LW

Striker – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille) 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang certainly didn’t begin the season in imperious form but he ended it that way. After a torrid spell on the periphery at Chelsea, Aubameyang arrived at Marseille with a weight of expectation and his salary, comfortably the highest at the club, reflected that. OM probably felt short-changed when he scored just once in his first 12 Ligue 1 games, but the goals have since flowed, both in domestic and European competition. 

Now the all-time leading goal-scorer in the Europa League, his 10 goals in the competition pulled OM to the semi-finals of the competition. Aubameyang’s individual form has not managed to salvage Marseille’s season, but with 29 goals in 50 games in all competitions, one must question where OM, in this most turbulent of seasons, would be without him. LE

Right-wing – Edon Zhegrova (Lille)

No player in Ligue 1 has stood out quite as much as Lille’s Edon Zhegrova this season. The Kosovan winger, who has completed the most take-ons (89) of any player in France’s top flight, has added efficiency to his flare this campaign. With 12 goals and nine assists, it has been Zhegrova’s most statistically fruitful campaign as a professional football player. 

Zhegrova looks like being one of the many elements of this young and talented Lille side that will garner considerable interest in this summer’s transfer window. His growth this season has been unmissable and he has been pivotal in driving Lille back into the Champions League, even if he ultimately doesn’t stick around for next season’s European adventure. LE

GFFN TOTY in full;

Lucas Chevalier; Wilfried Singo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Leny Yoro, Bradley Locko; Vitinha, Denis Zakaria, Pierre Lees-Melou; Edon Zhegrova, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kylian Mbappé. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

More European Football News