My casual interest in French football has turned into a full blown thirst for action, and it is because of players like these young Lyon strikers why Ligue 1 has become, for me, one of the most attractive leagues around.
Not famous for an ultra competitiveness like the Premier League it has often been disregarded by many a football fan due to the usual dominance of one team. Whether it be the PSG of late or the Lyon side that won seven league titles in a row, Ligue 1 has failed to capture the imagination of the footballing community, especially here in England, due to a perceived lack of genuine quality born out of a lack of competition. Whilst you could argue that both La Liga and the Bundesliga are also guilty of only having one or two teams competing for the title each year, their saving grace is that these teams are dominating the European scene as well as the domestic one. It’s been quite some time since the same could be said about the best France has had to offer.
However, with a resurgent Lyon, moneybags PSG, and the fringe teams like Marseille and Monaco putting up more of a fight, there is an argument that both the quality and the competition of the league are increasing. Yet, the blossoming of Ligue 1 is not the real focus of this article, it has simply acted as the foreword in what will be a discussion of two of Europe’s brightest young talents. Two talents who are not only lighting up the French league week in, week out, but are themselves massively responsible for its recent renaissance.
I am starting with this young man as although Fekir is worthy of his place in the title of this article, and we will see why later, the season has belonged largely to Lacazette, with the frenchman scoring tons of goals and producing magnificent displays to boot.
Streaks ahead of second placed Ibrahimovic (17) in the Ligue 1 goalscoring standings, Lacazette’s 23 goals – in just 26 games – is the third best league tally in Europe, bettered only by the 31 and 32 scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively (who else). Whilst nobody is expected to come close to these two titans of modern day football, Lacazette is certainly trying, hitting the back of the net at an impressive rate and averaging a goal every 97 minutes.
Lacazette seems to be the complete modern day striker and of course due to him being French, many comparison have already been made to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. Possessing electric pace, ice-cool composure, a lean yet deceptively strong physical frame with the odd trick up his sleeve as well, it’s clear he does indeed share many of the qualities synonymous with Arsenal’s record goalscorer. A likeliness that becomes even more apparent when you consider Lacazette began his career as an explosive winger and, just like Henry, transformed into a prolific goal machine after moving into a more central role.
With his near goal-a-game scoring ratio, it seems clear the young French forward is keen to bring end to Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly over the goal scoring charts the pair have enjoyed in recent years. Also, his all round performances, emphasised by the 5 assists on top of his goalscoring exploits, suggest becoming the next Thierry Henry may be a real possibility, and with rumoured interest from Europe’s top clubs, the least we can expect is a big money move in the summer, especially if his rich vein of form continues.
Although Fekir has seen only glimpses of the spotlight, he himself has put in many performances of the highest quality, demonstrating glimpses of skill and class that even the world’s best would be proud to claim as their own.
With Algerian blood coursing through him, like many that herald from the Northern parts of Africa, he is gifted with a technical ability to rival anyone in the world. His compatriot Yaccine Brahimi was a player that caught my eye in the World Cup and has been turning for heads of Porto this season, mainly due to his immense dribbling talent with the ball at is feet. Fekir too, possesses this quality. With swagger and flair emanating from his every touch, predominantly left-footed, Fekir can be seen weaving in and out of onrushing defenders with infinite ease, much like a little-known Argentinian by the name of Lionel Messi so often does.
Fekir, as much a winger as he is a striker, is most often seen cutting in from the right hand side of the pitch mesmerising defenders before unleashing a shot at goal with his favoured left peg. However, the 21 year old is no stranger to the other areas pitch, and his ability to be effective in any position across the frontline is testament to his ability. Already with 11 goals this year (which as we know is only 6 off of 2nd place) Fekir, at an even younger age than Lacazette, is showing he knows exactly where the net is, and often finds it with great aplomb (just wait until you see his goals in the video linked at the end of the article). But what makes him even more deadly is the creative wizardry he has displayed on more than one occasion this season. Again similar to Messi (I know this comparison is so often a curse) he has amassed nearly as many assists as he has goals. Racking up 7 already, Fekir finds himself 4 behind Marseille’s Dimitri Payet at the top of the tree, but is at least one stat he can hold over his teammate’s head. Whether he remains second fiddle to Lacazette in the future is entirely up to him however, and based on his ambition and tenacity, it’s not something I’d put past this pocket sized box of tricks.
Like Lacazette, with such tremendous form it seems foolish to think there won’t be some sort of competition for his signature in the summer, or at least the near future. However, another ode to his talent was the fight for his services at a international level. Born in France to an Algerian family as I hinted to earlier, Fekir has recently had to make a difficult decision about his international future. A decision that, as we know from the likes of Zidane, is always massively controversial. This one was no different.
Seemingly a price to pay for the flair and talent so many from this particular background are blessed with, the battle for his loyalty was intensified by comments made by his father, stating he would play for Algeria, and only Algeria. However, although his parents’ native country put on a good show in Brazil, France was always the most likely choice, and the more attractive one. Especially when considering Fekir’s recent form, his partnership with Lacazette and his potential to provide the spark the French national team have been missing for a quite a while now. My bet is Deschamps and the FFF would have been willing to move mountains to ensure the “Messi of Lyon” followed in Zidane’s footsteps in choosing his native blue over his parents’ green.
Now that you know a little more about each individual, I’m going to finish this article by talking about them as a pair, using some juicy statistics to ram how good they are even further down your throats.
Genuinely deadly strike partnerships are few and far between. Trios are more common and although some may argue Sterling could have been included in the SAS of Liverpool last year, the chemistry and effectiveness of Suarez and Sturridge together is the only pair recent times that screams genuine quality.
The duo at Liverpool were lauded for their ability to single handedly win games for their team as well as being responsible for more than 60% of their team’s goals. Now, these figures are impressive yes, but wait until you hear the impact Fekir and Lacazette have had on this title chasing Lyon side.
In the league, Lyon have scored 57 goals, 46 of which have been scored or assisted by either Lacazette or Fekir. That means that this lethal partnership has been directly involved in 80% of the goals Lyon have scored in the league this year… 80%. That’s an insanely high percentage and one that undeniably proves how devastatingly effective this pair are upfront together. If I’m honest, I’d even go as far to say that I think these numbers speak for themselves and certainly didn’t need some hyped up fanboy gushing about them in an article…
That said, I did decide to write about them as I feel due to Ligue 1’s stigma of being a low quality league (or maybe because they aren’t known by a ridiculous acronym yet) not many people would have taken the time to single out such phenomenal players, or even known they existed.
With 8 games remaining, Lyon currently lie in second place, one point behind leaders PSG. And although it is thanks largely to Lacazette and Fekir for being in this position, with the league so delicately poised, if they stand any chance of ending PSG’s reign as French champions, they will need to extract every last drop of talent these two have to offer… which believe me, there is a shit ton of.
I’ll leave you with a link to highlights of one of Lyon’s latest games. They trounced Montpellier 5-1 away from home, with the star pair grabbing a brace each *cough* 80% *cough* and Fekir nabbing the pick of bunch (it’s funny because his name is Nabil…).