Five new faces to watch in Ligue 1 this season

Idrissa Gueye was at the heart of Senegal’s run to the Africa Cup of Nations final in Egypt this summer. (AFP Pic)

PARIS: Champions Paris Saint-Germain are clear favourites to lift the French title for the seventh time in eight seasons after their nearest rivals Lille and Lyon sold key players over the summer.

While Thomas Tuchel’s men have strengthened in midfield and kept hold of Neymar, Lille saw leading scorer Nicolas Pepe depart for Arsenal with Nabil Fekir, Ferland Mendy and Tanguy Ndombele leaving Lyon for fresh challenges abroad.

Idrissa Gueye

The Senegalese international returned to France last week after PSG stumped up a reported €32 million (US$35.5 million) to bolster their midfield, the area most in need of reinforcement.

Gueye, 29, spent seven years with Lille before moving to England in 2015, first with Aston Villa and then Everton.

The Toffees rejected a January bid for the midfielder last season but his belated arrival in the French capital represents a shrewd signing for Tuchel.

Gueye shone as Senegal reached the Africa Cup of Nations final, serving as the crucial link between defence and attack, and PSG will hope his acclaimed ball-winning ability will complement a team overflowing with attacking options.

The club also snapped up the combative Ander Herrera on a free transfer from Manchester United and Spanish midfielder Pablo Sarabia, who scored 23 goals in 52 games last season for Sevilla.

Abdou Diallo

The signing of France under-21 international defender Abdou Diallo from Borussia Dortmund suggests Thiago Silva’s time at the club is nearing an end.

Diallo, 23, will be reunited with Kylian Mbappe at PSG, having made a handful of appearances during Monaco’s title-winning season in 2016-17.

Two successful years in Germany followed, with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, where he continued his progression and displayed his versatility out on the left flank.

Mats Hummels’ return to Dortmund made Diallo expendable and although he faces competition from Silva, Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos and Thilo Kehrer, he represents a long-term investment at Parc des Princes having signed a five-year deal.

Sylvinho

The former Barcelona and Arsenal full-back was hand-picked as Lyon boss by compatriot Juninho, a former club star who is the new sporting director of the seven-time French champions.

Sylvinho, 45, was working as right-hand man to Brazil coach Tite and had been preparing the team for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

He will take over a Lyon side that finished third and earned a spot in the Champions League, but one subject to considerable transformation after the big-money sales of Mendy and Ndombele, as well as Fekir’s surprising move to Real Betis.

Lyon splashed out on Danish centre-back Joachim Andersen, whose fee could rise to a club-record €30 million, after luring Brazilian midfielder Thiago Mendes from Lille for €26.5 million.

Sylvinho has been set the target of another top-three finish by club president Jean-Michel Aulas.

Andre Villas-Boas

The former protege of Jose Mourinho has been tasked with reviving fallen French giants Marseille.

The 1993 European champions turned to former Chelsea, Tottenham, Porto and Zenit St Petersburg coach Villas-Boas after the club missed out on continental football having finished fifth under Rudi Garcia.

The Portuguese had been out of the game for 18 months and took part in last year’s Dakar Rally.

He rose to prominence at Porto, initially serving as Mourinho’s assistant before becoming the youngest coach to win a UEFA competition, lifting the Europa League trophy as his team completed a treble in 2010-11.

“I will lay down my life to get Marseille back to their best level. I will let the results do the talking but I’m confident because this team is capable of it,” Villas-Boas, 41, said at his Marseille unveiling.

Hwang Ui-Jo

The forward will become the first South Korean to play for Bordeaux after penning a four-year contract with the Girondins.

Hwang started out with Seongnam, his country’s most successful club, before two years with Japan’s Gamba Osaka.

The 26-year-old was voted the best South Korean player last season by the national football federation.

Hwang joins countryman and Reims striker Suk Hyun-Jun in Ligue 1, and Bordeaux coach Paulo Sousa hopes his new signing will bring added quality to a team “in a rebuilding year” following a 14th-place finish last season.