Paris-based correspondent Jonathan Johnson analyses what has been an exciting start to the new season in Ligue 1 and picks some possible transfer targets for Premier League clubs in the winter transfer window.
Last Updated: October 26, 2012 3:54pm
Our man in France picks out Ligue 1's top performers to date
Whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic still heads the goalscoring charts with nine goals for a Paris Saint-Germain side topping Ligue 1 for the first time this season, a number of surprise packages are enjoying extended good form.
Toulouse have built on a strong start to the season to sit third whilst Valenciennes brought Lorient's unbeaten start to the season to a shuddering halt with a 6-1 thumping. Bordeaux also remain strong despite being denied an impressive victory in Lille by a late equaliser. Defending champions Montpellier continue to struggle and are mired in 16th place, having won only two games all season.
Newly promoted Stade de Reims in particular have flourished on their return to the top flight after 33 years, and prior to their clash with PSG this weekend were sitting in sixth position. Their champagne early season form is down to keeping the backbone of the squad that won them promotion intact, and complementing it with a number of shrewd signings.
Here, we look at a number of players that ply their trade across the Channel and could be the subject of English interest in January.
Nobody has impressed more at Reims than young Gaetan Courtet. The 23-year-old striker has been in excellent form so far this season in netting four goals and his meteoric rise has not gone unnoticed. With rumours of a January switch to Newcastle United surfacing, he could be set to team up once again with former team-mate Romain Amalfitano who joined the Magpies from Reims this summer.
Courtet's story is made more remarkable given his successful recovery from testicular cancer a year ago. His link-up with Amalfitano's Brazilian replacement Diego, signed from Ligue 2's Tours in the summer, has been particularly impressive and the pair have already bagged seven goals between them.
Given Demba Ba's uncertain future at St James' Park, a player who has been linked with a host of Ligue 1 clubs since his agent's ill-timed outburst at manager Alan Pardew, it is easy to see why Courtet has been mooted as an an ideal replacement. He is strong and fast with an eye for goal and has a ruthlessness that nobody thought him capable of at Lorient just two years ago.
Facing Courtet at the Parc des Princes over the weekend was former FCL team-mate Kevin Gameiro. The France international's recent double against Sochaux and strong cameo performance in Marseille was added to with the match winner against Reims as he put 'Ibra' in the shade. That was his third goal in seven appearances (two starts) this season.
Before moving to the capital, Gameiro was also linked with a move to Newcastle, where a number of French stars have settled since. Now looking to get back in the reckoning for the France national team under new manager Didier Deschamps, the 25-year old has won over coach Carlo Ancelotti through sheer determination having initially failed to impress.
Kevin Gameiro: Looks to be a real talent
Speaking prior to the Reims clash, Gameiro said of his future: "For the moment I am here and I will take the chances that I am given. It is up to me to prove my worth when called upon by the coach. If it means playing only 15 or 20 minutes then so be it, I will still give it my all. I stayed here this summer because I chose to; there were opportunities to move on. I didn't want to leave just yet and I was not going to push for anything to happen. At the moment Jeremy and Zlatan are the first choices, but the season is long and we play in many competitions."
One scenario that could hasten the departure of the talented goal-getter is if PSG exit a domestic competition before the winter break. Currently Ancelotti is fortunate enough to have plenty of strength in depth to rotate his selections regularly. With a Coupe de la Ligue clash with Marseille looming at the end of the month though, an imminent exit is not completely out of the question. Should the capital club exit a trophy, then a number of those on the fringes of the first team will have fewer chances to impress and will likely look towards the exit.
One player in the capital who can't be considered a fringe player is centre-back Mamadou Sakho. The former Arsenal and Liverpool target was seen by many as the long-term solution to Gunners manager Arsene Wenger's defensive woes before the arrival of Qatar Sports Investments in Paris. The athletic 22-year old had a disappointing last season, but is now demonstrating the ability that many knew he possessed.
Despite his good form though, he is still sharing game time with ex-Chelsea defender Alex and could be tempted by a move abroad after he was stripped of captaincy over the summer. The move by Ancelotti to take the burden away from Sakho was an intelligent one given the pressure that it put on the youngster. Instead, Sakho is now being eased into the role acting as stand-in captain when international team-mate Christophe Jallet is not on the pitch.
The move has benefitted PSG on the pitch with Sakho putting in some exceptional performances, most notably in the Champions League and with France. However, he was given the captaincy last season in an effort to make sure that the club's most prominent youth academy graduate remained at the club. Now he is not indispensable, the club could be willing to listen to offers for him and Lyon already tested the club's resolve with a summer bid.
Sakho's France international teammate Bafetimbi Gomis of Lyon was linked with Fulham over the summer and despite a strong start to the season that has resulted in a recall for les Bleus, the former Saint-Etienne man could still find himself on the way out. With five goals in his first nine games, Gomis leads the scoring charts for les Gones. However, after being linked with a summer move to Rubin Kazan that almost materialised and given President Jean-Michel Aulas' insistence on curbing a heavy wage bill, Gomis could still find himself surplus to demands. Keep an eye on this one come January.
West Ham have dipped into the French transfer market of late, following former manager Alan Pardew's approach to recruitment, and over the summer Evian's Yannick Sagbo came close to joining Modibo Maiga and Alou Diarra at the Boleyn Ground. Disappointed that no move materialised, the Ivorian has put his head down and started working hard this season, notching one goal and three assists.
Yannick Sagbo: Hammers interest?
However, the distractions of the club dismissing their manager Pablo Correa after just four games and replacing him with Sporting Director Pascal Dupraz has Evian sat in 17th position in poor form. Expect Sagbo to again push for a move come January but this time expect him to get it.
The best of the rest:
Joey Barton nears his November 17 suspension expiry and is itching to get back into action as an over-zealous challenge against Istres showed. Marseille boss Elie Baup arranged the friendly during the recent international break to keep some of his stars in top shape whilst others were representing their countries.
Barton set up a goal for out-of-sorts former Tottenham target Loic Remy in a 1-1 draw, but was given a dressing down by Istres coach Jose Pasqualetti after the game. Pasqualetti claiming that the Englishman needs to be careful in France and to move away from his controversial on-field image.
Speaking after the match Pasqualetti said: "If he doesn't calm down, he will spend the whole season in the stands. He will have big trouble with referees if he repeats today's antics."
Elsewhere, former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri's Monaco are setting the pace in Ligue 2. Friday's 2-1 win over Angers saw the side extend their lead over their opponents at the top of the second tier by three points. Taken over by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev earlier this year, les Monegasques spent €16.5 million over the summer, unheard of by a second division side. Rybolovlev's ambition for the club and promise to invest upwards of €200 million was enough to snare Ranieri as they seek a Ligue 1 return.