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flourishing across Europe this season
Football clubs can be quick to write off foreign imports as flops if they do not settle into their new surroundings immediately. One only needs to look at the two standout candidates for the top individual awards in England this season to recognise that players often deserve a second shot at success.
Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne have shown that
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succeeding at a club often comes down to more than talent. Players can suffer from bad timing, working with managers who do not bring out the best in them or just arriving at a club too early in their development to make an immediate impact. Indeed, numerous players who have been cast aside by Premier League clubs are now flourishing following abroad.
Lyon have won their last seven league games to take second spot in Ligue 1 from Monaco largely due to the efforts of two former Premier League players. Bertrand Traoré, once of Chelsea, has scored in four consecutive matches for the club, but Memphis Depay has been even better – the former Manchester United forward has scored in all seven of those victories.
There were great expectations for Depay
when he arrived at Old Trafford and inherited the famous No7 shirt in 2015 but he failed to deliver for a number of reasons. He wasn’t really given the regular playing time he needed to acclimatise to the pace of the English game under fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal and the pressure ultimately proved too much.
Out of the spotlight in France, Depay has been sensational of late, recently becoming one of only nine players in Europe’s big leagues to reach double figures for both goals and assists this season. He has scored 16 goals and provided 12 assists in Ligue 1 alone and, remarkably, has had a hand in 12 goals in his last six appearances. Depay, now 24, is losing the playboy image and is once again considered a great hope for the Netherlands as they try to recover their reputation. He has a
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point to prove and was impressive in his country’s 1-0 defeat to England earlier this year.
Florian Thauvin, another player posting incredible numbers in Ligue 1 this season, may have played himself into the France squad
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for the World Cup, where he could even take the place of his Marseille team-mate Dimitri Payet. The idea that the one-time lesser-spotted Newcastle United winger might outshine one of the stars of Euro 2016 would have been laughable to most Premier League fans, but he has been Marseille’s star this season.
The 25-year-old’s form in both Ligue 1 and Europe has ensured that Rudi García’s side still have two possible routes to next season’s Champions League. He scored the opener in the Europa League semi-final first leg against Salzburg last week and has been even better in the league. Thauvin, like Depay, is also one of that elite group of players to have hit double figures for goals and assists this season. His latest goal – Marseille’s winner against Troyes on Sunday – was his 20th in Ligue 1 this season. Neymar only
Iago Aspas, the former Liverpool striker, has also just hit 20 league goals for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has been in fantastic form for
Celta Vigo for the past two seasons, so much so that he has a genuine chance of leading the line for Spain at the World Cup this summer.
His tenacious approach from the front is valued highly by Spain manager Julen Lopetegui. Aspas helps his teams win the ball high up the pitch and overload their opponents in the final third – and he also boasts a decent goal return at international level. Not only is he the top scoring Spaniard in Europe’s big leagues over the last two seasons with 39 league goals, but he has also scored four goals for his country despite starting
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just one of eight appearances.
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