Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain/Italy)
The 26-year-old Italian international has settled in to life in Paris quicker than any of the other foreign stars signed since Qatar Sports Investments took control of PSG in 2011. Sirigu has been oustanding for Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season, and had already kept 22 clean sheets before the final day trip to Lorient. PSG boast the best defensive record of any club in Ligue 1 since the title-winning Lyon team of 2004-05, and Sirigu is largely responsible for that. He broke a new club record when he went 948 minutes without conceding a Ligue 1 goal, beating Bernard Lama’s previous mark.
Fran├ºois Clerc (Saint-Etienne/France)
Clerc’s reward for an excellent debut season at Saint-Etienne is a place in our Team of the Year ahead of PSG’s Christophe Jallet. The 30-year-old, who won three Ligue 1 titles and a Coupe de France with Lyon earlier in his career, moved to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard from Nice last summer and immediately cemented his place at right-back in Christophe Galtier’s side. Played in just two of the opening eight matches but has not missed a league game since, putting the injury problems that had previously marred his career firmly behind him. Scored in the 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain in mid-March and helped Saint├® to Coupe de la Ligue glory.
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille/Cameroon)
Nkoulou’s class belies the fact that he is still just 23 years old. Signed from AS Monaco in 2011, Nkoulou has been outstanding for OM and has not missed a Ligue 1 game this season. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda is the only other ever-present in Elie Baup’s team, and together they have helped turn Marseille into one of the toughest teams to break down in the top flight. His goal in the come-from-behind win against Troyes in March was his first in Ligue 1.
Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil)
The Brazil captain has actually missed large parts of the campaign, first as he recovered fitness after playing for his country at the Olympics and then when a thigh injury kept him out for two months at the start of 2013. PSG coped reasonably well in his absence, too, but there is no doubt that the 28-year-old is one of the best defenders in the world right now, if not the best. Silva, signed from AC Milan last summer, oozes class and leads from the back, despite not yet mastering the French language.
Brazilian Maxwell pips Lille’s Lucas Digne to the left-back berth in our team. The 31-year-old is a winner, having won two Dutch titles with Ajax, three Serie A titles with Inter and two Spanish crowns with Barcelona before helping PSG to this year’s Ligue 1 championship. He may not be a part of the Brazilian national team set-up, but Maxwell has been a key element in Ancelotti’s PSG side, hardly missing a game and regularly getting forward from his full-back post. Also scored a marvellous goal in November’s 1-1 draw away to Montpellier.
Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille/France)
Le Petit V├®lo┬áhas enjoyed a magnificent season for Marseille, helping the southern club to second place and Champions League qualification. Valbuena, 28, has missed just one match all season, scoring three goals and laying on 12 assists. Has also become a fixture in Didier Deschamps’ France side, scoring in friendlies against Italy and Germany and netting in the World Cup qualifying win against Georgia.
Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain/France)
All-action 26-year-old midfielder was nominated for the UNFP Player of the Year Prize and regularly singled out for praise by PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti. Former Troyes and Saint-Etienne man has missed just one league match all season and has scored five goals from midfield, including the only goal of the game in December’s crucial 1-0 home victory against Lyon. A key component of Didier Deschamps’ national side too.┬á
Josuha Guilavogui (Saint-Etienne/France)
Marauding midfielder has enjoyed a magnificent campaign with Saint-Etienne, culminating in a call-up to the France squad for their June friendly programme. Guilavogui, 22, has not missed a game this season, excelling initially in a more advanced role in Les Verts’ three-man midfield and then in the holding role after J├®r├®my Cl├®ment’s campaign was ended by a broken leg in early March. Has five goals in all competitions and a Coupe de la Ligue winners’ medal to boot.
Dimitri Payet (Lille/France)
If Lille’s season will be remembered as much for their poor start as for their impressive recovery after the winter break, winger Payet is one of the few members of the LOSC side to have excelled from beginning to end. Infuriatingly inconsistent for much of his first season in the north after signing from Saint-Etienne in 2011, Payet, 26, has been superb this time around. He has scored 12 goals, a figure bettered only among his team-mates by Salomon Kalou, and has laid on 12 assists, the most in Ligue 1 along with Mathieu Valbuena. Some of his goals have been stunning too, and his performances have seen him win a recall to the France set-up.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain/Sweden)
Brought in last summer from AC Milan to help take PSG to the next level, Ibrahimovic has not disappointed. His goals have been absolutely essential in the capital club’s title charge, and the 31-year-old Swede has proven the most prolific striker in Ligue 1 since Jean-Pierre Papin at his peak for Marseille more than two decades ago. Was voted France’s Player of the Year by his fellow professionals.┬á
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Saint-Etienne/Gabon)
Lightning-quick Aubameyang has spent most of this season playing in a wide attacking role for Saint-Etienne to complement burly Brazilian centre-forward Brandao. After scoring 16 goals last season, the Gabon international has bettered that this time around, notching 19 in Ligue 1 and also providing eight assists. Likely to be the subject of big-money bids in the summer.
Lo├»c Perrin (Saint-Etienne)
Local lad Perrin has bounced back from an injury-hit 2011-12 campaign to skipper Saint-Etienne to Coupe de la Ligue glory and to their best league performance in years this season. A mainstay at the heart of a mean defence.
Florian Thauvin (Bastia)
Bastia’s Thauvin exploded onto the scene in 2012-13, scoring ten goals to help the Corsicans consolidate their place in Ligue 1 in their first season back in the top flight. Named France’s Young Player of the Year, the under-20 international will join Lille this summer.
J├®r├®mie Aliadi├¿re (Lorient)
Aliadi├¿re has endured a nightmare time with injuries throughout his career, but the former Arsenal striker is now flourishing with Lorient. Scored 15 goals and set up seven more in the league, while his last-minute strike helped the Bretons beat Saint-Etienne away in the Coupe de France quarter-finals.
Coach: Christophe Galtier (Saint-Etienne)
The joint-winner of the UNFP prize for best coach alongside PSG’s Carlo Ancelotti, Galtier gets our vote after a fine season at Saint-Etienne which saw Les Verts end their 32-year trophy drought when they won the Coupe de la Ligue. Saint├® have made constant progress since Galtier was promoted from the role of assistant in December 2009. He helped a struggling side avoid relegation before leading them to a top-half finish in his first full season. Then, after leading them to seventh place in 2011-12, Galtier has taken Les Verts to fourth place with a game of this season remaining. Has signed a new contract, tying him to Saint-Etienne until 2016.