Boubakary Soumare will get the opportunity to show why he’s a man in such great demand when champions PSG visit Lille in the final Ligue 1 game of the weekend.
The imposing 6ft 2in midfielder has attracted interest from a host of European giants this season, with Real Madrid among those said to be keeping tabs on him.
But it’s clubs in the Premier League who appear to be leading the race to land 20-year-old Soumare, whose style of play has been compared to that of Paul Pogba.
Lille midfielder Boubakary Soumare has attracted interest from some of Europe’s top clubs
The 20-year-old could play an important role when Lille host PSG in Ligue 1 on Sunday night
SOUMARE IN 2019-20
Yellow cards: 2
Red cards: 2
The France Under-21 star has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in France, already making more appearances (26) than in either of the previous two seasons.
His size, strength and work-rate are said to have caught the eye of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, but he also boasts excellent technique and an ability to go box-to-box.
Soumare, who is rated at around £50million, has been primarily used as a defensive midfielder by boss Christophe Galtier this term, and he looks to have all of the qualities Premier League clubs now crave in the middle of the pitch.
Those will be well-tested when Thomas Tuchel’s free-scoring champions travel to Stade Pierre Mauroy on Sunday evening.
PSG’s ‘Fantastic Four’ of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Angel di Maria have provided the bulk of their 50 Ligue 1 goals so far this season – a tally which is more than double that of fifth-placed Lille.
Soumare is certain to have a busy night as he attempts to shackle Di Maria and prevent Les Parisiens’ deadly front-three from seeing too much of the ball.
Kylian Mbappe (left) and Neymar (right) will provide a stern test for Soumare and Lille
The midfielder chases down Lyon’s Maxence Caqueret during the Coupe de la Ligue semi-final
LIGUE 1 FIXTURES
Friday, January 24
7.45pm – Nice v Rennes
Saturday, January 25
4.30pm – Marseille v Angers
7pm – Brest v Amiens
7pm – Monaco v Strasbourg
7pm – Montpellier v Dijon
7pm – Reims v Metz
7pm – St Etienne v Nimes
Sunday, January 26
2pm – Lyon v Toulouse
4pm – Nantes v Bordeaux
8pm – Lille v PSG
The game could even prove to be a Premier League audition for the youngster, with scouts almost certain to be in attendance to see how he gets on against the very best Ligue 1 has to offer.
United watched him during the midweek Coupe de la Ligue semi-final with Lyon, but a standout display on Sunday would increase the chance of a concrete bid for his services arriving before the winter transfer window closes.
However, Lille are under no pressure to sell him immediately after cashing in on Nicolas Pepe last summer, and Soumare will not push for a move this month either.
‘I feel good here,’ he told L’Equipe recently. ‘I learn, we have high goals, like the Champions League. A departure is not on the agenda.
‘I want to do a full season. My team-mates are helping me. It is not time to leave. I don’t want to leave with regrets.
Spanish newspaper Marca recently reported that Real Madrid were watching three Lille stars
Soumare got plenty of Champions League experience, but Lille finished fourth in Group H
‘I have already discussed it with the coach. I told him very clearly. I have a very clear idea of where I want to go in my career. I know where I am today. And that suits me.’
What Soumare’s next move will be is not yet clear, but he will not be short of options in England and Spain when he does make a decision on his next destination.
And who knows, a strong performance on Sunday could even ignite interest from Lille’s opponents, PSG, the club who allowed him to leave in 2017.
Soumare departed the Parc des Princes after failing to break into an expensively-assembled first team, having worked his way through the youth ranks.
But having splashed out £166m to sign Mbappe from Monaco, the Ligue 1 leaders have proved that they are not afraid to spend big on young, French talent.
Soumare is among the most highly-rated in his age group. Wherever he ends up, a bright future looks assured.
WILL TOULOUSE LOSE AGAIN?
It’s now 11 games in all competitions since rock bottom Toulouse last enjoyed the sweet taste of victory.
A 5-2 thrashing at home by Brest last time out left them eight points adrift of 17th-placed Metz and in an increasingly bleak position.
Their season has been a tale of death threats, protests, managers leaving and yes, you guessed it, defeats. They have lost each of their last 11 matches.
Toulouse’s players react after suffering a humiliating 5-2 home defeat by Brest last weekend
A 1-0 reverse at minnows Saint-Pryve Saint Hilaire was the final straw for manager Antoine Koumbouare, who was promptly sacked in the aftermath.
His replacement, Denis Zanko, got his tenure off to a nightmare start with the defeat by fellow strugglers Brest, and things don’t get any easier this weekend.
Toulouse face a tough trip to Lyon on Sunday. Even at 10/1 with the bookmakers, a victory for the Violets doesn’t look good value.
ELSEWHERE THIS WEEKEND…
The Ligue 1 weekend kicks off on Friday night as Nice host high-flying Rennes looking to continue their recent unbeaten run.
Patrick Vieira’s men can launch themselves into European contention with a win, but it won’t be easy against the visitors, who are on course for a Champions League spot after rocketing up the table.
On Saturday, second-placed Marseille look to close the gap on leaders with PSG with a home win over mid-table Angers, and Brest try to build on that big victory away at Toulouse with another three points against struggling Amiens.
Monaco could rise as high as fourth if they can find a way past Strasbourg, although the visitors to Stade Louis II will overtake their opponents with a win.
Nice boss Patrick Vieira is starting to look up the table as they prepare to face in-form Rennes
Elsewhere on Saturday, Montpellier look to make it three wins on the bounce against relegation-threatened Dijon, and Reims will fancy their chances at home to Metz.
The final 7pm kick-off sees Saint-Etienne, who are on a horrible run of four straight defeats, look to get back on track against 19th-placed Nimes.
On Sunday, two of Emiliano Sala’s former clubs, Nantes and Bordeaux, meet in what is sure to be an emotionally-charged encounter.
The hosts, Nantes, will wear a special Argentina-inspired kit for the occasion as they honour the striker who tragically died when his plane crashed into the English Channel just over a year ago.