Ligue 1

Forgotten Man Could Still Become Premier League Star

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Wahbi Khazri moving to Sunderland in 2016 was Sam Allardyce doing what he does best. A January signing tasked with picking the team up and guiding them towards survival.

Making an instant impact can bring mixed long-term results. Coming on against Manchester City at the Stadium of Light handed the Tunisian a chance to start against Liverpool and the former Bastia youngster provided an assist as the Black Cats grabbed a point at Anfield.

To solidify his baptism of fire into English football it was the international who beat David de Gea with a free-kick in the third minute to help Sunderland win over Manchester United and get a vital three points.

The North-East side would only win three more games that season, but it was enough to stay two points ahead of Newcastle United, finishing 17th and saving their place in the league.

Another goal against Chelsea came after nine games without contributing, ending the season on a high note, but he couldn’t match his trail-blazing start.

With David Moyes in charge, Khazri was relegated to the bench. He made just seven starts in 33 games, so when Sunderland were relegated last summer it was no surprise to see him join Rennes on loan.

Making his debut against Marseille at the Stade Velodrome, the 26-year-old showed again he is a player for the big occasion, scoring a very clever flick in the opening minutes as his new team went to the South of France and won 3-1.

During Week 16, taking on newly promoted and surprise mid-table side, Amiens, it was Khazri again who found the net as Rennes won 2-1.

It was his fifth goal of the campaign and his third in three games, crucial in helping Les Rogues et Noir pick up a maximum nine points.

Sabri Lamouchi, who took over from Christian Gourcuff at start of November, found his new side in the bottom half of the table, but wins over Nantes, Angers and Amiens have catapulted them up to sixth.

They are now just eight points away from a European place and the Breton side are looking up, all in part due to the form and new role of the Sunderland failure.

“Khazri’s been played as a centre forward under Lamouchi. He adds some danger in an area we need it,” said Rennes fan and French Football Weekly writer Rich Allen when asked about the impact of the loanee.

“He’s turned into a reliable source of goals. I think he still harbours ambitions of succeeding in the Premier League but it’s clear he’s happy and back to the top form we saw at Bordeaux.”

During his two campaigns at Sunderland, he averaged 1.7 and 1.1 shots per game, 1.9 and 1 key passes and completed 1.4 and 0.6 dribbles.

For Rennes, those numbers currently sit at 2.8 shots – benefiting from a more advanced role – 1.3 key passes and 1.4 completed dribbles.

Khazri has never managed double figures in goals, but with his new team and new coach, this is the biggest opportunity he’ll have to manage it.

If the Tunisian international can fire Rennes into Europe, he may get another crack at the Premier League.

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