Lille’s defense of the Ligue 1 title has gone from bad to worse to disastrous | Lille

A dip was expected, but losing 3-0 to Troyes and finishing the game with nine men was worse than anyone expected for Lille. Troyes’ victory was a measure of vindication for a club who appeared to be circling the drain in late February, but have rebounded in wonderful fashion. But it was far more an indictment of just how poisonous Lille’s title defense has become, and how dire next season could be for the club. They are 10th in the table, have a negative goal difference and have won just one of their last six games.

Their title defense officially ended when PSG clinched the title last weekend, but the decline began last summer. Boubakary Soumaré and Mike Maignan were first out the door, followed by manager Christophe Galtier. Soumaré wanted to play in the Premier League for Leicester; Maignan was attracted by the opportunity of representing Milan, one of Europe’s most storied clubs; and, after years of financial chafing at Lille and St-Étienne, Galtier left for Nice where he was given substantial backing in the transfer window.

Further departures followed. Luiz Araújo moved to Atlanta United and Jonathan Ikoné signed for Fiorentina. Fiorentina have done well this season, and are still in with a shout for a European place, but it’s hardly the Premier League; and Ikoné decided to leave Lille even after they had reached the last 16 of the Champions League. Left-back Reinildo was a January departure. The Mozambique international was out of contract in the summer, so there was something inevitable about his move, and it would have been difficult to turn down Atlético Madrid, where he has become a regular. However, these moves are adding up to a worrying trend that could see the club return to the depths of the 2017-18 season, when they narrowly avoided relegation.

On a sunny afternoon in eastern France on Sunday, Troyes were up for the game but they were not under huge pressure to get a result. Among their relegation rivals, St-Étienne had already lost; Bordeaux were facing a far more difficult match against Nice; and Angers were playing the league’s form team in Monaco. A point would have sufficed for the hosts, who have been a handful all season: a paradigm of grit, determination and sometimes nastiness under both Bruno Irles and his predecessor, Laurent Batlles. Goals have been in short supply, but they have not lacked commitment.

Troyes can be frustrating opponents, but for Lille to suffer such a meltdown was spectacular. The match started slowly. Lille were missing Jonathan Bamba and Xeka, and looked blunt in the early stages. Things started to unravel just before the interval, when José Fonte – who is normally an assured presence – conceded a penalty. Florian Tardieu converted smartly to give Troyes the lead.

Lille showed enterprise after the break until Sanches was booked for a foul and then again for dissent. He left the pitch in an apoplectic state, leaving the visitors with only André as a natural midfielder. Five minutes later, Sven Botman, perhaps showing rust after his long spell on the sidelines, conceded another penalty, before Burak Yilmaz, a player who has been a shell of the inspirational leader he was last season, was also sent off, for a clumsy challenge. The attitude shown by Sanches, Yilmaz and, to a large extent, their teammates laid bare how much Lille could struggle next season.

We’ve seen this season that supposedly “bigger” clubs that don’t build their squads well (Bordeaux, St-Étienne) can plummet and Lille are hardly built for the future. Fonte, Xeka and Yilmaz are out of contract in the summer. Renato Sanches appears on the verge of a move abroad, as does Jonathan David, even if his poor form may have reduced his price tag. André, right-back Zeki Çelik and Bamba are out of contract next summer, and the players who have arrived do not exactly look up to the task.

There have been flashes from winger Edon Zhegrova but the Hatem Ben Arfa experiment was a disaster. Timothy Weah has failed to kick on, hindered by a spate of injuries. Ivo Grbić, the highly touted Atlético Madrid loanee, has been poor in goal. Botman is likely to be on the march as well. One wonders what, if anything, of this team will be left in three months’ time.

Manager Jocelyn Gourvennec has divided opinion. He led the club to the last 16 of the Champions League but also looks to be in over his head with the current crop of players, who seem to lack unity and purpose. Following Galtier would have been tough for anyone and the job is only going to get harder. The rebuild in the summer is unlikely to improve the team, especially if the owners decide to cash in on Bamba or Çelik.

The club’s financial situation has always made investing a challenge, but money is not the biggest problem. The confluence of expiring and short-term contracts are to blame. That isn’t down to balancing the books. It’s down to poor planning. If Lille do not produce the sort of turnaround they enjoyed under Galtier four seasons ago, they may join Bordeaux and Sainté in being another French giant circling the drain.

Troyes 3-0 Lillen
Brest 2-0 Clermontn
Lorient 1-2 Reimsn
Monaco 2-0 Angersn
Montpellier 2-2 Metzn
Bordeaux 0-1 Nicen
Marseille 0-3 Lyonn
Lens 2-2 Nantesn
Rennes 2-0 St Etiennen
Strasbourg 3-3 PSG


Quick Guide

Link 1 results


Troyes 3-0 Lille

Brest 2-0 Clermont

Lorient 1-2 Reims

Monaco 2-0 Angers

Montpellier 2-2 Metz

Bordeaux 0-1 Nice

Marseille 0-3 Lyon

Lens 2-2 Nantes

Rennes 2-0 St Etienne

Strasbourg 3-3 PSG

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Talking points

Lyon beat Marseille 3-0 at the Velodrome to keep alive their faint hope of playing in Europe next season. Moussa Dembélé and Karl Toko Ekambi both scored, but the star of the show was unquestionably Malo Gusto. Still just 18, the academy product set up Dembélé with a brilliant run and he ran Dimitri Payet and Sead Kolašinac ragged all evening. No longer battling with Léo Dubois for playing time, the youngster continues to progress impressively. He may form – along with Castello Lukeba, Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki – the next great class of Lyon youth products.

Reims are now guaranteed to stay up after their 2-1 win over Lorient. The current bottom three are well deserving of the drop, but for the Champagne side to be safe with three matches to spare is no small feat. They have invested significantly in Azor Matusiwa and Jens Cajuste, but manager Óscar García deserves a lot of credit. His disciplined, smart system has helped them avoid a return to Ligue 2 despite lengthy injury absences to key players such as El Bilal Touré and Hugo Ekitiké. García’s last job in Ligue 1, at St-Étienne, was underwhelming, but he has impressed this season. Reims are also a safe bet to stay in the top flight again next season, even if Ekitiké and Wout Faes leave this summer.

Part of Reims clinching safety was down to Metz failing to beat a Montpellier side who have been shocking in 2022. Injuries have played their part, but Metz’s lack of mental fortitude is equally to blame. Despite taking a 2-0 lead against Montpellier, they conceded twice in the final 10 minutes and remain six points behind St-Étienne in the playoff position.

League 1 table

This is an article from Get French Football News
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