Posts Tagged ‘Lille’

Tactics: Ligue 1’s leading lights find diamonds in the rough

James RodriguezParis Saint-Germain and Monaco may have stockpiled all the money in Ligue 1, but the playing fields of the French top flight have been awash with diamonds this season.

Over the past few months, a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond – known as a milieu en losange in France – has become the must-have tactical system for the league’s leading teams, with Lille, Monaco and Lyon successively enjoying improved fortunes after adopting the tactic and Marseille potentially poised to follow suit.

Lille were the pioneers, with coach René Girard installing the system within weeks of his arrival from Montpellier during the summer. Having initially declared an intention to persist with the 4-3-3 formation favoured by his predecessor, Rudi Garcia, he jettisoned the tactic after only 45 minutes of the club’s first friendly match, a 3-2 win over Dijon in July.

The system he introduced was designed to get the best out of Marvin Martin, who operates in the number 10 role ahead of a three-man midfield. Once seen as France’s answer to Xavi, he endured a disappointing debut season after signing from Sochaux but has spoken positively of the “freedom” afforded him in the new system. It is a set-up with which the 26-year-old is familiar, having come to prominence at Sochaux by supplying the bullets for Brown Ideye and Modibo Maiga as the club from eastern France recorded a surprise fifth-place finish under Francis Gillot in 2011.

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Pitchside Europe: Lille slow and steady as PSG rumble by

“There are 1,001 ways to highlight the gulf in resources between PSG and their domestic rivals, but the comparison with Lille is of particular interest because the 2011 champions were expected to mount the most enduring challenge to [Carlo] Ancelotti’s men this season. Montpellier will struggle to return to last season’s heights and while Lyon and Marseille have made promising starts, both clubs are in transition and have thin squads that will feel the pinch of injuries and suspensions keenly. Lille, though, appear to be on the up. Their brand new 50,000-seater stadium has helped them to attract high-quality players such as [Salomon] Kalou and Marvin Martin, while qualification for the Champions League group phase is expected to swell the club’s carefully tended coffers by around £16 million.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog for Eurosport, on why Lille look like the most serious challengers to Paris Saint-Germain this season, can be read here.

Report: Ait-Fana takes Montpellier to brink of title

“PARIS — A dramatic injury-time goal from Karim Aït-Fana gave Montpellier a 1-0 win over Lille on Sunday that took the Ligue 1 leaders to within a point of their first ever French league title.”

My AFP report on Sunday’s penultimate round of Ligue 1 matches, which saw Auxerre relegated and Montpellier take a giant stride closer to the title, can be read here.

Report: Montpellier win at Rennes to close on maiden title

“PARIS — Montpellier took a significant step towards their first ever Ligue 1 title by winning 2-0 at Rennes on Monday to restore their three-point lead over Paris Saint-Germain with two games to play.”

My AFP round-up of Monday night’s Ligue 1 matches, which saw Montpellier close to within four points of the title and Auxerre sink to the foot of the table, can be read here.

Report: PSG beat Saint-Etienne to re-launch title bid

“PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain reinvigorated their Ligue 1 title challenge by winning 2-0 at home to Saint-Etienne on Wednesday, cutting Montpellier’s lead at the top of the table to three points with three games to play.”

My AFP report on Wednesday’s Ligue 1 matches, which saw PSG breathe new life into the title race, can be found here.

Report: Lille sitting pretty after Hazard sinks Toulouse

“PARIS — Champions Lille closed to within four points of top spot in Ligue 1 by winning 2-1 at home to Toulouse on Sunday and saw their grip on third place further strengthened by Lyon’s 1-1 draw at Rennes.”

My AFP report on the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, including an important win for Lille and another setback for Paris Saint-Germain, can be read here.

Report: Lille thwarted by 10-man Rennes

“PARIS — A last-minute goal by Mevlüt Erding earned Rennes a 1-1 draw at home to Lille on Sunday that prevented the French champions from galvanising their grip on third place and closing the gap on leaders Montpellier.”

My AFP round-up of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, including setbacks for Lille and Marseille and an extraordinary 4-4 draw between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain that allowed Montpellier to go top, can be found here.

Report: PSG held up by Nice after Obraniak stuns Lille

“PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain inched a point clear in Ligue 1 on Sunday following a 0-0 draw at Nice, after Ludovic Obraniak had netted a 93rd-minute winner for Bordeaux in an extraordinary 5-4 win at his former club Lille.”

My AFP round-up of the weekend’s matches in Ligue 1, including an astonishing nine-goal game at Lille and another match-changing performance by Olivier Giroud, can be read here.

Report: Holders Lille knocked out of Coupe de France

“PARIS — Holders Lille reluctantly relinquished their grip on the Coupe de France after going down 2-1 at local rivals Valenciennes in the last 16 at a wintry Stade du Hainaut on Wednesday.”

My AFP round-up of Wednesday’s Coupe de France matches, including a shock defeat for Lille and a hard-fought win for Lyon, can be read here.

Report: Rémy brace weakens Lille’s grip on title

“PARIS — Lille’s French title defence received a significant setback on Sunday as their 17-game unbeaten run came to an end in a 2-0 defeat at resurgent Marseille in which Loïc Rémy claimed both goals.”

Read my AFP match report on Marseille’s victory over Lille, as well as a round-up of all the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, here.

Report: Lille prevent PSG from regaining first place

“PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain were prevented from regaining top spot in Ligue 1 after being held to a 0-0 draw by defending champions Lille in an engaging game at Parc des Princes on Sunday.”

Read my AFP match report here.

Joe Cole enhanced by life beyond the Premier League

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne. The Englishman receives the ball inside the opposition half and embarks on a purposeful run towards the goal in front of the Tribune Charles Paret. He is with new company in unfamiliar surroundings but, with the ball at his feet, he is reassured to find that the sensations are the same. Defenders disappear in his slipstream before a body-swerve takes him past another opponent and into the penalty area. With one sweep of his right foot, a new chapter in his life begins.

Michael Owen, 1998. Joe Cole, 2011. Two English players have experienced life-changing moments at Le Chaudron, home of Saint-Etienne. For Owen it was that goal against Argentina; for Cole, a dazzling dribble culminating in an assist for Ludovic Obraniak on his Lille debut in September.

If the comparison is apt, the context is very different. Owen was 18 when he left the Argentine defence for dead, but he was on the threshold of a career that, though sprinkled with trophies, never quite hit the giddy heights to which it aspired. Cole’s career appeared to be stagnating too but at 29, his move to France has revitalised him. If Owen’s goal represented the beginning of his professional life, Cole’s Geoffroy-Guichard moment was a re-birth.

While Owen is content to sit on the bench at Manchester United, insistent that last year’s Premier League title represented the “pinnacle” of his career, Cole – two years Owen’s junior – has put his reputation on the line by turning his back on the comfort of the domestic scene. Lille president Michel Seydoux confessed his surprise at his club’s success in luring a star from the Premier League, admitting that “seen from England, French football is a bit like the Third World”. Cole, though, had long been intrigued by the challenge of pitching himself into a foreign championship. “Sometimes I feel if I’d been born in a Latin country I may have been coached better to play as a number 10,” he once told Champions magazine.

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Pitchside Europe: Joe Cole eyes the centre ground at Lille

“Lille president Michel Seydoux has praised Cole’s “intelligent” views on the game and the thoughtful 29-year-old will hope his technical qualities allow him to win the trust of his new employers in a way he managed only fleetingly in England. Cole may never again dazzle as he did in his fearless West Ham youth team days, but he will at least hope to prove once and for all that he can handle the spotlight on centre stage.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog, on how Joe Cole’s surprise move to Lille will test his long-held conviction that he can flourish as a central playmaker, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Forward thinking pays off for Lille and Sochaux

“Both Lille and Sochaux are reaping the rewards of long-term projects centred around carefully investing in young players, showing patience with their coaches – Rudi Garcia at Lille, Francis Gillot at Sochaux – and encouraging attractive football. “We have always tried to attack, to have the ball, and to play our game,” explained Garcia, after the 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain that made sure of the league title.”

Since the start of this month, I’ve been writing a blog for the Eurosport website entitled Pitchside Europe. The latest entry, on how Lille and Sochaux’s bold attacking strategies have brought them both unprecedented success in Ligue 1 this season, can be read here.

Preview: Sochaux bid to disrupt Lille title procession

A version of this piece was written for Agence France-Presse and published on the AFP newswire on Tuesday, May 17.

Lille will be practically assured of a first French league title since 1954 with victory over Sochaux on Wednesday evening, but in Francis Gillot’s side they must overcome the form team in the division.

A day after beating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the Coupe de France final, Lille looked on gleefully as defending champions Marseille drew 2-2 at Lorient on Sunday to effectively concede defeat in the title race. Going into Wednesday’s home game, Rudi Garcia’s men require four points from their remaining three matches to complete the second league and cup double in the club’s history, after a previous such success in 1946. However, their +30 goal difference is seven goals superior to Marseille’s, meaning that OM would require something of a miracle to retain the trophy if Lille prevail in their next outing.

A third league title in the club’s history may be beckoning, but sporting director Frédéric Paquet says Lille cannot afford to look beyond the game against Sochaux. “We’ve expended a lot of energy in our recent series of matches and we’ll be up against a team who play well and who are on a positive dynamic,” he said. “The Marseille result changes almost nothing for us, because in any case, we absolutely have to win.”

If Marseille are seeking grounds for optimism, they will find them in the superb recent form of Sochaux’s young, ultra-attacking side. Unbeaten since a 2-0 defeat at Auxerre on March 19, Sochaux have picked up 17 points from a possible 21 in their last seven games. Having scored seven goals in their last two matches – a sensational 4-0 win at Bordeaux, followed by a 3-0 defeat of Monaco – they are now in pole position to secure sixth place and a berth in next season’s Europa League.

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