Odds (To win group) 8/1 (originally 4/1) Odds (to qualify) 7/5 (originally 11/8) Current form: LDWDDLWDLL
With 4 points bagged from our opening two games we now enter the crucial double-header against Ligue 1 heavyweights Lille, with the first tussle this Thursday over in France.
Since being turfed out of the Champions League qualifiers our French rivals have lost their top goalscorer and having briefly led the division a miserable run of 1 win in 7 has seen them fall 10 points off the summit. This analysis will take a look at what we are up against and whether we can get the 3 points which should be enough to see us through to the knockout phase.
At the back…
Lille boss Rene Girard won the French top flight 1 in 2012 as Montpellier boss, pipping money thunderspunkers PSG at the death in one of the closest run title races in french football history. He did so with the best defence in the division, conceding just 34 goals in 38 games, and his approach at Lille has been similarly pragmatic.
He inherited the defensive nucleus of Rudi Garcia’s 2011 title-winning side, albeit stripped of the attacking heavyweights Sow, Hazard, Cabaye and Gervinho. Since the title success Lille have become less of an irresistible force and more of an immovable object – partly due to financial implications with their Arsenal style stadium project and partly due to Girard’s cautious approach.
Last season their keeper Enyeama kept 21 clean sheets which was more than any keeper in the top 5 European leagues as Lille comfortably recorded the best defensive record in the top flight. This defensive frugality has continued into this season, particularly at home where they have kept 11 clean sheets from their last 14 games and their defensive options were further boosted in the close season with the acquisition of highly rated Danish covering centre half Simon Kjaer from group rivals Wolfsburg.
We could be facing them at a decent time, though, as this defensive frugality has been called into question in recent weeks; initially last week they were tonked 0-3 at Lyon and this was followed up with a similar horror show at home to Guingamp this weekend. Let’s take a look at the footage from both games for clues…
In the Lyon game above their right back Corchia gets caught not tracking a run from his flank early on but gets away with it, however the warning was not heeded. Pace and power seem to be an issue in the centre of Lille’s defence, especially when their chief enforcer Kjaer isn’t playing as was the case in Lyon. It’s likely he’ll be back for our games but in this fixture his physique and aerial prowess is sorely missed. Looking at the Lyon goals, for the opener chief liability Franck Beria is barged off the ball too easily and then on goal #2 Lille fail to defend a straight forward cross into their box. Goal #3 occurs when their 34-year-old ex Newcastle defender David Rozenhal switches off at a crucial moment.
In their most recent game this weekend at home to basement dwellers Guingamp (below) Lille looked to reshuffle the faltering backline, with Kjaer coming back and Beria shifting to right back and Corchia moving ahead of him to right midfield. The switch failed to restore order, however, as they duly lost 1-2. Weak link Beria was caught out for both goals; firstly in the air he is outmuscled from a wide delivery into the box and then he fails to track his runner and in doing so attempts a comedy offside trap for goal two.
Girard has shifted between using 1 and 2 forwards this season, sometimes setting up in a 4-3-1-2 and sometimes going with 4-2-3-1. He generally favours a medium defensive block, not looking to press too much with controlled possession in the middle of the pitch his preferred form of keeping the opposition at bay. Neither full back is great going forward and this lack of width is probably an area we can look to expose.
Going forward it’d be fair to say that, despite having some great approach play, they struggle for goals and their return of only scoring more than once in two of their fourteen games this season highlights this problem. They created the 4th most chances last season in their domestic league but were the lowest scorers in the top half of the division and are further weakened by the defection of top scorer Kalou to Hertha – he got 46% of their goals last season. The problem was laid bare in the weekend defeat to Guingamp when 29 shots yielded just 1 goal. Libepwel’s new buy Origi (now back at Lille on loan) bagged just six last season and has scored just twice in open play this season- he’s also very erratic and has been the most dispossessed player in the french league this season.
They have plenty of options in the attacking midfield slots including the ageing Ben Kingsley lookalike Florent Balmont, a good crosser who polled the most assists for Lille last season. He is joined by right footed playmaker Marvin Martin who a few seasons ago claimed 17 assists in just 1 season at Socheaux and who has 15 French caps to his name. Other notable players who can cause damage in the final third are Nolan Roux , onloan Man City star Marcos Lopes and the pacy Ryan Mendes.
Bong Prediction: I fancy the game in Lille to be a low scoring affair, either 1-1 or a narrow 1-0 win for the Toffees. At Goodison we should win but again it won’t be a big score, probably 2-0.
Key stat: Prior to the weekend there had been just 8 goals scored in Lille’s 7 previous home games this season.
Bong’s recommended bet: Under 1.5 goals in the away game is 9/4 at Willie Hills