Ligue 1 is rarely a place for excitement at the top of the table, as PSG have been consistently dominant. It is unusual to find themselves tied top of the league, especially 8 games in. Yet that is where they find themselves, as Lille OSC are behind just on goals scored.
Despite Expected Points from Understat suggesting that 5th place is a more accurate reflection of their position, Lille OSC have been fantastic. Their 1-1 draw yesterday with OGC Nice was the 3rd goal conceded all season, the joint lowest in the league. Manager Christophe Galtier has commented little on the prospect of a title win. But captain Jose Fonte has done the opposite.
“Lille are capable of beating PSG. This is the strongest team I have played in at Lille, position by position.” Paraphrased of course, but Jose Fonte has reason to back himself and the team. Before dissecting their superb start, PSG’s turbulent time must be discussed.
The Time is Now.
Fresh off their heart-breaking loss in the UEFA Champions League final in August, PSG faced a host of off-the-pitch issues. Thiago Silva left on a free against the wishes of manager Thomas Tuchel. Thomas Meunier and Edinson Cavani followed Silva out the door.
It was not until September 11th that PSG even made a first team signing. Alessandro Florenzi joined from Roma on loan. The team he joined though had started poorly. Ravaged by the Coronavirus, PSG were without 8 first team members at the start of the season. Forced into starting a group of inexperienced academy players, le Parisians were beaten easily by RC Lens 1-0 on opening day.
The poor start continued. In a ferocious match against Marseille, PSG lost two in a row. The 1-0 scoreline was the least of Tuchel’s worries though, as a brawl near the end of the match led to Paredes, Neymar, Di-Maria and Kurzawa facing suspensions. The latter received a massive 6 game ban for fly-kicking a Marseille player. Di-Maria is also suspended until November.
Combine these early troubles with Tuchel publicly calling out sporting director Leonardo, and a shock home defeat to Manchester United, things are looking bad for PSG. Despite a recovery in form, there is an aura of negativity surrounding the Parc de Prances. This is quite the opposite in Lille, as the mood is more than upbeat in Northern France.
Lille OSC: Glory awaits Les Dogues?
In 19/20, the Ligue 1 season was cancelled as Lille OSC sat in 4th spot, a single point off Rennes. This registered Lille OSC a spot in the Europa League. Thursday night football would be troubling enough for an upcoming season. Yet Lille OSC have also had to wave goodbye to star striker Victor Osimhen, and Arsenal newcomer Gabriel.
Lille OSC have used the money well though, making 3 important transfers. While former Gent striker Jonathan David has stolen the headlines, the other signings have settled in well. Sven Botman, a CB from Ajax, has looked superb. He is making the 9th most interceptions amongst Ligue 1 defenders (2.4 p90). For a 20-year-old, he has looked unbelievably calm on the ball, and is yet to be dispossessed so far this season according to WhoScored.
The squad built by manager Christophe Galtier and sporting director Luis Campos is a noticeably young one. From last season’s most played league XI, just two players were over 25 years old. So, when the final transfer, 35-year-old striker Burak Yilmaz, joined on a free from Besiktas, eyebrows were raised.
He has waited just under 20 years for the opportunity to play outside of Turkey or China, but the wait has been worth it. His physicality and surprising speed have helped cover for 20-year-old Jonathan David’s ease into tough French Football. 4 goals and 1 assist in 7 appearance does not do justice to Yilmaz’s performances. He has been a giant handful he has been for Ligue 1 defenders.
Yilmaz is just one goal contributor in a high scoring team. Only Rennes and PSG have managed more than Lille’s 14 goals in 8 games. Lille’s goalscoring traits are reminiscent of the famous title winning Monaco side in 2016/17. Both teams have lots of young players contributing goals. Mbappe, Falcao, Germain, Fabinho, Lemar and Bernardo Silva all contributed to more than 10 goals when Monaco won Ligue 1 in 2017.
Burak Yilmaz, Jonathan Bamba, and Luiz Araujo have all already scored two goals this season. Bamba, a player who EADF touted as a great signing for Southampton, has started this season on fire. 3 goals and 4 assists inside 700 minutes is fantastic form.
Jonathan David is yet to score or assist, yet his performances have been promising. Galtier continues to start the young Canadian, and this faith will surely result in another goal source forming. Speaking on it recently, Galtier showed faith in the youngster. “We advise him, that it will come”. Lille OSC have shown they are exceptional in the handling of young talent, and this patience will surely do nothing but help David.
It is not just the newcomers playing exceptionally; Jose Fonte & Renato Sanches have raised their game. Watching the young Portuguese midfielder is a joy. He is extremely press resistant, completing nearly 70% of his dribbles. He also shown an improvement in his vision. Against Nice at the weekend, Sanches was continuously finding the full backs, Mehmet Celik & Domagoj Bradaric, in behind the opposition. This shows an adaption in his game. He has managed to add deep-lying-playmaking to his box-to-box ball carrying.
Fonte, meanwhile, at 36 years old, leads the line at the back as captain. His experience has been crucial next to the young Botman. He sits behind the defensive powerhouse of Benjamin Andre. The other “elder” player, at 30 years old, has been crucial once again this season at winning the ball back. Only Botman intercepts the ball more often in the Lille squad.
Behind the defence, Mike Maignan has raised his game to a new level. From the opening 7 games this season, and Maignan has an absolutely sensational 89% save rate. This is second in the league only to Keylor Navas, but the PSG goalie has played 2 games less than the French Maignan. Although it is early in the season, Lille OSC are already outperforming their XG. Understat suggests they should have conceded close to 6 goals, but they have conceded just the 3. If Lille OSC keep this form up, then it suggests they have a world class goalkeeper in between the sticks.
Lille OSC jointly lead the table on 18 points. They do have a kind fixture list too. Their first large challenge comes against Lyon on November 1st. Then, they have some easier games until facing PSG on the 20th of December. Come Christmas time, that particular fixture may end up helping to decide a hotly contested title race.