Lille’s defense of the Ligue 1 title went from bad to disastrous | Lille

A dive was expected, but losing 3-0 to Troyes and finishing the game with nine men was worse than expected for Lille. Troyes’ win was a measure of vindication for a club that seemed to be spinning around the drain in late February, but bounced back wonderfully. But it was much more of an indictment of how toxic Lille’s title defense has become and how disastrous next season could be for the club. They are 10th in the table, have a negative goal difference and have won only one of their last six games.

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

Other departures followed. Luiz Araújo joined Atlanta United and Jonathan Ikoné signed for Fiorentina. Fiorentina have done well this season and are still in contention for a European spot, but it’s not the Premier League; and Ikoné decided to leave Lille even after reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League. Left-back Reinildo was a January start. The Mozambique international was out of contract in the summer, so there was something inevitable about his move, and it would have been hard to turn down Atlético Madrid, where he has become a regular. However, these moves add 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 ready for the game but they weren’t under huge pressure to deliver a result. Among their relegation rivals, St-Étienne had already lost; Bordeaux faced a much tougher game against Nice; and Angers faced the league’s in-form side in Monaco. A point would have been enough for the hosts, who have been a handful all season: a paradigm of courage, determination and sometimes viciousness under Bruno Irles and his predecessor, Laurent Batlles. The goals were few, but they did not lack commitment.

Troyes can be a frustrating opponent, but for Lille to suffer such a collapse was spectacular. The game started slowly. Lille lacked Jonathan Bamba and Xeka, and looked dull early on. Things started to go wrong just before the break, when José Fonte – who is normally an assured presence – conceded a penalty. Florian Tardieu converts intelligently to give the advantage to Troyes.

Lille showed enterprise after the break until Sanches was booked for a foul and then again for dissent. He left the field in a state of apoplexy, leaving the visitors with only André as a natural midfielder. Five minutes later Sven Botman, perhaps rusty after his long spell on the sidelines, conceded another penalty, before Burak Yilmaz, a player who was a shell of the inspirational leader he was last season, is also expelled, for a clumsiness. challenge. The attitude of Sanches, Yilmaz and, to a large extent, their team-mates showed how badly Lille could struggle next season.

We have seen this season that so-called “bigger” clubs that do not build their squads well (Bordeaux, St-Étienne) can tumble and Lille is not built for the future. Fonte, Xeka and Yilmaz are out of contract this summer. Renato Sanches looks set to go overseas, as does Jonathan David, although his poor form may have lowered his price tag. André, right-back Zeki Çelik and Bamba are out of contract next summer, and the players who have arrived are not really up to the task.

There were flashes of winger Edon Zhegrova but the Hatem Ben Arfa experience was a disaster. Timothy Weah failed to start, hampered by a series of injuries. Atlético Madrid’s highly touted loanee Ivo Grbić has been mediocre in goal. Botman should also be running. One wonders what will remain of this team in three months.

Manager Jocelyn Gourvennec agreed. He led the club to the Champions League knockout stages but also appears to be in over his head with the current crop of players, who seem to lack unity and purpose. Following Galtier would have been difficult for anyone and the job will only get more complicated. The summer rebuild is unlikely to improve the squad, 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 isn’t the biggest issue. The confluence of expiring and short-term contracts is to blame. It’s not about balancing the books. This is due to poor planning. If Lille don’t produce the kind of turnaround they enjoyed under Galtier four seasons ago, they could join Bordeaux and Sainté in being another French giant circling the drain.

Troyes 3-0 Lille\n
Brest 2-0 Clermont\n
Lorient 1-2 Reims\n
Monaco 2-0 Angers\n
Montpellier 2-2 Metz\n
Bordeaux 0-1 Nice\n
Marseille 0-3 Lyon\n
Lens 2-2 Nantes\n
Rennes 2-0 St Etienne\n
Strasbourg 3-3 PSG


Quick guide

Results Ligue 1


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

Beat Lyon Marseilles 3-0 at the Vélodrome to maintain their faint hope of playing in Europe next season. Both Moussa Dembélé and Karl Toko Ekambi scored, but the star of the show was unmistakably Malo Gusto. At just 18, the academy product set up Dembélé with a brilliant run and he led Dimitri Payet and Sead Kolašinac to shreds all evening. No longer battling with Leo Dubois for playing time, the youngster continues to make impressive progress. He will perhaps form – with Castello Lukeba, Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki – the next great class of Lyon youth products.

Reims are now guaranteed to stay in place after their 2-1 victory Lorient. The current bottom three are well worth the downfall, but for the Champagne side, being safe with three games to play is no small feat. They have invested heavily in Azor Matusiwa and Jens Cadjusted, but manager Óscar García deserves a lot of the credit. His disciplined and intelligent system enabled them to avoid a return to Ligue 2 despite long injury absences of key players such as El Bilal Touré and Hugo Ekitiké. García’s last job in Ligue 1, at St-Étienne, was disappointing, but he has impressed this season. Reims is 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 safety was down to Metz failing to beat a shocking Montpellier side in 2022. Injuries played their part, but Metz’s lack of mental toughness is also to blame. Despite a 2-0 lead against Montpellier, they conceded twice in the last 10 minutes and remain six points behind St-Étienne in a play-off position.

Table Ligue 1

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