Football’s ultimate David versus Goliath story is unfolding in France at the moment as Lille lead PSG by one point in Ligue 1 with only three games left in the season. PSG’s dominance of the French domestic league has been a foregone conclusion in recent years with the team winning seven of the last eight titles. PSG boast global stars like Neymar and Mbappe and have a wage bill that dwarfs the rest of the competition since being bought over by Qatar in 2011.
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Nevertheless, things have been different this season as Les Parisiens have uncharacteristically struggled domestically. They were ravaged by Covid at the start of the season which affected results before replacing Tomas Tuchel with Mauricio Pochetinno at the turn of the year. Injuries have also played their part but PSG haven’t been the same force in France this season while the likes of Lille, Monaco and Lyon have improved.
Monaco and Lyon have slowly fallen out of the title race in recent weeks but Lille have continued this stunning run and are three games away from taking their first league title since Eden Hazard’s 2011 side. Lille are an incredibly well-coached team and possess the ideal mix of youth and experience. Lille don’t have any superstars or big names and their wage bill according to salary sport is only £25 million a season, roughly equal to what PSG pay Kylian Mbappe and half of what Neymar earns in one season.
Nevertheless, despite their lack of superstars, Lille’s recruitment and scouting has helped them find hidden gems and convert them into coveted players. Nicholas Pepe, Victor Oshimen and Gabriel Magalhaes have been sold for fees above £150 million in the past few years. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan has been excellent and is rumoured to join AC Milan this season while defender Sven Botman has been linked with Liverpool.
The young Jonathan trio Bamba, Ikone and David have been brilliant up front and have linked up well with the veteran striker Burak Yilmaz who has 13 goals this season. Similarly, former Southampton defender Jose Fonte has been a leader at the back for Les Dogues and has helped Lille keep the best defensive record in the league at age 37.
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While Lille have been excellent of late, winning four of the last five games, their run till the end of the season is far from straightforward. They face 5th place Lens in the Northern derby on Friday night before finishing their season off against Saint-Etienne and Angers.
PSG, on the other hand, have no time to lick their wounds following their European exit at the hands of Manchester City and have to put all their energy towards the domestic season. Pochettino’s side face off against Rennes, Reims and Brest in their final three fixtures and they will have to be perfect to stand any chance of winning their 8th Ligue 1 title in nine seasons.
It’s going to be a dramatic and entertaining end to the season in France and despite Lille’s strong form or PSG’s broken spirit, there are plenty of surprises left in store.
[Image Credit: LOSC]