After home defeat to Valencia, and another away trip to Ajax following this, it looks like a match that we may need to take something from in order to aid our chances of progression from the group.
We head to Northern France on the back of our first home win under the new management, and a first clean sheet after the 2-0 win against Brighton. In a match where it was often difficult to find space due to the visitor’s well organised and slightly defensive approach, we still managed to create a fair number of chances, particularly when the match opened up a little in the final twenty minutes. Aside from the obligatory chance conceded to the visitors from a corner as we persist with zonal marking, the defensive showing was improved, although albeit under little pressure for most of the match. This was of course aided by the return to fitness of Andreas Christensen. Heading into the Lille match we also look like having Kurt Zouma and Olivier Giroud available for selection after recent illnesses, while N’golo Kante also trained after being ruled out against Brighton with a hamstring strain. He would be another big boost if passed fit for the trip to France. Rudiger, Emerson and Loftus-Cheek all still remain unavailable.
We are unlikely to come up against a team sitting as deep as Brighton did in Lille. They have gained acclaim for some open expansive football last season and at the start of this. After coming second to PSG last season, Christophe Galtier’s side lost some of their star performers from that side over the summer, but appear to have signed well themselves, and have started this season well. Arsenal’s big money signing Nicolas Pepe was a huge loss, having been vital in terms of goals and assists last season. His change of pace and vision in the final third encapsulated everything they were about. His front line compatriot Rafa Leao also departed, heading to AC Milan. Elsewhere on the pitch Lyon raided les dogues, signing defensive midfielder Thiago and left back Youssouf Kone. However, Lille haven’t been missing anyone too much so far. One of the signings of the summer so far has to be Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen from Belgian side Charleroi. Tasked with the ominous job of filling the boots of Leao and Pepe in the goals department, he has hit the ground running and is currently the top scorer in the French top flight. Lille couldn’t have hoped for more from him. Thiago’s position in midfield looks to have been filled by Benjamin Andre, and Yazici has also been performing well in an attacking midfield position. Their own big money signing, Renato Sanches from Bayern Munich, has yet to feature due to injury.
Lille head into Wednesday’s match fourth in the league table, four points off the top after a creditable draw away at Nice at the weekend. They started their champions league campaign in the worst possible fashion though, with a 3-0 defeat away at Ajax. So both teams will be looking for something here to kick-start their respective European campaigns.
With regard to tactics, Lille usually switch between a 4-3-3 system and 4-2-3-1 under Galtier. They are particularly adept at moving the ball quickly into wide areas, and are therefore a threat on the break. Jonathan Bamba is rapid down the left if selected. Jonathan Ikone is a key player, he links their midfield and attack very well and has an eye for a pass in the final third. He was perhaps a little underrated last season in the shadow of Pepe, but played an equally important role in taking Lille into this season’s champions league.
Knowing how the home side will line up, I expect Lampard to match them up. Possibly going with a 4-2-3-1 shape, particularly if Kante plays. This gives us a stable platform in midfield and could also help to cover behind when we lose the ball in transition.
Taking at least a point here is necessary, with trips to Ajax and Valencia to come. We will have to win our home matches and turn over either or both of the other two sides away should we slip to defeat on Wednesday.