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Lille’s win over PSG shows that fame only takes you so far in Ligue 1 | Ligue 1

Things did not augur well for Lille before their trip to the Parc des Princes at the weekend. They had the same number of points as league leaders PSG, but had been soundly beaten in the Coupe de France by their rivals before the break and were without Zeki Celik and Yusuf Yazici. Burak Yilmaz had made his return after a lengthy injury layoff, but he was only fit enough for the bench. Lille have done well this season to balance their Europa League and league commitments, but this looked to be a bridge too far, especially given that Jérémy Pied’s absence left them without a natural right-back.

The hosts were missing Marco Verratti in midfield, due to Covid-19, as well as Mauro Icardi, but the Argentinian may not have started in any event. From the first whistle, PSG sought to put pressure on Tiago Djalo, the youngster who replaced Celik at right-back, by overloading that flank. Ángel Di María, Kylian Mbappé and the fit-again Neymar all took turns to attack on that side of the pitch, leaving Thilo Kehrer to provide width for PSG on the opposite side. With Lille playing an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1, and Renato Sanches filling in on the right wing, Mauricio Pochettino sought to put pressure on the parts of the visitors’ lineup that would be most susceptible to it, but it did not work.

In setting his team up in his favoured 4-2-3-1, and playing Neymar centrally, the manager was perhaps asking for trouble. Neymar is far more effective cutting in from the left flank rather than playing as an orthodox No 10, regardless of his own personal preferences. His lack of positional discipline meant PSG had little in terms of width, allowing Djalo and Sanches to be supported (as they ably were) by the likes of Benjamin André and Boubakary Soumaré in extinguishing the threat posed by PSG.

Pochettino made a further misstep in picking Moise Kean to lead the line. The Italian has done well this season, impressing with his running and clever finishing when leading the line or playing on the right flank. But he was sent home from the Italy camp due to exhaustion during the international break so was hardly the best choice to play up front, his fatigue robbing him of his best assets.

Injuries and considerations about PSG’s clash with Bayern Munich this week played their part, but why did Pochettino stick so stubbornly to his 4-2-3-1? Di María and Neymar have always been better in a 4-3-3. Mbappé has done well playing on the left in Pochettino’s favoured system – and the team should be set up to bring the best from him, rather than Neymar – but the tactics did not work. It was also clear from the first 10 minutes that playing the rather prosaic pair of Leandro Paredes and Idrissa Gueye in midfield was an unnecessarily cautious approach, with Lille happy to play on the counter.

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PSG’s undoing was not just down to tactics. Mbappé and Neymar both missed fine chances in the first half. Aside from forcing Mike Maignan into a fine save 15 minutes into the match, Mbappé offered little, even when he moved to a central role in the second half. Over the international break, he spoke about the mental exhaustion that comes from playing for club and country. While that was likely a factor here, Neymar had no such excuse after having a clear international break. He snatched at his chances and failed to look for his teammates, capping his evening off with an unnecessary dismissal in second-half stoppage time. This was Neymar at his most selfish and it was an ugly scene. The blame for this result lies with both manager and players.

Finally, though, we should offer deserved praise for the leaders. Christophe Galtier’s hand was forced; he played an unfamiliar system; and he got a fine result. It would have been even more convincing than 1-0 had Yilmaz not been denied in the second half by a fine save from Keylor Navas. Galtier’s best players showed their mettle and those who are not regulars (Soumaré, Djalo) showed they had been well prepared for this encounter.

Critics may argue that this is not such an achievement given that Lille had two weeks to prepare, but Yazici and Çelik were only excluded from the squad the night before the game. Galtier’s bold choices and the efforts of his players made the difference on the day, just as they have done throughout the season.

Lille will face further challenges before laying hands on the title – including a Lyon side who are desperate to get back into the Champions League – but things are looking good after this performance, especially given that all of their rivals are still involved in other competitions. Galtier’s nous stood in stark contrast to that of his opposite number. To be successful in Ligue 1, you need more than talent and a famous name.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Angers 1-1 Montpellier

Bordeaux 2-3 Strasbourg

Lorient 1-0 Brest

Nantes 1-2 Nice

Reims 2-2 Rennes

Nîmes 0-2 St Etienne

Marseille 2-0 Dijon

Monaco 4-0 Metz

PSG 0-1 Lille

Lens 1-1 Lyon 

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Talking points

Monaco beat Metz 4-0 at the weekend
Monaco beat Metz 4-0 at the weekend Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Monaco continue to fly under the radar, but for how much longer? The enjoyed another comprehensive victory this weekend, beating Metz 4-0, despite missing key players in Sofiane Diop and Aurélien Tchouameni. Wissam Ben Yedder came off the bench to score a brace and his replacement in the starting line-up, Stevan Jovetic, won an important penalty. Now sitting third and with hapless Dijon next up, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore how irresistible this side has become. Make no mistake, they will continue to have their say in the title race, even if they remain, by their own admission, more focused on securing fourth place than a spot in next season’s Champions League.

Fellow contenders, Lyon, however, continue to slump. They were lucky to come away from Lens with a draw. Their attack continues to misfire and, despite some decent passages of play in the second half, they look bereft of ideas. Now five points off top spot, they will do well to finish in the top three.

St-Étienne, Lyon’s bitter local rivals, are enjoying quite the opposite in terms of recent results, their thrashing at the hands of Monaco aside. Saint-Étienne recorded their second win in three matches, beating relegation rivals Nîmes 2-0. A win for Les Crocos would have brought them to within a point of their opponents, and with Lorient having won earlier in the day, a result was imperative for Claude Puel’s side. With the visitors missing both Jessy Moulin and Stefan Bajic through injury, the veteran manager was forced to call on third-choice goalkeeper Étienne Green, and the aptly named youngster shone in what was his professional debut, making several fine saves and keeping out a Renaud Ripart penalty late on. Whether he keeps his place once the others are fit is another story, but for the moment being “green” helped Sainté shade a result.

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