In Lille’s Defense

by Harvey Burgess

At Lille, the attack is often lauded as the best in the country, with its two agile winger, Eden Hazard and Gervinho, working in tandem with the league’s top scorer, Moussa Sow (19 goals), reborn since his move from Stade Rennais FC, and indeed its two substitutes, Pierre-Alain Frau and Tulio de Melo.

Their midfield is also praised as hard-working, dogged and talented. This consists of the trio Balmont-Mavuba-Cabaye, or sometimes Obraniak in case of an injury. The experienced goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau, who is currently being hailed as the best in the league and who is maintaining his legendary status by stopping penalties and performing some incredible saves. The defense? Often forgotton. It’s a grave error. A blatant injustice. The stats are revealing. Lille have only conceded six goals in their last 11 league games, including those against Lyon (1-1) and Marseille (2-1). Only Rennes, who own the best defense in the league, can boast a greater record in the same period of time (5 goals conceded).

Of course, Lille did not do too well in the Europa League, conceding 5 goals in 2 games while getting knocked out against PSV Eindhoven. But they had a largely depleted side and therefore they were underdogs from the start. In the league, however, the defense has been outstanding this season. It is strange to think that the back-line was exactly the same last season, and yet nowadays they are far more stubborn.

It seems as if the default formation for the manager Rudi Garcia is a 4-3-3. The trigger for the switch in formation was surprisingly a victory against Lorient on 4 December 2010 (6-3). Since this match, they haven’t ever conceded more than one goal in any match. But what exactly happened after this success? The system was the same and so were the players. A switch to 4-2-3-1 against Valenciennes accomodated Pierre-Alain Frau in the hole (due to an injury to Balmont), who turned out to be totally ineffectual.

The centre backs Adil Rami and Aurelien Chedjou have been phenomenal. 5 years ago, Rami was playing semi-professional football and he is now the defensive rock for club and country. Rami plays the role of ‘stopper,’ whereas Chedjou resembles the old-fashioned ‘libero.’ The latter’s vision and ability to play the ball out of defense complements Rami’s confidence in the tackle and anticipation.

The full-backs have usually been Mathieu Debuchy and Franck Beria, both of whom provide substantial width and have contributed numerous assists this term. Finally, the holding midfield player is Rio Mavuba, there to shore up the defense and to sweep up opposition attacks with ease. He has made a remarkable improvement on the beginning of the season, when he seemed very much out of his depth. Now the ex-Bordeaux player is constantly putting in some very high performances from his anchorman role.

1 Response

  1. Andrew says:

    Good piece Harvey.

    Lille’s defence deserves the praise. It’s strange that this defence is so tight, in the six years I’ve followed Les Dogues, personel wise this is not the best, but the performances they have put in are incredible.

    Beria was signed as a right back who can play in the centre, but has made the left back space his own, although I think it is a position they could strengthen.

    Debuchy under Claude Puel played on the left of midfield mostly, sometimes the right, but he has done really well at Right Back, earning himself a call up to Les Bleus.

    Chedjou came through as a central midfielder but has comfortably dropped back.

    And I could write all day about Landreau.

    Not bad for a bunch of mis-fits. Long may it continue.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply