It’s with a touch of surprise that anyone not following the French Ligue 1 this season would see a game between Lille and Amiens as 16th against 19th, especially one in touch with the league in the past. But it would be even more of a shock to find that Lille are the ones lying in 19th place. Put it simply, Lille are in the relegation zone, and but for the haplessness of Metz this season, might well be bottom.
This certainly wasn’t the plan back in August, when the new Lille board seemed to have made a masterstroke in appointing Marcelo Bielsa, the veteran Argentine teacher and the prospect of high class football, both in terms of playing style and results, was on the cards. But things have also been known to go sour when Bielsa is involved, and Lille never recovered from their bad start to the season, as well selling their main man upfront and the manager freezing out some other key names. By the start of December Bielsa was suspended, by the end of it Bielsa was gone.
In came former Saint-Etienne manager Christophe Galtier, who managed to more than steady the ship at his former side in his long reign. Things did seem to be improving early on under Galtier, but another setback would follow in form of fans violence, after their last home game before the International Break ended in defeat, supporters stormed on to the Metropole stadium pitch, an act of which players felt the sting, some of them calling out the fans on social media for their seemingly wretched behaviour. A sign that all is not well at the club.
It’s also a sign that their next home game has the feel of a must win, as they host Amiens. Their impending visitors are three places above them, but only three points ahead, and a win for Lille would see that gap closed, a bit of relief, if not momentum gained, and appease the fans as well. Amiens, meanwhile, have the chance to be six points clear of the last automatic relegation spot, and will look to capitalise should the home crowd get antsy, and nick all three points. A defeat is unthinkable for Lille; the repercussions might just be costly. In more ways than one.
Elsewhere, Bordeaux might want to lend a leaf of their recovery books to Lille. Les Girondins were in trouble in December, relegation was a threat, Jocelyn Gourvennec was sacked and Jeremy Toulalan cancelled his contract as a show of disapproval. But they have recovered under Gus Poyet, and, though there hasn’t been much consistency, they lie safely in mid-table. They travel to Guingamp, four places and two points below them, this weekend.
Lyon hope to maintain their pursuit of a top three spot as they host Toulouse, Marseille travel to Dijon, Saint-Etienne travel to Nantes, Nice are away to Troyes while Caen and Montpellier do battle.
Meanwhile, league leaders Paris Saint-Germain and champions Monaco are exempted from league action this weekend, with the first trophy of the season up for grabs in form of the Coupe de la Ligue final.
Lille v Amiens
Caen v Montpellier
Lyon v Toulouse
Strasbourg v Metz
Troyes v Nice
Nantes v St. Etienne
Guingamp v Bordeaux
Dijon v Marseille