Coupe de France 32emes : Le Mans v Lille OSC
Le Mans is best known for its 24 hour endurance race but the competitors in that automobile festival have nothing on Lille fans who’ve had to endure six months of absolute chaos ever Marcelo Bielsa was allowed to get behind the wheel of their club.
The Argentine may no longer be at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy but his toxic legacy is still overshadowing the Les Dogues who are sitting precariously in Ligue 1 in 18th place. Enter former player Christophe Galtier to attempt to steady the ship and rescue Lille’s season with his first competitive match being away to National 2 side Le Mans in the Coupe de France.
Galtier told the club’s website “I am very happy to join Lille. Although I am aware of the situation and the task ahead of us, I was quickly convinced by the words of [sporting director] Luis Campos on the viability and seriousness of the project undertaken by [chairman] Gerard Lopez and his team”.
In theory the result should be academic between given the sheer gulf between the two teams but from another viewpoint a cup tie away to a side in the fourth tier of French football is possibly the worst type of match for Galtier to open his Lille account. Should Lille win comfortably nobody will be rushing to give them credit, if they struggle to victory then the negatives will be focused on rather than the result, and if they somehow contrive to lose then it would be another blow to what has already been a demoralizing season.
From Galtier’s perspective this is the epitome of a no-win situation.
Le Mans have a free hit and go into the match leading their division by a handy five points, dispatching Boulogne Billancourt 5-0 in their last league match before the break. It’s an intangible quality but never underestimate the fact that the home side come into the game with momentum whilst their opponents are doing their utmost to arrest an alarming slide.
What Galtier will do for Lille is tighten up the back line and look to build from there. As mentioned a narrow victory won’t look good for Lille but perhaps Galtier would settle for a 1-0 win if only so his side can experience the feeling of a clean sheet. Les Dogues have only kept the opposition at bay four times this campaign in all competitions, a statistic their new head coach will look to improve dramatically in the second half of the French season.
If anything Lille will be looking for Galtier, not known for his cavalier football, to inject some much needed stability after the chaos that was Hurricane Bielsa. The former Saint-Etienne boss has reunited with Kevin Malcuit but will also need to get the best out of Bielsa’s recruits hoping that the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Anwar El Ghazi and company can boost their goal tally to give Lille a sharper cutting edge up front.
The tie as a whole as a very odd feel to it; should Le Mans emerge victorious the result would be considered an upset but at the same time perhaps not a totally unexpected one given the volatile nature of Lille’s season.
Le Mans should go into this match with no fear as a cup run would be a bonus given that their main target is promotion to the Championnat National. As for Lille, expect them to go through but don’t be surprised if they’re knocked out either, it’s been that kind of season for them.