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Ligue 1: RC Lens, the hardest part begins now

The hardest part is not getting to the top, but staying there.

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Ligue 1: RC Lens, the hardest part begins now

The hardest part is not getting to the top, but staying there. RC Lens was not champion of France, but it had reached “its” peak, that of clubs which are not supposed to compete with the Parisian ogre for the title. A brilliant runner-up, Lens confirmed its meticulous project, visible since its return to Ligue 1 in 2020, masterfully led by its coach, Franck Haise, who also became general manager of the club in October 2022. But the fall will be harder. ..

Before welcoming FC Metz this Saturday (9 p.m.), the Sang et Or are penultimate in the standings, ahead of Olympique Lyonnais in crisis at all levels. Lens has still not won this season, it has mostly lost: in Brest (3-2), in Paris (3-1) and more recently in Monaco (3-0). “We have to be worried in these conditions,” admitted Haise after the rout in the Principality. Eternally phlegmatic, vaccinated against excess confidence and ambition, the Artesian coach faces his first turbulences. Since he was promoted to head of the first team in February 2020, Haise (52) has accompanied Lens on cloud nine, the reward for hard work.

What's wrong with RC Lens? What changed ? Not the system, still a 3-4-3, nor the defense: the goalkeeper and French international Brice Samba is still there, as well as the three captains in front of him, Jonathan Gradit, Kevin Danso and Facundo Medina. “With 10 goals conceded in 4 matches, if I say that I am not worried, I am not lucid”, however railed Haise last weekend. This worrying figure can be explained firstly by the quality of the opponents.

SEE ALSO – Mbappé’s double during PSG-Lens on August 26 (3-1)

There is no shame in conceding three goals from PSG, including two from Kylian Mbappé at the Parc des Princes. Nor to take the tide with a Monaco leader of L1 after 4 days. In fact, Lens doesn't have much luck. Last season, he conceded 1.14 xG (expected goals) and conceded 0.76 goals/match. We can say, in a way, that his opponents were harvesting opportunities. This season, he concedes 1.6 xG and concedes 2.5 goals/match. Opponents outperform. It is likely that success will balance out over the entire season.

However, that doesn't justify everything. RC Lens' ball possession averaged 55% last season. It falls to 46% this season, certainly distorted by a 34% against Paris. The consequence is that Lens, compared to the 2022-23 financial year, concedes more shots (12.7 compared to 10.2) and shots on target (5.5 compared to 3.3). “We have to get back to what we do well. Playing with a lower, less open block does not mean being less aggressive,” underlined Haise, who did not omit “the doubt” and “the timidity” which settle in the heads, like a Gradit not very reassuring.

Higher up the pitch, Lens must not find itself: it must simply find itself. The departures of midfielder Seko Fofana and center forward Loïs Openda have redistributed the cards. “If the players wait for Fofana and Openda to be there against Metz, they can wait a long time,” warned Haise. Here again, time and a less tough (but denser) schedule will tell whether Lens has lost its mojo or not. The problem that arises, and which is arriving at a gallop, is that of the Champions League.

On Wednesday, four days after Metz, the Northerners will take to the pitch at the Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium, home of Sevilla FC, winner of the last Europa League. Arsenal and PSV Eindhoven will also be on the menu, with the famous rhythm of playing every three days. This group “can give us hope”, Franck Haise wants to believe, despite the risk of disillusionment and the absence of time to work and get our heads back to where that entails. So many things that Lens discovers. “It’s another story to write, even if it starts with difficulty,” Haise summarized. A poor performance in front of his audience this Saturday, against the modestly promoted Metz, is unthinkable. The Sang et Or must launch their season, and quickly.

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