You could almost say this weekend of football was the equivalent of a shootout in a Quentin Tarantino movie. It might not exactly be the case in the Premier League, but elsewhere, the stakes were high. In Serie A, Juventus and AC Milan met in a top-four battle, while in Spain, the top four teams faced each other in something akin to the full-blown scene in an action-packed movie. Not to mention the EFL weekend. Then there’s France, where RC Lens hosted Lille in the Derby du Nord as the Ligue 1 title race took another twist.
Ligue 1 Title Race: Lille Edge Closer as PSG Drop Points
RC Lens v Lille – Derby du Nord
The Derby du Nord is one of French football’s intense rivalries, between Lille and RC Lens. The Northern Derby, as it translates, is a meeting that has epitomised enmity and disparity since the 1930s. However, the rivalry bit might have been a bit lost in the past few years.
Lens are far from the side they once were. The side that won the French first division in 2002, and reached a UEFA Cup semi-final in 2000. Those days look long gone in the memory, and perhaps meetings with Lille help epitomise that.
In the past 15 years, Lens have had more relegations than they’ve had Ligue 1 wins over their bitter rivals. Not since April 2006 have they beaten Lille, when under Francis Gillot, they won 4-2 against a side containing the likes of Peter Odemwingie and Tony Sylva. In fact, Pierre Alain-Frau, one of the Lens players for that game, has gone on to play for Lille and score in a 4-1 win over Lens. Memories of a win over Lille are far in the memory, especially now Lille are competing in the ligue 1 title race.
Ligue 1 Title Race and European Spots
But while Lens might not have had any illusions regarding being best equipped to beat Lille, things still looked pivotal this week. Lille came into the weekend at the top of the standings, a point ahead of champions and closest challengers PSG.
Meanwhile, Lens entered the weekend in fifth place, above Marseille on goal difference for the other Europa League spot. A Champions League place is impossible for Franck Haise’s team, but Europe’s secondary competition would still be a big achievement for the side who only got promoted at the end of last season. The motivation definitely wasn’t lacking.
Lille Steal a March in Title Race
But, once again, it was grim for Lens in the Derby du Nord, as they suffered a straightforward loss at home to Lille. From the fourth minute, when Burak Yilmaz slotted home that penalty, Lille looked comfortable. And despite testing Mike Maignan in the Lille goal not long after, Lens were in more trouble when Clement Michelin got sent off in the first half. Despite Marseille also losing at the weekend, Lens drop to sixth by virtue of goal difference.
But for Lille, they march on. Yilmaz opened the scoring with a penalty, then added a second with a belter in the first half. Lille have a 36-year-old leading their ranks up front, and the biggest issue with that is if Yilmaz had been fit for all the season, they’d probably have sealed the league by now.
And Christopher Galtier’s side are edging closer to that first Ligue 1 title in a decade, since before PSG’s Qatari owners. That’s because second-placed PSG drew against Rennes – another side chasing Europa League football – on Sunday. Lille are three points clear, with two games left.
PSG have goal difference on their side, and as such Lille might need to win every game, or at least get four points, to guarantee the title. But Les Dogues have their fate firmly in their hand, and a front-man willing to keep it that way. In what was deemed a shootout European weekend, Lille have walked away without blood on their faces.
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