With Lorient dropping points, losing four of their last five matches, the opportunity is there for the four clubs in their shadow to overtake them at the top of Ligue 2. If Lens were going to make up ground on Lorient, they were going to have to do it without the support of their fans, playing behind closed doors due to fears over coronavirus.
Franck Haisse continued with the 3-4-1-2 formation used against Paris FC while new coach of bottom club Orléans Gilbert Zoonekynd went for a 4-4-1-1.
Setting up in a narrow block through the centre, Orléans encouraged Lens to go wide. When the ball was played out to the wing-back, Orléans would shift across and press, while surrounding the short pass inside to a midfielder, and former Lens player Thomas Ephestion would move across to cut off the pass back to the nearest centre-back. Lens’ back three meant that, while Ephestion covered the nearest centre-back, the other two remained open, meaning Lens could easily switch play and attack down the opposite flank.
Lens also quickly realised that the Orléans wingers would track back deep following Charles Boli and Clément Michelin. Lens simply pushed the wing-backs high up the pitch and, with Issa Soumaré and Vincent Thill dropping back alongside the back four, Aleksandar Radovanovic and Steven Fortès had space ahead of them to push forward with the ball and attack.
This meant that Lens dominated the game, keeping hold of the majority of possession. Orléans’ attacks were mainly just long balls in behind the wing-backs, trying to catch Lens up the pitch, however they moved the ball too slowly to actually take advantage of any counter-attacking opportunities.
Despite being in full control, Lens struggled to create real chances though. They were able to get into Orléans’ half easily, but Orléans forming a back six when the wingers dropped back meant they had a bolstered defence to break down. Tony Mauricio and Florian Sotoca would look to receive the ball between the lines and Cheick Doucouré would push up to join them, however Orléan’s narrow defensive base and the two midfielders in front of them meant there wasn’t a lot of space to work the ball through. Lens could often get the ball into the attacking third but couldn’t pull off that final pass to set up a goal.
They would often send the ball wide to the wing-backs too. Boli would usually dribble inside, which simply added to the crush through the centre, whereas Michelin would swing in a cross – all horribly overhit.
A small adjustment at half-time saw Lens finally able to break Orléans down though. Mauricio had looked Lens’ brightest attacker, always looking to receive the ball on the half-turn, however it had been difficult to get the ball to him with the Orléans defenders breathing down his neck.
In the second half, he began to drift out to the right side. Orléans struggled to deal with this. If the centre midfielders followed him, they would leave space through the middle for passes into the forwards, so instead it was Soumaré’s job to pick him up. Soumaré couldn’t keep track of both Mauricio and Michelin at the same time though, meaning Gauthier Pinaud would have to move wider to deal with Michelin, finally pulling one of the back four out of their narrow positions to create some space in the middle.
Lens took the lead through a penalty won by Sotoca. Mauricio picked up the ball out wide, gaining Soumaré’s attention, then passed inside to Sotoca, who played a one-two with Michelin in space on the right and made a run in behind Pinaud when he moved out to close the wing-back down. Sotoca’s cross was blocked by Cédric Cambon’s arm and he tucked away the resulting penalty.
Lens continued to have most of the ball and were happier to simply keep hold of possession rather than forcing attacks now that they had the lead. Orléans never really mustered any kind of reply. They began to make use of the space afforded to their full-backs due to Lens’ narrow shape, passing out to Pinaud as they tried to double or triple up on Lens down the left flank but they never really looked threatening.
It was a less eye-catching win for Lens than against Paris FC, but they nevertheless controlled the game well. Haise can be happy at how his tenure is going so far.
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