Despite some generally poor performances, Lens have continued to grind out victories to put them in serious contention for promotion. They have won only one game since the Christmas break however, and even that 1-0 victory over Troyes can be partially attributed to a first-half red card.
Philippe Montanier set up his side in a 3-4-1-2 formation, whereas Pascal Dupraz lined up Caen in a 4-3-3.
Caen were doing an imitation of Liverpool defensively. The front three would push up close to the centre-backs, with the wingers curving their runs to block the passes into the wing-backs, and the midfielders getting tight to Guillaume Gillet and Cheick Doucouré through the centre.
It wasn’t very effective though. Anthony Gonçalves would sometimes sit back next to Prince Oniangué, leaving Gillet free to receive the ball and pass out to Massadio Haïdara in space on the wing.
Jean-Louis Leca was also happy to just hit the ball straight over the top of them, usually aiming for Haïdara or Simon Banza on the left, who would flick the ball on for the other.
Lens took an early lead through Corentin Jean. As Leca hit a long ball forward, Lens packed the area with players so that even though Jonathan Rivierez won the header, Lens were able to win the second ball and scramble it out to Haïdara, who crossed for Jean to finish.
This lead didn’t last long though. Lens’ narrow formation meant that Caen’s full-backs often had space to receive the ball. They would use this space to hit long balls in behind Lens, however with a back five this rarely troubled the home side.
Caen managed to catch Lens with their wing-backs high up the pitch though. Gonçalves hit a long ball in behind for Caleb Zady to chase and Steven Fortés made a horrifically poor challenge to give away a penalty.
Caen took the lead not long after with another penalty. Caen hit a simple long ball forward and, as Gillet and Doucouré were slow to retreat back into position, won the second ball. Zakaria Diallo was easily tricked with a flick and Zady once again got ahead of Fortés, forcing Aleksandar Radovanovic across to challenge.
Haïdara was replaced by Cheick Traore shortly before half-time due to injury and Montanier made more significant changes at the break. Diallo was substituted for Tony Mauricio as Lens switched to a 4-2-3-1. He was positioned behind Banza up front, while Gaetan Robail moved left and Jean to the right.
Caen made only minor changes. Gonçalves held back alongside Oniangue, forming more of a 4-2-3-1 shape as the visitors aimed to sit back and hold onto their lead.
Whereas Lens had attacked down the left in the first half through Haïdara and Banza, in the second they went down the right. Jean and Clément Michelin would combine and Mauricio would drift over to that side to give them a passing option through the middle, but usually they would just send in crosses that Caen found easy to deal with.
Caen extended their lead from a corner as Lens’ defenders pushed out despite the ball not being cleared, leaving an easy finish for Oniangué.
During the celebrations, Michelin was sent off for haranguing the referee. Jean dropped back into the backline in his place, however it became clear just minutes later that he wasn’t up to the job. As Zady ran in behind him, he back-pedalled facing forward. Jessy Deminguet slipped a through ball behind Jean and he couldn’t turn anywhere quick enough to get to Zady as he crossed for Malik Tchokounté to tap in.
What had looked an even game early on quickly unravelled for Lens thanks to some awful defending, and they were lucky not to concede more.