European football returns this week, and Lille kick off their Europa League campaign by hosting the Russian side FC Krasnodar. Les Dogues had hoped to be playing in the Champions League after their third place finish in Ligue 1 last season. Sadly, a powerful Porto side overwhelmed them 3-0 on aggregate in the play-off round, so Rene Girard’s side have had to settle for Thursday night football for the coming few months.
Lillle are unbeaten since the disappointment against Porto and are top of the Ligue 1 table after five rounds of fixtures. Three victories and two draws see them sit a point clear of the chasing pack in France, having conceded just one goal in the league so far. A convincing 2-0 victory at home to Nantes followed a creditable 1-1 draw away to Monaco, meaning Lille play host to Krasnodar on a high.
The Russian side are earmarked as the outsiders of the group, but will be far from a pushover. Founded only six years ago, they have made impressive progress in domestic competition, coming 5th in the Russian Premier League last season. They have yet to hit their stride in the league so far this season; they currently lie in mid-table, but their performances in Europe have been remarkable. After convincing victories in the early Europa League qualifying rounds, they looked set to exit the competition after losing 1-0 away to Real Sociadad in the last round. Sociedad were comfortable winners in the first leg, yet were stunned 3-0 in Russia, all three goals coming in the second half as Krasnodar snatched a dramatic victory.
Squad Selection and Tactics:
Krasnodar will be without one of their star men for their trip to Stade Pierre-Mauroy; Brazilian winger Joaozinho was sent off in the closing stages of the 3-0 win over Sociedad. This is a blessing for Lille, as the 25 year-old was instrumental in the second half turnaround, scoring the first goal and laying on the assist for the third goal that put the game beyond the Spanish opposition. Consecutive home defeats in the Russian League may mean manager Aleh Konanaw makes changes for Lille, but Mauricio Pereyra is likely to be their main creative outlet, operating in the hole behind Brazilian frontman Ari.
As for Lille, their fine start to the season means that Rene Gerard could name an unchanged eleven from the one that dispatched Nantes impressively at the weekend. Loanees Divock Origi and Marco Lopes got the goals against Nantes, and will both be hoping to start against Krasnodar. Lopes entered as a substitute on Sunday, coming on after the team were jeered off at half time. As such, he may play from the off, possibly replacing Marvin Martin as Gerard continues with the 4-4-2 diamond formation that has served him well at the start of the campaign.
Origi (Lille)- Bought by Liverpool from Lille and then immediately loaned back, Origi has made a good start to the season. A goal and an assist capped off a splendid display against Nantes, and the Belgian’s speed and trickery, as well as his prowess in the air, will make him a handful for the Krasnodar defence to deal with, should he focus throughout 90 minutes.
Pereyra (Krasnodar)- The Uruguayan already has two Europa League goals to his name in the competition this season, as well as another in the league during their last victory at the end of August. The diminutive playmaker creates space for other with his clever movement and well-timed dribbles, and can also spot a killer pass.
Lille should run out winners in this opening Europa League encounter. The French side are in good form and have a strong defence to go with a relatively newfound pace in attack. Krasnodar are on a poor run of form and are not at full strength either, meaning Lille are favourites for a relatively comfortable victory. Expect them to be a different prospect in Russia though.