PARIS (AP) — Instead of challenging at the top of the French league, defending champion Lille is trying just to stay in the top half of the standings.
Lille has been struggling with consistency in its bid to back up the team’s unexpected title triumph and currently occupies 10th place in the 20-team league. Its next match won’t make things any easier, playing Friday at leader Paris Saint-Germain — the team it beat to the title last season.
Then there’s a trip to Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“It’s tough because I really want to have a good season where we can fight for a top-four finish. It’s tough for us, the French champion, to accept such a situation,” Lille center back Jose Fonte said after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Brest. “I’m not scared of playing against Paris or of playing against Sevilla. I know the players always show up in the big games.”
Lille beat PSG 1-0 to win the Champions Trophy — a match between the French league champion and the French Cup winner — in August and defeated Marseille 2-0 in the league this month, so there are signs that the club can replicate its form from last year. But the team lost only three matches last season and has already lost four through 11 games this season.
The offseason transfer window also almost certainly had an impact on the success of the team this year. Lille sold goalkeeper Mike Maignan to AC Milan, midfielder Boubakary Soumare to Leicester and winger Luiz Araujo to Atlanta United.
PSG, meanwhile, brought in Lionel Messi from Barcelona, Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, Gianluigi Donnarumma from AC Milan, Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool, Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan, and Nuno Mendes from Sporting Lisbon.
Lille forward Jonathan David leads the league with seven goals so far this season, but Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan Bamba have been less prolific than they were last year.
Lille also lost title-winning coach Christophe Galtier, who moved to Nice.
“We create more chances than last season when the team performed really well,” said Jocelyn Gourvennec, the successor to Galtier as coach. “In my eyes, that means two things. First, it means that we prepare well and that we put ourselves in a position to hurt the opponent in his box. And the second thing is that we are not clinical. … We must convert more of the chances that we create.”
PSG, which leads second-place Lens by seven points, has also put in some unconvincing performances this season — and has reportedly had some off-the-field distractions to deal with involving Ander Herrera and Mauro Icardi.
The leaders will also have to do without Kylian Mbappe, who will miss the match with an infection, and possibly Messi, who has a “small muscle problem,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said Thursday.
In other matches, Lens will play at Lyon on Saturday, while third-place Nice plays at Angers and fourth-place Marseille plays at Clermont on Sunday.
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