Seeking to recover from their Champions League elimination at the hands of Chelsea, Ligue 1 leaders Lille travel to the Stade de la Beaujoire to take on Nantes on Saturday.
Les Canaris also head into the contest aiming to bounce back from a recent defeat, as their European bid took a blow in a 1-0 defeat to Troyes last Saturday.
The transformation Nantes have made in such a short space of time under Antoine Kombouare is nothing short of remarkable, but there are evidently still come cracks in the Canaris crop, as newly-promoted Troyes ran out 1-0 winners in last weekend’s encounter.
Samuel Moutoussamy spurned a great chance to propel Nantes into the head as he got his header all wrong, and Troyes proceeded to take advantage, with Xavier Chavalerin finding Ike Ugbo for the Canadian to fire home into the far corner just before half time.
Defeat at the Stade de l’Aube ended a six-game winning run for Nantes in all competitions – five of them wins – but Les Canaris are still well-placed to challenge for continental football and occupy seventh spot in the rankings – five points off Strasbourg in the Europa Conference League spot.
A return to home comforts is just what the doctor ordered for this Nantes side, as Kombouare’s men have strung together a seven-game winning run on home soil in Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France – overcoming Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco in that sequence.
Not since December 1 have Nantes suffered defeat at the Stade de la Beaujoire in any competition, while only Rennes and PSG have performed better on home soil in Ligue 1 this term, so the fatigued and faltering champions arguably do not enter the impending battle as favourites.
Even with their mountanious issues off the field at present, Chelsea have not lost their European pedigree, and the Champions League holders ended Lille’s European run to advance to the quarter-finals with a 2-1 second-leg success at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
After a 2-0 loss in the first leg, Burak Yilmaz’s penalty gave Les Dogues a small glimmer of hope after Jorginho’s handball, but Christian Pulisic finished from a tight angle just before the whistle blew for half time, and Cesar Azpilicueta rounded off a 4-1 aggregate win for the Blues in the 71st minute.
Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side were never expected to compete for the trophy – especially with their topsy-turvy league fortunes continuing with a goalless draw at home to Saint-Etienne last weekend – and Lille only sit one place and one point better off than their upcoming hosts in sixth.
The reigning champions have a seven-point chasm to the top three to overcome if they are to dine at Europe’s top table again next term, and the Saint-Etienne stalemate did at least mark a fifth Ligue 1 game unbeaten for Lille, who have remarkably kept five clean sheets in that period.
Nantes managed to end a six-game losing run against Lille with a 1-1 draw at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in November, but Les Canaris have endured a miserable 13-game run without three points in this fixture since Michel Der Zakarian oversaw a 1-0 win in the 2015-16 season.
Nantes Ligue 1 form:
Nantes form (all competitions):
Lille Ligue 1 form:
Lille form (all competitions):
We say: Nantes 1-1 Lille
With Gourvennec potentially forced into making two unwanted alterations in defence and dealing with jellied legs in all areas of the pitch, Lille’s magnificent defensive streak in Ligue 1 is sure to come to an end at the Beaujoire fortress.
However, Kombouare is dealing with a similar situation for a side whose confidence would have been rocked slightly by the loss to Troyes, and we can only see the two European outsiders shaking hands on a point this weekend.