RC Lens – Toulouse: Openda Comes Off The Bench To Lead Lens To Victory (3-0)
As we crossed a third of the way in the 2022/23 season, two sides that were exceeding expectations faced each other to kick off the thirteenth round of fixtures. Second-placed Lens hosted newly-promoted Toulouse, who started this game in the top half of the table. It was by no means an easy victory for the home side, but they got the job done in the end thanks to an ace up their sleeve.
Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.
Despite narrowly missing out on European football in the last two seasons and losing a number of their key players, Lens are simply refusing to let up. They have started the 2022/23 season with renewed vigour, which has taken them all the way up to the runners-up spot behind Paris Saint-Germain after twelve rounds of fixtures. Prior to this match, our model gave them a 62% chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season, so the odds are in their favour.
Toulouse will likely not be going on a European tour next season, but their success should not be underestimated either. For a newly-promoted side, they are doing a superb job by staying in the top half of the table, which is an especially handy place to be in a season when four sides are set to face relegation as the league is trimmed to eighteen teams. Before kick-off, our model gave them a 95% chance of staying up.
Lens were facing a couple of absences in their back line as Facundo Medina had a red card suspension whilst immy Cabot was out injured. So, Jonathan Gradit, Kevin Danso and Massadio Haidara started ahead of Brice Samba in goal in the 3-4-2-1 formation. Przemysław Frankowski and Deiver Machado were on the flanks, Salis Abdul Samed joined Jean Onana in midfield, and captain Seko Fofana was pushed forward on the left alongside David Costa, both of whom played off Wesley Said up front in the 3-4-2-1 formation.
Maxime Dupé was the starting goalkeeper for Toulouse again, with Mikkel Desler, Anthony Rouault, Moussa Diarra and Issiaga Sylla in the back four. Stijn Spierings was once again joined by Brecht Dejaeghere and Branco van den Boomen in midfield, whilst Zakaria Aboukhlal, Thijs Dallinga and Fares Chaibi made up the front three.
Cagey first half ends goalless
The first period of the match did not exactly provide a thrilling spectacle, but there were some interesting tactical developments to follow.
Toulouse had more possession in the opening exchanges – 62% in the first fifteen minutes to be precise – but most of it was well inside their own half. Lens did set up in a high block out of possession, but they did not press relentlessly, instead restricting ball progression options for their opponents.
As the half wore on, Lens were able to keep hold of much more possession. Toulouse allowed them to knock it around in their half most of the time and concentrated on defending in a 4-5-1 medium block. In that shape, they were able to do a good job of containing Lens’ 3-1-5-1 system in possession.
Abdul Samed was the midfielder who stayed deeper for Lens, so Toulouse had to focus on preventing him from having too much time on the ball. They did so by firstly ensuring that Dallinga tried to keep him in his cover-shadow as far as possible, and also had one of Dejaeghere or Van den Boomen move close to him depending which side of the pitch the ball was on.
41st minute: Toulouse’s medium block defending against Lens’ 3-1-5-1 system in possession.
In this way, the two sides neutralized each other in the first period. The shot count read 5-4 at half-time, but four of those were blocked, as many were from outside the box, and just two were on target.
Openda decides the match off the bench
The second half did not get off to a great start for Toulouse, who conceded a penalty three minutes in after Rouault slid through Costa. Dupé dug his defender out of a hole, though, as he guessed right and got a strong hand to Fofana’s shot to keep the scores level.
The match then continued to follow a similar pattern as it had done in the first half, so Franck Haise made a couple of substitutions to try and help his side get better in the final third. Loïs Openda and Florian Sotoca came on for Said and Onana, meaning Fofana dropped back into his usual position in midfield. The two new men just took a few minutes to combine and impact the scoreline, as Sotoca received the ball in a bit of space at the edge of the box and hung up a cross to the far post, where Openda arrived to head it home.
Except for that one opening, Lens continued to find it tough to break down Toulouse’s defensive block, but with the advantage in their hand, they did not need to push forward too hard anymore. The hosts kept over 55% of possession in the second half, but could only create four chances until the eightieth minute.
At that point, Toulouse were naturally forced to throw everything they had in search of an equalizer, which involved sending more men forward in possession and take more risks in the buildup. The danger, of course, was that they would be left exposed if possession was turned over, and that is precisely what led to Openda’s two late goals that enabled him to complete his hat-trick.
With that, Lens sealed an economical victory where they did not create too many great chances, but Openda converted all three that fell to him and thereby won the three points for his side.
For the first time since August, Lens have scored multiple goals in a Ligue 1 match to register their seventh-consecutive home victory. Truthfully, their overall performance did not merit a big victory, but a couple of late goals that came as a product of their opponents taking greater risks made the scoreline look pretty. Either way, they were good value for the three points, and deserve to spend another week close to the summit of the standings.
For the aforementioned reasons, Toulouse should also be proud of their performance. To match the second-best side in France as a newly-promoted team is no mean feat, and even though they ultimately came up short, they should take a lot of heart from this performance for future matches. They have got tough tests before the World Cup against Monaco and Rennes, so any points form those games will be welcome bonuses.
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