Hampered, hap-hazard and heartbreaking. Lille’s short and not at all sweet Europa League adventure was nothing short of unacceptable not only for the supporters of a great club but also for French football as a whole.
The first leg, that looked straight out of a time machine in Lille’s old stadium was a warning sign that should have been heeded. Sloppy play led to a Qabala opener and the Azerbaijani outfit stood firm for long periods after that.
Even as Lille got themselves back into the game with an equaliser from Ryan Mendes, they failed to build upon their momentum. Restricted to shots from distance and struggling to find real pentration, the game petered out with Frederic Antonetti’s men knowing they would need a result in the return leg.
They did not go for the throat early doors in that game in the former Soviet nation and they paid the heaviest price. The midfield allowed Filip Ozobic way too much space and he punished them with a superb strike that sent the French side packing.
While they had a few attempts to score, mainly from more shots from outside the box, they never looked too dangerous in the final third. Too eager to get that goal and seeing their name in lights, their build-up play stuttered and made it so much easier for Qabala.
On paper, this is a team Lille should be beating comfortably. Credit to the Azerbaijan side by putting in two very respectable performances and pulling Les Dogues’ pants down but they should not be strolling through a tie against a team with international experience in their ranks like Lille.
A devastating defeat indeed but not just for Lille’s European hopes but potentially to their season. Without the likes of Sofiane Boufal, they lack real width or creativity and even with Eder back in for the second leg, he does not add enough to make this team a potent attacking threat.
With the want-away Moroccan out for the start of the season, alarm bells should be ringing for Antonetti. Should they finally push through the transfer of Nicolas De Preville, that will help them have more impetous but he alone will not be enough, especially if Boufal gets his wish for a move to the Premier League come January.
And it is not like this was not a worry already. One strong end to a season where a Portuguese forward hits the form of his life does not mean that a problem is fixed and while their defence was solid last season, 39 goals has to be improved upon if they want to be challenging near the top end of the table again.
This also impacts Ligue 1’s coefficient, as they look to maintain or even improve their spot in the rankings. Having one less side make the group stages can be a serious hit, especially if others succeed and puts more pressure on both Monaco and Saint-Etienne to step up to the plate in their next qualifying games.
The problem of the Europa League has seemed to be an epidemic for sides in Ligue 1 in recent history. Whether they are not far enough in their preparation to cope or simply are focusing too hard on the league, too many teams are willing to throw it away and hope to either go one stage further in Ligue 1 next season or miss out entirely, which is exactly the wrong attitude to have.
Simply put, Lille’s two performances were not good enough and in fact, they were embarrassing. If teams do not take these ties seriously, they get punished and unfortunately for Les Dogues supporters, it almost seemed that their club did not care enough about European football this season to bother turning up for it.