This is part of our 22/23 Ligue 1 Handbook, the ultimate guide to French Football – You can see our end of season predictions and read every team’s profile right here.
Key Man: Jonathan David – If Jonathan David had sustained his goal-scoring form of late 2021, when he was averaging 0.66 goals per game, he would’ve finished the season with around 25 goals. Instead, the Canadian endured a dry spell which saw him register just three goals from Christmas onwards, the main reason why Lille’s form collapsed and why the 22-year-old wasn’t sold for big money this summer. Having seemed certain to make a major move after scoring 12 before the winter break, it’s a little awkward seeing David back in a Lille shirt, especially considering his agent had ‘confirmed’ 21/22 would be his last season in northern France. Still, there’s room to be optimistic. After all, in two seasons at Roma, new Lille manager Paulo Fonseca mined 21 goals from Edin Džeko, and David definitely has the quality to hit double figures once more. After all, not even Kylian Mbappé beat David for goals in 2021 and the fact those goals came from his head and both feet shows how lethal he is. The former Gent striker also registered the fifth most pressures per 90 minutes for Les Dogues last season, according to FBRef. Fonseca will be counting on David to pull his team up the table this year. Four goals in the first six games is a promising start.
Signing To Watch: Mohamed Bayo – The €14.5m Lille paid for Mohamed Bayo in July was Clermont’s record sale and the sixth-highest Lille have paid in their history. It’s entirely justified, though, as, unlike David, the 24-year-old Guinean international Bayo was a regular scorer throughout last season, with his longest dry spell between any of his 14 league goals being six matches in March and April. Even then, the 6’2 striker was limited by his weak side’s poor form in that period, something Bayo will have to deal with less at Lille. He’s a clear upgrade on the ageing Burak Yılmaz and can offer physicality and pace alongside Jonathan David. Although Bayo is slowly regaining his manager’s trust after being dropped following an unauthorised nightclub excursion, meaning he’s yet to have much of an impact, there’s no excuse for a lack of goals at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Transfer Window Analysis – Les Dogues had a poor season last year, falling from champions to tenth, that’s despite many expecting a bigger exodus last summer than just midfielder Boubakary Soumaré and goalkeeper Mike Maignan. This summer’s transfer window has been more taxing, as president Oliver Létang let go of key starters Sven Botman, Yılmaz, Zeki Celik and Renato Sanches plus left-back Domagoj Bradaric. That’s almost their entire defence, who exactly is best to become first-choice goalkeeper, replacing departed loanee Ivo Grbić, is uncertain. Incumbent Léo Jardim is capable of errors but talented Valenciennes loanee keeper Lucas Chevalier, still just 20, has only sat on the bench since his return. Arriving alongside Bayo is centre-back prospect Alexsandro from Chaves, wily Ligue 1 campaigner Jonas Martin from Rennes in midfield and Rémy Cabella from Montpellier. Although Lille’s crop of young talent in defender Tiago Djaló and forwards Timothy Weah and Angel Gomes have all grown a year older, this squad is still weaker than 12 months ago, and presents a tricky task for Fonseca, although the late arrivals of winger Adam Ounas from Napoli and Everton midfielder Andre Gomes have helped to add depth and quality.
Strengths – The biggest strength Lille have going into the new season is incoming coach Fonseca’s experience and need to prove himself. Despite reaching a Europa League semi-final at Roma, the Mozambican left Italy with his reputation damaged, but his penchant for being tactically flexible could be exactly what his new side need to be competitive this season. He may not have garnered plaudits after getting hammered at home by PSG 1-7 at the start of the season, but his willingness to experiment with a three-at-the-back and a 4-2-3-1 has injected some energy into a previously stale side.
Weaknesses – Amongst Lille’s reconstruction lies a glaring hole, the position of goalkeeper. While Maignan saved eight goals more than FBRef’s post-shot expected-goals model suggested he should have conceded last season, Lille’s men in between the sticks Grbić and Jardim saved 2.8 fewer goals than expected. With the Croatian returning to Spain, Lille’s most senior keeper remains Jardim. With just two seasons of first-team football in Portugal to his name, further pressure could be placed on Fonte and his defence this season. Having impressed on loan with Valenciennes in Ligue 2 last year, 20-year-old Chevalier may be Fonseca’s best option with Jardim’s tendency to make errors already evident this season against Montpellier.
Verdict – It’s difficult to understate the damage caused by the financial fallout of Gérard Lopez’s ownership of the club which ended in late 2020. The title-winning eleven of 20/21 is almost completely gone, but, at least, in Fonseca, LOSC have a coach who’s able to replicate the successes of other recent foreign managers who recently moved to top French sides like Jorge Sampaoli and Phillippe Clement. Fonseca can count on two of the best strikers in the league and a midfield which contains the ever-consistent Benjamin André, which should be enough to propel this side up the table, especially without the distraction of European football.