Ligue 1 Review | Jonathan David rediscovers golden touch ahead of Aston Villa showdown

Jonathan David entered last summer on the back of his best-ever season as a professional footballer. The young striker had finally melded that early potential that had earned him a move away from Canada to Gent, into a statement of intent, as he scored twenty-four times in the league for Lille OSC. 

His parting gift for the French club was to secure them European football before he finally embraced a long-awaited move into the brighter lights that appeared to beckon him forward. His head had been turned, and Lille had made their peace with him leaving. Their separation was to be neat. He had delivered an astounding season, and they were to be richly rewarded. 

And as the rumours swirled of Liverpool, AC Milan, and Manchester United, nothing ever materialised for the Canadian forward. September approached and still, there was no movement. Clubs sniffed at the prospect but were turned back away by the €60 million release clause. 

The deadline soon passed and still David was at Lille. It was easy to say that nothing had changed for the player and the club, but something had changed. Their relationship was suddenly different. They had before the summer a player who had a point to prove, and a move on the horizon, they now had a player frustrated to be in a state of stasis. 

18 games and four goals for Jonathan David

The start of the season was concerning. David kept his place in the team but gone was the goalscoring touch that had come to define his stay in France. In his first eighteen games across all competitions, David scored only four times for Lille. And by the start of November, his place in the lineup was gone. 

Manager Paulo Fonesca instead relied upon the services of Yusuf Yazıcı in vital games against AS Monaco, Slovan Bratislava, and Olympique de Marseille, and whispers grew that in the winter transfer window, Lille would look to swallow their losses and sell David for a cut price fee. 

Instead, the pause was far more healing, it was not about showing David the door but allowing the striker to recentre himself after a disappointing summer. The forward since returning to the starting lineup has been on fire for Lille. 

He’s scored 18 goals across all competitions since late November, a feat that has seen him rise up Ligue 1’s goal-scoring charts to become the second top goal-scorer after Kylian Mbappé. The club has once again come to rely on the forward’s mixture of intelligence, positioning, and timing as they enter a crucial final stretch of the season.

Champions League hopes and Aston Villa 

Eight games remain in the league with Lille in fourth place. A Champions League position looks in sight if they can hold off challenges from OGC Nice, RC Lens, Marseille, and Stade Rennais. While, their Europa Conference League campaign has earned the club their first-ever European quarter-final against favourites for the competition; Aston Villa. 

It’s a daunting end, but with David coming into form at the right moment, Lille will have some confidence about meeting their end-of-season goals and perhaps even surprising the Premier League side with an upset. 

Fonseca has in recent weeks approached matches with a greater sense of flexibility. The team in some games have avoided their typical pressing system, such as against Stade Brestois this weekend, and instead utilised a low block with greater frequency. It’s an approach that invites the opposition forward leaving large swathes of the pitch for David to attack, and has helped him score in four of his last five league games. 

This tactical change has come at the exact right time for their doubleheader against Aston Villa. The English team play an extraordinarily high defensive line and are experts at tricking forwards into falling into their offside trap. However, in David, they will have an opponent that could prove to be their undoing. Space is the final frontier for man, but it is simply a tool for David. 

They will have to be careful at providing too much of it to a forward who has refound his way.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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