PLAYER RATINGS | Lens 0-0 Freiburg: Les Sang et Or fail to trouble patchwork Freiburg defence

RC Lens’s drop into the Europa League from the Champions League group stages did nothing to quieten the cauldron that is the Stade Bollaer-Delelis. A sold-out stadium full of noise and colour greeted Les Sang et Or as they hosted SC Freiburg, in the first leg of their play-off tie. 

Lens have yet to hit the heights and the intensity that they achieved last season when they chased Paris Saint-Germain’s eventual title until the final game of the season. The loss of Loïs Openda and Seko Fofana have been hard to stomach, but the squad have slowly begun to develop a coherency that has rediscovered some of that past brilliance. 

The visitors lined up with a makeshift defence as an injury crisis saw four centre-backs unavailable for the German side, which meant that Yannik Keitel was forced to play as a centre-back for the first time in his career. Lens looked to take advantage of the unfamiliarity within the backline with a fast start, that tried to pin Freiburg into their defensive third. 

Lens controlled possession and were aggressive without the ball, but after about a quarter of an hour of pressure, Freiburg began to grow into the game. Ritsu Dōan tested Brice Samba early in the half with a tame effort, but that sparked more involvement in the game from the right winger, and his link-up with Roland Sallai looked dangerous. Both players came close to opening the scoring but failed to hit the mark. 

The hosts began to struggle late into the half, their passes no longer seemed to find their teammate, and their efforts failed to threaten, with Lens unable to register a single of their ten shots on target. 

The halftime break provided no reprise for Lens as Freiburg carried on their pursuit for the opening goal. The visitors began to control possession and Lens were forced back, with Samba and Kevin Danso called into action on multiple occasions to keep the score level. A goalline clearance from Danso in particular was vital for Lens. 

Against the run of play, it looked like Massadio Haïdara had opened the scoring in a sequence that would have seen the Lens with their first shots on target in the half. However, the goal was ruled off for an offside in the buildup. Still, this sparked a revival from the hosts that gave them some belief that this game had not slipped out of their grasp. 

Lens looked to finish the game the same way they started it with a poised mix of aggression and control. They looked better in both defence and attack but still struggled to turn their movements into shots on target, meaning that as the game ended Lens had yet to hit the target. 

Throughout the match, control swayed between the sides and reflected the openness that characterised the game. Freiburg will perhaps be the more disappointed not to have come away with the victory, but Lens will point to their periods of control that bookended the match. All of this leaves the second leg firmly in the balance in a second leg that promises to excite. 

Lens player ratings

Brice Samba, 8 – The Lens captain was vital in between the posts for his side. His saves kept Freiburg at bay and allowed the hosts to survive an early second-half period of pressure that looked destined to end in a goal. 

Massadio Haïdara, 6

Kevin Danso, 7 – His goalline clearance will be the highlight of a game that was open and exciting but not exactly decorated with quality chances. He only made one error in the match when he misjudged the flight of the ball, but outside of that was composed in the centre of defence. 

Jonathan Gradit, 6

Przemysław Frankowski, 6

Neil El Aynaoui, 5

Andy Diouf, 5

Ruben Aguilar, 5 

David Pereira da Costa, 5

Elye Wahi, 5

Florian Sotoca, 4 – Had only a few opportunities in a game where the Lens attack struggled to connect, but managed to waste those precious moments, that could have helped the team gain an advantage before the second leg.

Selected Freiburg ratings

Ritsu Dōan, 6 – Creative and dangerous. Dōan looked the most likely to unpick Lens’s defence in the first half, and while his influence began to wane as the game carried on, his impact had helped the visitors turn around a worrying-looking first half into a game that they controlled and probably should have won. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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