category: France
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French side Lille travel to Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon, currently in second place in Ligue 1 and on a run of form that can only be described as magnificent. Their 92nd minute winner at home against Marseille made it 11 consecutive clean sheets for Les Dogues and their 14th of the season overall. A fantastic return after only 16 games. The secret behind this has of course been their defence. New coach René Girard has come into the side and taken an unlikely group of defenders, and turned them into the best defence in Europe. Not bad for a coach who had to convince the supporters at the start of the season that he was the right man for the job. Only one point behind Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the league, now the supporters are starting to believe something special is happening this would be 10 times bigger than their 2011 title campaign if they could pull it off.

René Girard led Montpellier unexpectedly to the 2011/12 Le Championnat, beating off the mega-riches of PSG to win La Paillade’s first ever Ligue 1 crown. Now he is using the same approach to construct a tough, well organised, well-disciplined Lille side. At Montpellier he was praised for his attacking players – Olivier Giroud, Younes Belhanda – but it was the defence that was the catalyst. The back four rarely changed the experience of Vitorino Hilton, the youth of Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa, and the energy and drive of full-backs Henri Bedimo and Garry Bocaly.

Now he is following the same pattern at his new club. Danish defender Simon Kjaer joined from Wolfsburg and he provides the energy and spark in the centre, paired with the excellent and vastly experienced Marko Basa, these two have clicked almost instantaneously. Franck Beria is the only member of the title winning defence left, he has returned to his natural right-back role, still eager to get forward, but provides that extra defensive cover. The left-back slot was meant to be a problem position. Promising youngster Lucas Digne moved to PSG for €15 million in the summer, Lille’s only true left-back, Pape Souare, had spent the previous season on loan at Reims, and although he did ok, he wasn’t regarded as anything special. How times have changed. Souare has been one of the revelations of the season so far. He has speed, strength and a determination to get forward, like so many of today’s modern-day full-backs, but he is also excellent in defence.

Never one to shy away from a tackle, Souare is full-bloodied, committed and an overall excellent defender. He has a wonderful aerial presence in and around the box, that has led to the Senegalese international scoring three goals so far this season, two of them match winners, against Montpellier and Toulouse. Souare has stepped up and made claim to the left-back role and made it his own, claim your football betting coupon, and perhaps you can be as successful as Pape Souare has this season. There was even a recent story linking his with a move to Manchester United. It is a little too soon for that kind of talk, but people are starting to sit up and take notice.

The real star of the defence though, has been Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. Signed 2 years ago by then coach Rudi Garcia, it was determined that Enyeama wasn’t as good as the #1 Mickael Landreau, so he was loaned out to Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Landreau left midway from the season, Former Brest goalkeeper Steeve Elana was made the number 1 and Enyeama stayed in Israel. With Girard in charge that all changed, there was open competition for the #1 jersey and Enyeama started the season between the sticks. Little did anyone know what was about to happen. After conceding a goal to Nice on the stroke of half-time on the 15th of September, Enyeama would spend the next 1035 minutes unbeaten. This included trips to Lyon, Montpellier and Nantes, and the visits of Monaco, Toulouse and Marseille. The all –time French football record is 1176 minutes without conceding, held by Gaëtan Huard of Bordeaux back in 1992-93. Enyeama will have to see off Bordeaux on Sunday, and then keep a clean sheet for over 50 minutes vs. Bastia to break the record.

If Enyeama can break the record, and Lille goes on to win both games, it sets up a very exciting trip to Paris just before the Winter break. A win in the capital would potentially see Lille crowned autumn champions, then you would have to consider them favourites to go on a life the real thing. Unthinkable when René Girard took over this summer.