Only last month Lens defender Raphael Varane was profiled as one of our Ligue 1 20 for 20 – players to watch. In the piece it was mentioned how many clubs were keeping an eye on this talented youngster ready to make a move for him in the transfer market. Manchester United and Bayern Munich were the big names in contention, Sir Alex had been rumoured to be considering a £3m bid for the 17-year old.

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This can’t be the best of times to follow Les Sang et Or your team sits precariously in the relegation zone while you look up at your biggest rivals on the brink of their first title since 1954. With the dark clouds circling overhead the Stade Felix Bollaert fans in the Marek stand are beginning to look towards the ray of sunshine coming from the centre of their defence.
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After launching my Palermo diaries as a way of tracking my journey with La Rosanero it feels only right to start one with my other love…..Lille OSC. Although I was born in Glasgow and Celtic are my “team” for the past six years I have followed the fortunes of a small team from Northern France. And now I would consider my love for them just as passionate.

My Lille journey started with a friend’s parent buying me a scarf during a trip to France. Ever since that moment I have grown to love Les Dogues, following them from the heights of the Champions League to the poor seasons when everyone was sold to the highest bidder.

Today saw the Derby du Nord played at the Stade Lille Metropole, local neighbours and rivals Racing Club Lens travelled the forty miles trip to take on the league leaders in what was always going to be a furious and heated match-up. Now if anyone can think of a better day to start a “Lille Diary” let me know.

In hindsight I should have started this diary back in August 2006. It wasn’t till the end of the 2005/06 season that I caught my first Lille game; I watched Peter Odemwingie scored twice against Bordeaux, and I was hooked.

The new season couldn’t come fast enough. Opening the campaign with a 2-1 win away at Rennes, the next weekend saw the opening home game against who else but Les Sang et Or. Nothing like a derby game to kick start your season. It will be hard to forget what I watched that day, it was glorious day in sunny Lille and the players were in the mood.

Mathieu Bodmer opened the scoring and then passed the baton to Odemwingie. Three beautiful goals later, two of which were set up by Abdul Kader Keita, it was a vintage performance from Les Dogues and there was no doubt in my mind, I loved this team.

Fast forward to today and it is exactly twenty eight days until I will be standing in the Metropole watching Lille take on Lyon in what could be a massive game in the title charge. First things first though, Lens are not in contention for the title or a European spot, but they are fighting for their place in Ligue 1.

Derby games are always tough, but when your opponents are trying to stay up a wounded animal is always more dangerous than a dead one. Two wins in a row meant Lens were as dangerous as any side in the division.

The match itself was not a great watch; you could clearly see the influence of new manager Laszlo Bodoni flowing through his side, very tough, well organised and they made it very difficult for the home side. Tackles were flying in and let’s just say they were as accurate as the shooting.

As expected Lille had the majority of the ball, lead by the little magician Eden Hazard they tried to break down the Lens defence. The home side only managed four shots in the first half, none of which were on target. The league’s top scorer Moussa Sow and highly rated winger Gervinho had quiet games, the longer the game went on the fans knew it would come down to a moment of “Hazgic” (that’s Hazard magic).

Lens came out in the second half with a bit more attacking intent, well it’s not hard when you don’t even get a single shot off in the first half. Straight from kick off Toifilou Maoulida made a bee-line for the goal and his 20 yard effort flashed safely wide but it showed more attacking intent.

Watching each unsuccessful Lille attack it was obvious that the eleven players on the pitch weren’t going to breakdown this stubborn well organised defence. The style of the match was screaming out for some height upfront, and with half an hour to go Rudi Garcia noticed it too. He made a double substitution, Ludovic Obraniak and Tulio de Melo coming on for Florent Balmont and Moussa Sow.

It is wonderful when subtle changes make a huge difference, and in just under ten minutes Lille had the lead. Eden Hazard began the move down the left, beating his man he then found Obraniak on the edge of the box, the Pole without controlling the ball chipped it towards the penalty spot and the big Brazilian de Melo stretched out his right foot and flicked the ball with the outside of boot and past the outstretched hand of Vedran Runje. A wonderful goal, and the first shot on target of the entire game, I’m sure Garcia would have had a wry smile on his face.

Yohan Cabaye could have extended the home sides lead, once with a shot from just inside the box that he should have put away and then late on when Runje had to stop Cabaye’s free kick from nestling in the top corner. Lens had a great chance to equalise in the 92nd minute but Akale was offside and his volley went over the bar.

The Heat map of Cabaye just shows the amount of work he will put into the game. With Balmont concentrating on the right side of the field and Mavuba mainly sitting deep it is up to Yohan to patrol the rest of the pitch and when he is on his game he will cause problems for any defence.

From an individual point of view the best player on the pitch was of course Eden Hazard. His heat map shows that it is impossible to pin him down, playing mostly on the left but given license to drift all the way to the opposite flank. Most of his good work is done from the left but it is impossible to man-mark Eden as he will drag your team all out of position.

Although you only get rewarded three points like any other win, derby wins are very important for the team’s morale. Lille keep their four point lead over Paris St-Germain and with Lyon and Rennes both getting beat the gap from third is now seven points.

At the start of the season the thought of Lille winning the league was a dream, now with every win it doesn’t seem as farcical. The goal should still be to qualify for the Champions League…a boy can dream though.

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