PARIS — Lille’s attacking potential this season was on display as coach Marcelo Bielsa’s new team started its French league campaign with a 3-0 win over Nantes on Sunday.
After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the Argentine coach — known as "El Loco Bielsa" (Crazy Bielsa) to his fans — with the aim of returning to the Champions League while playing an exciting brand of football.
Lille also recruited more than a dozen of new players and the northern club’s squad appears to have gelled.
Facing an unimaginative side, Lille dominated from the start but had to wait until the 48th to open the scoring through Paraguay defender Junior Alonso. Nicolas De Preville doubled his team’s lead from the spot and Anwar El Ghazi put the win beyond doubt.
The match also featured a duel between Bielsa and another prominent coach, Italian Claudio Ranieri. The managers, who had a quick chat before the game, returned to the French top flight after spending several years away.
With better players at his disposal following Lille’s ambitious recruiting campaign this summer, Bielsa’s team was in control from the start.
"We played a high-energy match, on a fast rhythm, and we made only a few fouls," Bielsa said. "I believe that we deserved the goals we scored, and that it is a fair result. Let’s see if we can keep that rhythm and speed we want to play with throughout the whole season."
Lille imposed a fast tempo by pressing high on the pitch — the Argentine’s trademark — and created several chances in the opening stages with fast moves down the flanks that caught out the Nantes back four.
But for all their possession the hosts lacked a cutting edge in the box. Bielsa’s influence was evident in the 14th when Nicolas de Preville tried and missed an acrobatic volley. The French striker did not give up though, tracked the ball down and managed to recover it before setting up newly signed Luiz Araujo, whose shot was blocked.
Nantes could have moved ahead against the run of the play when Abdoulaye Toure recovered the ball 20 metres from the hosts’ box and forced Mike Maignan into a superb dive with a long and powerful shot. The Lille ‘keeper managed to parry the ball onto the crossbar and Prejuce Nakoulma, alone in front of goal, fluffed his header from close range.
Lille finally broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half after taking advantage of a poor clearance from Nantes captain Leo Dubois. Alonso received the ball outside the box and unleashed a powerful strike into the bottom corner.
Maignan made a decisive save in the next minute to deny Emiliano Sala’s chip attempt at the conclusion of a slick counterattack to keep his team’s lead intact.
Lille was awarded a penalty in the 68th after Kevin Malcuit was fouled by Nicolas Pallois in the box, and De Preville converted from the spot by sending Maxime Dupe the wrong way. El Ghazi made it 3-0 three minutes later with a clean finish. El Ghazi celebrated his goal by taking his shirt off, revealing a tribute to former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri, who collapsed during a pre-season game this summer and suffered brain damage.
Bielsa guided Marseille to a fourth-place finish in 2015 while Ranieri — who famously led English club Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016 — helped Monaco win the second division title in his first season, and then finish runner-up in the top flight in the 2013-14 season.
GUILLAUME STRIKES LATE
Summer signing Baptiste Guillaume scored a late goal to secure a 2-2 draw for Angers against Bordeaux in their season-opener.
Angers took the lead in the 11th minute when Angelo Fulgini, another player hired during the off-season, slotted home between the legs of Benoit Costil for his first goal in the top flight.
Younousse Sankhare levelled for Bordeaux and — on a day of strong performances by newly signed players — Alexandre Mendy gave the visitors the lead from Malcolm’s assist.
Bordeaux looked in control afterward but conceded with two minutes left when Costil could only parry away a shot from Karl Toko Ekambi into Guillaume’s path.