In the long history of Ligue 1, only once before has a team that was at the top of the table in the final round of matches failed to win the title. To avoid the fate that befell Nîmes in 1962, Lille, who only drew at home against Saint-Étienne who had nothing left to play last Sunday, had to go to Angers and win to confirm the fourth title of his story. .
It was a task that was easier said than done. Yes, Lille They had the best away record in the league, but would go to Stade Raymond Kopa without their captain, the influential and experienced José Fonte, to face a team that would take a moving farewell to their veteran coach, Stéphane Moulin. , who left office after a decade in command.
If there were nerves, they barely showed for Christophe Galtier’s tight-knit team, who won comfortably. Yusuf Yazici and Renato Sanches entered the squad and made Lille more robust and physically direct, with Jonathan Bamba and Jonathan Ikoné surprisingly down. Sanches, who had been lacking in form and fitness of late, was the most notable gamble, but his presence paid dividends almost immediately, slipping Jonathan David for the first goal in 10 minutes into the game.
His insistent and lively play on the right not only gave Lille a percussive attack on that flank, but also allowed right-back Zeki Celik to deliver a more conservative performance than usual. With Fonte, the right-side center-back absent, Celik’s more cautious approach paid off, even if Angers’s attack offered very little. The excellent Angelo Fulgini scored a consolation goal in injury time, but the hosts were largely blunted.
That Sanches had such a driven and determined performance after not starting a league game in a month was testament to his own progress, but it also showed how good Galtier is at bringing out the best in players. Sanches made a considerable name for himself five years ago when he was a key part of the Portugal team that won Euro 2016, but unconvincing spells with Bayern Munich and Swansea damaged his reputation. His development with Galtier has been more linear and consistent, even as he has battled injuries and Covid-19. Sanches is far from the only player to have benefited from Galtier’s management. The player who prepared for the first goal, David, also owes a debt to his coach.
While Burak Yilmaz’s recent exploits, especially against Lyon and Lens, have made the headlines, David’s development throughout the season is perhaps Galtier’s best achievement. The most expensive arrival in France this summer, the young Canadian struggled a lot at the start of the season. Even when Lille was at the top of the table in January, that seemed despite her presence on the side, rather than because of her. With just two goals and one assist in the league, he didn’t seem to justify his € 30 million price tag, a huge figure for a club already under heavy financial pressure.
His progression in 2021 to become a vital part of a title-winning team is nothing short of miraculous. With 11 goals in the calendar year, including the winner against PSG in a close match at Parc des Princes and a final double against Marseille, David has been one of the best players in the league. By showing patience with the youngster, as well as believing in his association with the dynamic Yilmaz, Galtier once again demonstrated his ability to improve young attackers, as previously demonstrated with Nicolas Pepé and Victor Osimhen.
Despite the individual brilliance of Yilmaz, David and Sanches, and the more consistent performances of midfield axis Benjamin André and goalkeeper Mike Maignan to a clean sheet of the league record), this is Galtier’s title more than that of any other person. Named coach of the year for the third time in his career, the veteran coach’s ability to develop his team, even when key players were sold due to the club’s dangerous financial situation, is an important mark of quality.
Galtier is now linked to richer clubs like Nice and Lyon. If he leaves Lille this summer, he will do so having achieved a miraculous title, even in a season in which PSG have struggled with manager changes and match congestion. While Ligue 1 is so often seen as a source of talent on the pitch, the achievements of Galtier and some of his fellow coaches show that there is a lot of talent on the sidelines in France too.
DDespite failing to beat Lens on the final day, Monaco are back in the Champions League. In contrast to their dismal performance in the Coupe de France final last week, losing 2-0 to PSG, Niko Kovac’s team played with great enthusiasm and was only held in check by Lens goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca . If Galtier is coach of the year, Kovac and his counterpart of the night, Franck Haise, would have been worthy winners in another season.
Haise took the newly promoted Lens to a point in Europe and despite having to deal with a number of Covid-19 cases and some prolonged injuries (Séko Fofana, Ignatius Ganago), his team was only undone by a brutal series of matches. in the last month of the season. Kovac, for his part, has Monaco playing tremendously incisive modern football; only Manchester City have earned more points per game in 2021 in the top five leagues in Europe. Lens and Monaco are worth watching next season if they can keep most of their teams intact, which bodes well for the league as a whole.
Monaco ended the season with a sigh of relief. Their goalless draw at Lens gave Lyon a chance to overtake them in the table and clinch a place in the Champions League next season. Lyon’s task on the final day, a home game against a Nice side with nothing to play for, seemed like an easier task than a trip to Lens, but they were once again undone by their defense, losing 3-2. With Memphis Depay poised to leave, Lyon may not be able to rely on their offensive prowess to keep them above the fray next season. With manager Rudi Garcia joining the Dutchman on the way out, a major shakeup is looming this summer – an even tougher task without the financial reward of the Champions League.
Ligue 1 table
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism