Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Liverpool in Europa League: 10 Things You Need To Know About Lille OSC

Liverpool have had a mixed month of football prior to their Europa League Round of 16 match against French Ligue 1 side Lille. In between beating Unirea Urziceni, Liverpool have displayed their best (against Blackburn), their worst (against Wigan) and their most boring (against Man City) performances. They are probably the most underperforming team in the English Premier League. Having a "safety-first" and pragmatic manager like Rafael Benitez does not help the situation, of course. The pressure is growing on Rafa and his band of players to make it to fourth place in the League and consequently secure that final Champions League spot for next season. If anything, a Europa League match at this stage might shake off any lingering after-effects from that terrible Wigan match.

Here are 10 things about Lille OSC that could help Liverpool's quest for potential European glory.
  1. Lille OSC is the highest scoring (50 goals) team with the best goal difference in the French Ligue 1.
  2. Among the best talented teenaged footballers in the world today, Eden Hazard is the star playmaker of Rudi Garcia's Lille side. He has six assists and four goals in all competitions.
  3. Goalkeeper Mikael Landreau has 8 clean sheets this season from 17 starts and is an extremely good shot stopper.
  4. Lille have players who are very competent and comfortable on the ball. In terms of possession, Lille retains the ball 54% in their matches. Technically gifted players like Hazard, Balmont, Cabaye, Adil Ramli and Frau move the ball quickly and with dangerous intent.
  5. Their biggest European scalp came courtesy of Manchester United in a Champions League group match in November 2005. The following season, they topped that by beating AC Milan 2-0 at the San Siro, also in the group stages.
  6. Lille was knocked out in the UEFA Cup in 2005/2006 season by the eventual winners, Sevilla.
  7. In European competitions, Lille have a formidable record at home. They have lost just once in their last 16 European matches at the Stadium Lille-Metropole.
  8. Lille players have attempted 448 shots with 171 shots on target, the highest in Ligue 1.
  9. Their closest football neighbour is RC Lens with whom Lille shares hotly contested rivalries known as the Derby du Nord.
  10. The club's nickname is les Dogues or The Mastiffs. Why would anyone call their club after a dog??

With Champions League qualification for next year still a major concern within the ranks in Liverpool, I am sure a quick exit from the Europa League will not trouble Rafa one bit as continued European success could further deplete an already thin Liverpool squad. But with the Europa League representing the last major trophy possible for Liverpool, should Steven Gerrard go back on his words and focus on fourth place? I hope not...

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