After seizing control of the Ligue 1 best of the rest race, Lens will face mid table Reims on Friday night at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
Thanks to last weekend’s 2-1 victory against Marseille, Franck Haise’s team can still be regarded title contenders, while Will Still’s team started winning again by defeating Lille 1-0 last weekend.
While second place Lens may still harbor distant hopes of closing the six points deficit to Ligue 1 leaders PSG in the remaining four games, they are currently facing a more urgent problem. Only the top two teams in Ligue 1 advance directly to the UEFA Champions League group stage, therefore Lens is attempting to maintain a two points lead over Marseille after defeating their closest rivals 2-1 last weekend.
Lens is well in control because none of their last four games are against teams who started the round higher than eighth. And it’s precisely those clubs that Lens has excelled against this year, especially at home, where they have won every game against teams ranked ninth or lower. This should increase confidence in their ability to put pressure on Marseille with a victory over tenth placed Reims.
However, Lens has already seen this season that a match up with Reims has the ability to go south, as they discovered when they struggled to a 1-1 draw in the reverse. The only things at stake for Will Still’s team, who realistically see a top half finish as their best case scenario, are pride and position, are Reims themselves, who have very nothing to play for.
With his sights set on ninth place, which would be Reims’ highest Ligue 1 finish position since 2019/20, Still will be hoping that his team’s 1-0 win over Lille last time out can inspire his players for one more push. Prior to that victory, Reims had gone winless in four (D1, L3), but given that they have only triumphed once away from home this season against teams that are not in the relegation zone at the start of the round (D8, L4), a relapse into bad habits cannot be ruled out.
Given that all four of Los Openda’s goals in Lens’ last three league games have come in the first hour, it has become impossible to keep him off the scoresheet lately. Marshall Munetsi, who was Reims’ hero against Lille, has started the scoring in five of his previous six away scoring games.
Salis Abdul Samed, a crucial member of Lens’ recent three triumphs in midfield, is now eligible for selection after serving a three matches ban.
Jimmy Cabot and Wuilker Farinez, who have endured long term ACL injuries, are still making progress. Wesley Said (muscular) and Steven Fortes (knee) are both hospitalized but may be able to play again before the season is complete.
Even though Adrien Thomasson should be in the running to replace Angelo Fulgini farther forward, Jean Onana might now make way for his returning teammate despite doing an adequate job of filling in for Abdul Samed.
Reims will also be happy to welcome back Emmanuel Agbadou, a dependable member of the squad who should be a direct replacement for Cheick Keita in the middle of the backline after the latter sustained an injury against Lille.
The extent of Keita’s illness is unknown, but Mitchell Van Bergen will undoubtedly miss the remainder of the season with a broken wrist, and he will be joined in the sick room by Noah Holm (back) and Myziane Maolida (illness).
Jens Cajuste’s inclusion in Still’s starting lineup against Lille mainly paid off, and the defensive minded Swede might be needed once more to fend off a rampaging Lens attack as strikers Arber Zeneli and Alexis Flips look to give energy off the bench.
Lens possible starting lineup
Samba, Medina, Danso, Gradit, Frankowski, Fofana, Abdul Samed, Machado, Sotoca, Thomasson and Openda.
Reims possible starting lineup
Diouf, Foket, Agbadou, Abdelhamid, De Smet, Munetsi, Cajuste, Matusiwa, Doumbia, Ito and Balogun.
We predict: Lens 2-0 Reims
Reims would not have won their match against Lille and are unlikely to do so against Lens if Cabella had not tapped the ball into the thankful gloves of Yehvann Diouf when it appeared harder to miss.
Abdul Samed’s return will strengthen Les Sang et Or’s midfield, and with Openda continuing to score consistently, Lens should easily defeat Les Sang et Or to advance further in the Champions League race.