The last time Lille were crowned champions of France Belgian winger Eden Hazard was named Ligue 1’s best player for his performances for Les Dogues a decade ago.
Ever since that victory, Hazard has moved to pastures anew – first to Chelsea in the Premier League and two years ago to the Spanish capital to play for Real Madrid. But in all this time, Lille hadn’t been able to win the French first division title…until this season.
Slowly over the past decade, Qatar Sports Investments group and PSG have literally and metaphorically created a hegemony in France that was difficult for other clubs to break – only Monaco were able to break PSG’s dominance in the 2016-17 season.
With incalculable money, resources and funds flowing in from Qatar to Paris on a seasonal basis, no one expected any other French club to outperform Les Parisiens in the domestic league.
But Lille have done the unthinkable by winning the French league for the first time in 10 years – keeping a check on PSG’s ascendancy in recent times in France – beating the defending champions by a solitary point on the very last matchday of Ligue 1
If someone had said at the beginning of the season that Lille would win the French league, almost everyone would have pointed to the fact that France was the hunting ground of PSG ever since the Middle Eastern takeover.
But once again, akin to Leicester City’s Premier League triumph in the 2015-16 season, Lille delivered a sucker punch to Les Parisiens as they went on to win their fourth ever title, breaking their first since the one they won a decade ago.
In the pre-season, Lille lost 3 of their 5 matches and started the league campaign with a draw at home to Rennes – a result that left them in 8th place on opening day.
Come to the end of the season, Lille were involved in a nail-biting finish to Ligue 1 with defending champions Paris-Saint Germain trying almost every trick in the book to retain their domestic title.
Lille were equal to everything that Les Parisiens threw at them – eventually winning the league on the last matchday.
Ligue 1 – Champions
French Cup – Eliminated in Round of 16
Europa League – Eliminated in Round of 32
BEST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
PARIS-SAINT GERMAIN 0-1 LILLE (LIGUE 1, MATCHDAY 31)
Entering this match, Lille had suffered a home defeat to Nimes – a team that was eventually relegated from the French first division. Meanwhile, PSG were riding high after winning in their match with Lyon at Parc Olympique Lyonnais by 2 goals.
However, the balance of power shifted during this match. PSG’s stars like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria were kept quiet by Lille for the entirety of the match in Paris as Les Dogues won the game and went top of the table courtesy of a goal from Canadian player Jonathan David in the 20th minute.
After this win, they didn’t lose even a single match in the French top-flight and never slipped from the summit of the league as they registered their first Ligue 1 triumph in a decade.
Honourable mentions – Lille 0-2 Marseille, AC Milan 0-3 Lille
WORST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
LILLE 1-2 ANGERS (LIGUE 1, MATCHDAY 18)
Crests and troughs are part of a season for any team and Lille is no exception. Coming into this match, Les Dogues were on a seven match unbeaten streak in the league and had even reigned on top of Ligue 1 from match days 14 to 16.
This match resulted in them losing their hold on the No.1 position in the league as they were beaten at home – one of only three defeats in Ligue 1 in 2020-21 – by Angers.
Romain Thomas scored a brace in the opening ten minutes for the Black and Whites and it was enough to earn a win at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Burak Yilmaz pulled one back for Lille three minutes before half-time to give hope to Les Dogues, but they were unable to make a comeback in the second half as both sides didn’t score any goals.
It was poetic justice when Lille won the French league on the last day of the season on the home ground of Angers – winning by two goals to one at the Stade Raymond Kopa as Jonathan David and Burak Yilmaz scored for Les Dogues in the first half to secure their first ever league title in 10 years.
(dis)Honourable mentions – Brest 3-2 Lille, Lille 1-2 Nimes
THE SEASON MVP
This season’s most valuable player for Lille was definitely the 25-year old goalkeeper who stood strong between the sticks for the entire season for Les Dogues.
He also impressed in Europe as he kept a clean sheet in the Europa League during Lille’s match with AC Milan at the San Siro. Had it not been for his clean sheets in the league, Lille might not have won the French first division this season.
He was the best goalkeeper in France, and perhaps Europe, this past season and has earned a move to Italian giants AC Milan, where he will be playing from the next season.
Maignan kept a total of 21 clean sheets in Ligue 1 – six more than the next best goalkeeper (Keylor Navas, Paris-Saint Germain) – and only let in 23 goals in 38 matches across the entire season.
𝑇𝑂 𝑀𝑌 𝑅𝑈𝑁𝑁𝐼𝑁𝐺 𝐵𝐴𝐶𝐾 @itsJoDavid 🦾🏈
— Mike Maignan (@mmseize) May 2, 2021
During Lille’s run to the Ligue 1 title, Maignan played every minute of every match for Les Dogues, hence underlining his importance and indispensability to the Lille squad during the entire season.
Honourable mentions – Burak Yilmaz, Yusuf Yazici and Jonathan David
The former Paris-Saint Germain player has been the worst performer for Les Dogues this past season in almost all tournaments. He started only 18% of Lille’s matches in Ligue 1, making a total of 28 appearances in total.
The Brooklyn-born American forward scored a paltry 3 goals for Lille in the French top division in the 2020-21 season.
He was largely relegated to making appearances from the bench for the French champions in the league. While in the Europa League he fared relatively better, scoring 2 goals and delivering 1 assist in 6 appearances for Les Dogues.
He started every match for Lille in the French Cup, but wasn’t able to get on the score sheet for them in the tournament, despite playing almost eighty minutes in every match.
(dis)Honourable mention – Luiz Araujo
Therefore, even after starting the season in a lukewarm manner, Christophe Galtier’s side were able to win the French league despite slip-ups at various points owing to the heroics of Mike Maignan in goal and the grit, determination and perseverance of the entire squad in grinding out results from seemingly lost matches.
Their high point of the entire season was the victory in Paris over PSG that enabled them to secure top position in the league.
And then there was no looking back for Les Dogues who won their first league title in a decade when they won at Angers on the last matchday of the season despite PSG keeping up the pressure on them in the last few weeks.