After their stunning Champions League win over Arsenal, Lens are looking to cap a memorable week with another victory when they return to domestic duty in France with a derby against bitter local rivals Lille.
Lens marked their first home game in Europe’s elite club competition in over two decades with a magnificent comeback to beat much-fancied Arsenal 2-1 on Tuesday before a raucous sell-out crowd of over 38,000.
Hardly any of the Lens players had appeared in the Champions League before this season and yet they recovered from falling behind early on against one of England’s heavyweights to win with goals from Adrien Thomasson and Elye Wahi.
“It was one of the most memorable matches of my time at Lens,” said manager Franck Haise, who had limited coaching experience when he took over the team in Ligue 2 just three years ago.
Last season he took them to second place in Ligue 1 behind champions Paris Saint-Germain, and their home form was central to their success — they won 17 and drew one of 19 games at their imposing Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
The fervour that the team generates among the people of Lens and the surrounding region is almost unique in France and Haise credited the club’s supporters with playing a central role against Arsenal.
“The fans helped us go above and beyond and we did the same for them. When we have a symbiotic relationship like that it can make for a memorable night,” he said.
The atmosphere in Lens was not unlike that in Newcastle a day later, when the home team thrashed PSG 4-1 on a miserable night for France’s dominant club.
While PSG were left to do more soul-searching following a poor result in Europe, Lens have given themselves a great chance of getting beyond the group stage.
Their matchwinner against Arsenal was 20-year-old striker Wahi, signed for a club-record 35 million euros ($36.8m) from Montpellier in August.
Wahi was recruited to replace last season’s top scorer Lois Openda, who left for RB Leipzig.
Yet he and Lens both endured a difficult start — they took one point from their first five league games before a 1-1 draw at Sevilla in their Champions League opener provided a kickstart.
Wahi got his first Lens goal in last week’s 1-0 victory at Strasbourg and followed that with a goal and an assist against Arsenal.
“He is progressing with every match and every training session. He is making great strides,” said Haise, who described Wahi as “top class”.
Wahi, also a target for West Ham United in the summer, can endear himself even more to the Lens support by scoring again when Lille make the short trip for the derby.
Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe
PSG will look to bounce back from their midweek nightmare in Newcastle when they travel to Rennes, and Mbappe will be aiming to make a bigger impact than he managed in that Champions League horror show.
The France superstar endured an evening to forget in England as PSG suffered their heaviest European loss since an infamous 6-1 hammering in Barcelona in March 2017.
Mbappe remains PSG’s top scorer this season with eight goals but he has not found the net since coming off with an ankle injury against Marseille two weeks ago.
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