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Ligue 1 weekend lookahead: Scoop up the value with high-flying Lens

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Mark O’Haire highlights an in-form Ligue 1 side that look well worth siding with ahead of Sunday’s action from France.

Seven games into the new season and Lens are surprisingly sitting on the coattails of pacesetters PSG and Marseille at the top end of the Ligue 1 table. Les Sang et Or are unbeaten (W5-D2-L0), have already thrashed (4-2) Monaco, and eased past the usually free-flowing Rennes (2-1), whilst racking up 16 goals in their opening encounters. 

Franck Haise’s outfit continue to defy the critics and have been well-backed in recent weeks. The market is already beginning to make a move on Les Sang et Or for Sunday’s showdown away at Nantes yet there’s still time and wriggleroom in the odds to make the northern club a reasonable early bird play at -135 in the Draw No Bet market with Caesars.

Lens have been one of French football’s biggest recent success stories. Champions in 1998, the Pas-de-Calais fell into a state of disrepair around a decade later and bounced between the top two divisions before Haise arrived in 2020 and inspired a memorable promotion in his first senior management role. RCL haven’t looked back since.  

Punching above their weight, Lens have recorded successive seventh-placed finishes, achieved despite losing key personnel to bigger, wealthier clubs. 

This summer, for example, Lens saw three of their four best players depart; top scorer last season, Aranud Kalimuendo, returned to PSG after a two-year loan, midfield pace-setter Cheick Doucouré moved to Crystal Palace and France international Jonathan Clauss, who provided 11 assists from wing-back last season, was picked up by Marseille.

Talisman Seko Fofana remains at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, but the vultures have been circling for a while and a January exit could well be on the cards. However, Lens are one of Europe’s most astutely run clubs and are masters in succession planning, as seen by their supreme start to the 2022/23 campaign.

Holding midfielder Salis Abdul Samed arrived from Clermont and has given Fofana freedom to roam, pacey Lois Openda provides cutting edge in attack from Vitesse Arnhem, and Haise has revamped his wing-backs. Przemysław Frankowski and Deiver Machado have slotted in superbly and the duos energy and intensity has been infectious. 

Haise’s proclivity for maximizing available talent and Lens’ carefree, effervescent style and system has made RCL a real neutrals delight thus far. Yet there’s substance to this side, showcased by Les Sang et Or’s impressive underlying numbers; only PSG (2.86) have generated a higher Expected Goals (xG) average after seven Ligue 1 matchdays (1.99).

Indeed, Lens boast a +0.81 xG per-game supremacy and are firing in the fourth-most shots from inside the penalty area. That potency in front of goal should stand the visitors in good stead when they travel to a Nantes side that could well be feeling sluggish after a long Europa League away day in Azerbaijan on Thursday night.

Nantes (W1-D3-L3) have managed a solitary clean sheet in Ligue 1 this season and are winless (W0-D1-L3) when facing current top-half teams. Les Canaris are posting a negative xG process and are bound to be fatigued following their 5000-mile midweek excursion that will eat into vital recovery and preparation time ahead of a tricky test with Lens.

With that in mind, the early bird -135 available on Lens Draw No Bet stands out for Sunday with Caesars. I’m expecting the market to move in our direction in the days leading up to kick-off with Lens commanding maximum respect.

Bet: Lens Draw No Bet (-135, Caesars)