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Paris Saint-Germain have a healthy lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table
Lens are in second place but that is as good as it will get for them this term
The champions should come out on top to tighten their grip on the Ligue 1 title
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The hosts will put up a fight, but we believe the champions will ultimately prove strong. For more on how to bet the moneyline, check out our guide.
Back PSG to beat Lens in the biggest game in Ligue 1 this season. (+120)
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When a group of European clubs announced their intention to break away and form a so-called Super League in 2021, Paris Saint-Germain were among the notable dissenters.
Yet while the doomed proposal was not the right answer to the state of European soccer today, it is impossible to ignore the lack of competitive balance in several leagues, chiefly the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.
In the former, Bayern Munich are on course to win the title for the 11th season on the bounce. PSG have not been quite so dominant in France, with Monaco and Lille disrupting their success in 2017 and 2021 respectively, but they are nevertheless the leading force in Ligue 1 by some distance.
Just take a look at the table ahead of this clash on New Year’s Day. Lens are second and, in theory, PSG’s closest challengers for the championship.
Yet they are still seven points behind PSG and the same margin separates them from Monaco in fifth place. Even if Lens were to triumph on Sunday, the best online sportsbooks would still have Christophe Galtier’s side down as overwhelming favorites to claim the title.
That huge financial gulf between the club from the capital and the rest of the division is not healthy for the French game. Granted, there are stories of interest to be found elsewhere in Ligue 1, from the relegation battle to the race for the Champions League spots. But the absence of a title race undoubtedly takes something significant away.
PSG will argue that none of this is their problem. But given they have continually fallen short in the Champions League in recent years, even figures connected with the club must be wondering whether an uncompetitive league is actually a hindrance to their chances of continental glory.
The likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, and AC Milan are currently second in their respective leagues, and none of those clubs will have given up hope of winning the title (City are still the favorites in the Premier League). Lens, though, will be focused on finishing in the top three and qualifying for the Champions League.
That objective would have been seen as ambitious at the beginning of the campaign. Lens finished seventh last term, just as they did in 2020/21. The Europa League seemed like a more realistic goal, with the likes of Monaco, Marseille, and Lille given a better shot of finishing in the two crucial spots behind PSG.
But Lens have been fantastic so far this season. Only one of their 16 matches has ended in defeat, and that was a slender 1-0 loss to Lille. No team in the division has conceded fewer goals, including PSG. Pound for pound, Franck Haise is the top-performing manager in Ligue 1 in 2022/23.
Haise has done a remarkable job. Not only has he led Lens from Ligue 2 to second place in the top tier, but he has also done so despite losing several key players over the last few years - including Arnaud Kalimuendo, Cheick Doucoure, and Jonathan Clauss in the summer.
Haise has the ability to extract the absolute maximum from his squad, season after season. Big clubs from across the continent will have taken note of his magnificent work at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
Lens have been particularly impressive in front of their own fans this season. Their seven matches at the Bollaert-Delelis have yielded seven victories, with 16 goals scored and only five conceded. In each of those last four wins, Lens kept a clean sheet. In fact, their backline has been breached just twice in their last eight encounters.
As such, PSG can expect a difficult game on Sunday. They will be without Neymar, who is suspended after receiving two yellow cards (the second for diving) as Galtier’s side beat Strasbourg 2-1 in the midweek round of fixtures. Lionel Messi, no doubt still celebrating Argentina’s World Cup 2022 triumph, will also miss this game.
Counterintuitively, though, PSG might fare better without each member of their star-studded front three starting. In tough games like this, it can be difficult to carry three attackers who do not contribute much in the defensive phase of play. With only Kylian Mbappe set to be involved, PSG are less likely to be picked off in transition.
The champions will not expect this to be a straightforward assignment by any means, but we fancy their chances of coming out on top against a Lens side that has punched above its weight so far this term.
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Teams: Lens vs PSG
Location: Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, France
Time: Sunday 1 January 2023, 2.45 PM EST
How to Watch: beIN Sports
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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