Under the spotlight: The stars of Ligue 1 surprise package Lens

Lens have enjoyed a remarkable season in Ligue 1, qualifying for the Champions League after a 20-year wait. 

They are fully deserving of this prize, having secured second place and sitting only four points behind confirmed champions Paris Saint-Germain heading into the final day. 

It has been a meteoric rise for Les Sang et Or, who only earned promotion back to the top flight in 2019-20.

We utilised the Twenty3 Toolbox to shed some light on the stars of Lens’ surprisingly successful campaign.

Loïs Openda

Loïs Openda is Lens’ leading light in attack. 

The detailed player overview below provides plenty of insight into just how efficient the Belgian has been in front of goal this term. 

This graphic breaks his goalmouth contributions into three different categories — total goal involvement, chance creation and goalscoring. 

Openda’s return of 20 league goals is eye-catching, but perhaps even more striking is his xG overperformance of 0.99. 

The striker scored roughly one more goal than he would have been expected to based on the chances he was presented with — an impressive achievement that will no doubt earn him attention from clubs around Europe. 

The shot placement areas graphic helps us understand the type of goals he scores. 

He tends to favour low efforts, rather than strikes towards the top corners of the goal. In fact, he hasn’t registered a single shot in either of the high corners in 37 Ligue 1 appearances.

The shot map visualisation breaks down the location of his strikes, as well as detailing which part of the body he used to take the shot.

The variety of colours in the graphic suggests the striker tested opposition goalkeepers in a number of different ways – another attractive trait to any clubs scouting him. 

Another helpful feature of Twenty3’s Smart Reports is the ability to compare his performances with those of other players.  

In this case, we have used Folarin Balogun, who grabbed plenty of headlines on loan from Arsenal at Reims.  

The pair have both netted 20 times, but the New York native’s xG underperformance (-4.18) suggests that Openda has been far more clinical.  

The 23-year-old’s impressive showings have earned him eight caps for Belgium, with the centre-forward notching two goals already. 

Despite the rumours linking him with European heavyweights AC Milan and Arsenal, remaining at Lens ahead of their Champions League campaign in 2023-24 may prove better for his development. 

Seko Fofana

Seko Fofana is Lens’ midfield metronome — the Ivorian is a consistent performer and has established himself as one of the best central midfielders in Ligue 1.

The player rankings below depict a well-rounded player who is capable of contributing in all phases of the game.

His ability to drive forward with the ball particularly stands out – his 89 progressive runs rank eighth in the French top flight. 

His direct running draws opponents out of their shape and frees up space for teammates. 

Lens are a possession-focused side and Fofana has been key to the success of that approach, recording the most backwards passes in the league this term as he helps his side stay on the ball. 

However, if he is to make the step up to a big European club, the 28-year-old may be required to show more ambition with his passing. 

Facundo Medina

Argentina defender Facundo Medina has been an underrated cog in the Lens machine this season, producing impressive performances at both centre-back and left-back.

The detailed visualisation below highlights his key actions, providing insight into the areas in which Medina is most active.

He is frequently involved in build-up play down the left touchline, playing an important role as Lens look to pass their way up the field from deep positions.

The 24-year-old possesses plenty of old-school defensive qualities to complement his ball-playing ability, frequently contesting duels in his own box and completing a high number of defensive actions.

He will hope his strong showings put him in the national team frame as he looks to add to his two caps – a move to a big European club may aid him in that venture.

All visualisations and Smart Reports in this article were produced with the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.