Eyebrows were raised when Joe Cole left Liverpool for Lille, but he started the season in sparkling form, goals and assists have flowed and he's skinning players again...
Last weekend Lille faced a difficult away trip south to Burgundy. Their opponents Auxerre have started the season well and would be a tough test. When the team sheets were announced two things were very apparent. Lille were taking the fixture against Inter Milan in the Champions League very seriously and both Eden Hazard and Joe Cole would be starting against the Italian giants.
In the end the champions would need late cameos from both the Belgian and the Englishman to bring their side back from a goal down to take all three points back to northern France. The ideal preparation in what would be a must win against Claudio Ranieri’s Inter side.
The home side started in their usual 4-3-3 with Joe Cole part of the attacking trio. Cole would start on the right with last year’s top scorer Moussa Sow through the centre and the exciting Eden Hazard on the left.
Lille’s formation can be quite confusing to follow, under the guidance of Coach Rudi Garcia all three forwards are allowed to express themselves as the starting positions are generally just as the word suggests, once the game is underway the movement is very fluid.
At times Hazard will drop deep into the centre, this gives Cole and Sow the freedom run down the channels or generally drift wherever the space is left. This movement created Lille’s first chance and it was Cole on the end of the move.
With Hazard coming in from the right, the Belgians flick finds Cole unmarked outside the box. Unfortunately the winger snatched at the chance and the ball flew harmlessly over the bar.
Minutes later Lille had another chance and this time was the creator and the executioner. This time cutting in from the left he dropped his shoulder beating two Inter midfielders before against blazing his shot high over the bar.
By this point Inter had taken the lead through a sublime finish from Giampaolo Pazzini if Lille had any ambition of qualifying from this group they had to fight back and it was Cole again that would be the catalyst.
A delightful pass by the outside of his right foot caught the Inter defence static and Sow was millimetres away from beating Julio Cesar for the ball. The big Brazilian goalkeeper was off his line quickly and the chance was gone.
After the break Lille controlled the majority of the play, with Inter 1-0 up they were happy to frustrate the home side and soak up the pressure. Cole failed to make an impact in the second period and was eventually replaced by Ludovic Obraniak with 15 minutes remaining.
Week after week it is clear to see that Cole is enjoying his football in France. His fitness continues to improve, it’s important to note that before his move to Lille Joe had only played one full 90 minutes in over eight months. Now with near three full games under his belt it is clear to see the quick progress he has made.
Under the free flowing attacking style that Lille’s front three enjoy it is easy to see how much Cole is enjoying his football at the moment. Gone are the shackles of the English Premier League and now Joe can drift from flank to flank using his excellent ability to find the space his teammates create.
Instantly after only one game you could see the understanding Cole has struck up with Eden Hazard, both players are quite similar in their style of play and their movement and at times they are a joy to watch. Intricate interchanges of passes between the two have led to quite a few of Lille’s goals already.
Gone are the shackles of the English Premier League and now Joe can drift from flank to flank using his excellent ability to find the space his teammates create.
On Saturday it only took three minutes after Cole’s entrance before he linked up with Hazard creating a chance for Cole to have a shot on goal. The shot was saved but Ireneusz Jelen was at hand to turn in the rebound. The instant connection was there to stay and game by game you can see that both Cole and Hazard are enjoying have a player on their own wavelength.
Under Garcia there is no chance that Cole will be asked to track back or play in any sort of defensive formation. Garcia see’s the Englishman as one of Lille’s most creative influences and as Cole becomes fitter and the understanding with his teammates improves there is a chance that he could become the central pivot in more attack minded 4-2-3-1.
When Garcia signed Cole he commented that he could see the former Chelsea and Liverpool man playing very central. Garcia knows eventually he needs to find a way to fit Hazard, Sow and summer signing Dimitri Payet in one line-up that would include Cole. This would see him play behind Sow in the #10 or “trequartista” role.
Again the role would be given very loosely, the four players would be allowed to interchange and pick up the space that another teammate would create with their excellent movement. Payet can play left or right and loves to cut inside, and of course the same can be said for Cole and Hazard.
Against Inter if you look at a heat map of Cole’s movement it is very significant to see the level of movement within the side. Although starting on the right Cole is clearly seen to spend plenty of the game on the left and through the centre.
In all the press coverage Cole has enjoyed after moving to Lille he continually mentions trying to win his place in Fabio Capello’s England plans. Unfortunately for Joe it is hard to see where he would fit in the current formation and who he would replace. It would be wrong to try and play him on the left of right of a 4-4-2.
Cole should take a look at Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes, two excellent players that were able to extend their career by ending their England careers and concentrating on their club sides. This is the route Joe should concentrate on, he has never fully reached his potential, the move to France could be the break he was looking for.
Over 6 weeks have passed since Joe Cole took a huge gamble, moving his family to a foreign country, a new team, a new league and a new way of life. When you hear the reception the Englishman gets from the home support and see the huge smile apparent on the 29-year old’s face it is clear that Joe has no regrets and the move looks to be bringing the best out of a player that never really suited English football.
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