Le Havre AC – RC Lens
Friday at 2100 CET (1900 GMT)
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As with most top clubs, the Lens squad has been severely affected by international call-ups in the past two weeks. Manager Franck Haise faces the challenge of having several players who will barely return to France in time for the first match of Round 9 on Friday.
Thirteen members of the Lens squad have been away when including players called up for youth international duty. One of them is Colombia’s Deiver Machado, who participated in his country’s 0-0 draw against Ecuador in a 2026 World Cup qualifier, taking place in the early hours of Wednesday in France.
Meanwhile, Austria centre-back Kevin Danso returned early from Euro 2024 qualifying due to a thigh injury. Forward Morgan Guilavogui also got injured while playing for Guinea, while Salis Abdul Samed from Ghana, Abdukodir Khusanov from Uzbekistan, and Facundo Medina from Argentina are being closely watched after long journeys for international duty.
Considering these circumstances, along with Elye Wahi’s suspension and injury from playing for France Under-21s, the starting line-up for Lens in Le Havre may be quite different from the team that drew 1-1 with Lille in the last match.
Watch: Lens and Lille draw in northern derby
‘Always taking risks’
“First and foremost, we must prioritize the players’ health,” Haise said during a press conference on Wednesday, looking ahead to a week that includes Lens hosting PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on Tuesday and FC Nantes in Ligue 1.
“I’m not particularly worried,” he responded when asked about the demands of a busy schedule. “We just need to adapt. We still have structured training sessions, but we also need to consider each player individually, monitoring their fatigue levels, playing time, and travel. This means breaking things down into smaller groups more often and involving academy players in regular training sessions.
“Beyond that, it’s all about making choices. In the past, during these series of three quick games, I’ve made three, four, or five changes each time. I’ll do the same in the upcoming matches because we need to manage our international players and avoid overusing them. Even with that, we’re always taking risks.”
Last season’s runners-up have overcome a difficult start to the season. They are undefeated in their last five games in all competitions and have earned seven points from the last nine available in the league. A victory in Normandy will move Lens above Le Havre in the standings.
“Le Havre is a solid, hard-working team,” Haise commented. “Every match in Ligue 1 is challenging, and this one, following the international break, on a Friday, is particularly unique for us.”
Watch: Le Havre well beaten by Marseille
‘Come off exhausted’
Le Havre had a promising start to the season after winning promotion, losing only one of their first six games. However, they have suffered two consecutive defeats without scoring, losing 2-0 at home against Lille and 3-0 in Marseille just before the international break. This match is part of a difficult series of fixtures for Luka Elsner’s team.
“There are many strong squads in Ligue 1, like Lille and Marseille,” Elsner told reporters this week. “We need to secure one or two wins and the occasional draw in these kinds of matches. We need to prepare and believe because otherwise it puts immense pressure on our other games, where it will be all or nothing for us.”
He added, “Obviously, we might lose these matches, but we should at least walk away knowing that we gave it our all and made the opposition work hard for the three points. If we do that, and everyone leaves the field exhausted with cramps, I think we can beat anyone.”
Le Havre’s next two matches are away from home against FC Metz and Toulouse FC. They will be without midfielder Rassoul Ndiaye, serving a suspension after being sent off in Marseille.
Meanwhile, Lens can welcome Jonathan Gradit back from suspension, as well as Massadio Haïdara and David Pereira da Costa, who have recovered from their injuries.
Desmas; El Hajjam, Sanganté (c), Lloris, Operi; Kechta, Touré, Kuzyaev; Négo, Bayo, Alioui
Samba (c); Gradit, Medina, Haïdara; Águilar, Diouf, Mendy, Frankowski; Sotoca, Guilavogui, Fulgini
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