Gael Kakuta Lens v Saint-Etienne
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Lille v Lens: Derby special occasion for Kakuta

Publish on 16/10/2020 at 12:37 - I. HOLYMAN

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Gaël Kakuta has been one of the stars of the RC Lens side that has enjoyed a fine start to life back in the top flight and is now looking to end their long wait for a win in the Derby of the North when they go to LOSC on Sunday.

LOSC - RC Lens Sunday at 2100 CET (1900 GMT)

Now 29, Kakuta’s career has been full of ups and downs, but it seems that life in his native north of France suits the gifted attacking midfielder. He signed for Lens in the close season on loan from Amiens SC, where he enjoyed something of a footballing rebirth over two spells in the last three years.

Kakuta had turned out for 11 different clubs in six different countries before ending up back at Lens, where it all began. He was taken into the youth academy of Les Sang et Or, but the young talent was whisked away by Chelsea as a 16-year-old in 2007. Now back at Lens, 13 years later, he has played a key role in Franck Haise’s team who have claimed four wins and a draw in five matches since a narrow defeat at OGC Nice on the opening weekend. “Lens has always been a club close to my heart,” he told sports daily L’Equipe shortly after returning to the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.

Ignatius Ganago, another summer signing, has stolen most of the headlines, but Kakuta has matched his tally of four goals, even if all have come from the penalty spot. In addition, according to sports statisticians Opta, he has created five big chances, the most in the top flight coming into the weekend along with Angel Di Maria of Paris Saint-Germain and Florian Thauvin at Olympique de Marseille. Now he has his sights set on LOSC on what will be a special occasion for the DR Congo international, who was born and brought up in Lille.

Highlights: Kakuta on target as Lens beat Saint-Etienne

Lille and Lens sat second and third respectively over the international break, with LOSC a point above their near neighbours after a 3-0 win at RC Strasbourg Alsace last time out continued their excellent start to the new campaign. They are enjoying their best start to a season since the early 1950s.

History on Lille's side

“This year we are playing much better collectively. We have attacking players who are beginning to express themselves and we look like scoring goals whoever is playing,” coach Christophe Galtier said after the Strasbourg success.

Recent history is on the hosts’ side too. Lens have spent most of the last dozen years in the second tier, and have not finished above Lille since the 2006-07 season. LOSC are unbeaten in the last 10 top-flight meetings of the teams, winning seven and drawing three since a 4-2 defeat in Lens in April 2006.

Highlights: Lille too strong for Strasbourg

More than 40,000 fans watched that game, but Sunday’s encounter will be played behind closed doors, depriving this fixture of the raucous atmosphere it deserves. Limited crowds have been allowed in to most Ligue 1 Uber Eats games so far this season, but the nighttime curfew introduced in Lille as well as in eight other French cities from this weekend, as part of the fight against coronavirus, means the gates will be locked at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Fresh from winning his first cap for Argentina, Lens defender Facundo Medina will miss the derby through suspension.

Probable teams

Lille: Maignan - Celik, Fonte, Botman, Bradaric - Sanches, André - Ikoné, Yazici, Bamba - Luiz Araujo

Lens: Leca - Medina, Gradit, Badé - Clauss, Fofana, Doucouré, Haidara - Kakuta - Banza, Sotoca