Jonathan David's goal secured LOSC Lille a second successive UEFA Champions League win in defeating RB Salzburg 1-0 on Tuesday to send the Ligue 1 Uber Eats champions to within a point of reaching the knockout stages.
ligue1.com looks at why Jocelyn Gourvennec's men have found life happier in European club football's elite competition than in domestic action so far this season.
1) Last season's solidity refound
Lille claimed the 2020/21 French title thanks — in large part — to their incredible defensive record. Jose Fonte & Co. conceded an incredibly miserly 23 goals in their 38 league matches, five fewer than Paris Saint-Germain, the team that finished runners-up by a single point.
In Ligue 1 this term, they have kept a clean sheet just once — in the 2-0 home win over Marseille in Round 9 — but they have looked more like their stoic old selves up against the creme de la creme on the continent.
LOSC's defensive record in the UEFA Champions League is three goals conceded — a tally bettered only by reigning European champions Chelsea among teams having played five games halfway through Matchday 5 — while only Thomas Tuchel's men can share in Les Dogues' boast to have kept a clean sheet in every home game in the competition.
What's behind this significant difference? 'Motivation to defend' says Jose Fonte.
"I want us to play like that in every game. It's easy to get motivated for big games in the Champions League. We have to be more consistent," said the LOSC captain on Tuesday evening. "We have to put in the same energy, the same intensity, the same desire to win games. If we do that, then we'll come close to doing what we did last season."
Another clean sheet at Wolfsburg on Matchday 6, and Fonte and his teammates will find themselves in the knockout stages for the first time since 2006/07, and for only the second time in the club's seven bites at the UEFA Champions League cherry.
2) Lady Luck loves LOSC now
Players and coaches always talk about the fine margins that separate defeat and victory, and on Tuesday evening, they could barely have been finer. In the second half, Tiago Djalo came within a whisker — and it really was a whisker — of conceding a penalty instead of a free-kick on the right side of his penalty area. An equaliser for Salzburg then, and who knows what would have happened to Lille's fragile confidence…
The tremendous atmosphere played its part in pushing on the hosts, but there was more than a touch of fortune about David's goal. They had been unlucky not to have won their opening game of the group when the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play in the build up to the 'goal' LOSC netted against Wolfsburg, a match that ended 0-0. It was the tightest of calls, but this time, the Fates cut Gourvennec's men some slack.
WATCH: Jonathan David's brace at Monaco
Burak Yilmaz might well argue he provoked that by dribbling through a forest of Salzburg defenders, but the ricochet off a defender that dropped so perfectly for David — who couldn't miss — was pure, unadulterated luck as it almost literally could have gone anywhere but straight to the feet of Lille's in-form forward.
"It's my job to score, but the most important thing is to win," explained David."We started the game well. We were dangerous from corners. For the goal, there was a little one-two in the box. Burak dribbled and there was a little ricochet that came to me and I shot." Simple, isn't it?
3) David, Lille's Goliath
The Canada international's slow start to life after crossing the border from Belgian club Gent is now but a distant memory.
It's almost impossible to believe that David didn't score in his opening 10 Ligue 1 Uber Eats appearances in 2020/21 because he ended the campaign with 13 league goals — as many as Victor Osimhen got the previous season — and found the net 11 times in his last 18 appearances of the season.
He has maintained that momentum spectacularly in the new campaign. He augmented his league-leading tally with a double in the 2-2 draw at Monaco last time out, moving onto 10 goals in 14 league appearances, while he now has two goals in the first five UEFA Champions League matches of his career.
His brace at the Stade Louis II in Round 14 was all the more impressive given he had played in his country's defeat of Mexico in their latest FIFA World Cup qualifier halfway round the world fewer than 48 hours earlier.
How does he do it? "Well, I'm young," replied the 21-year-old in a light-hearted but sobering moment for the significantly older media corps in the Stade Pierre Mauroy press conference room on Tuesday with the time approaching midnight. "I make sure I hydrate well and recover."