On Thursday evening Lille OSC begin their Europa League campaign with a tough home time against Russian side Krasnodar.
Unfortunately this is as easy as it will get for Lille, with German club Wolfsburg and Everton the other sides in the group. But in Manchester City loanee Marcos “Rony” Lopes, they have a player with the X-Factor and someone who could just become one of the clubs most important players this season.
The 19-year-old has joined on a season-long loan from the English champions, hoping to gain some first-team experience in both domestic and European competition.
City may have been a little disappointed that Lille didn’t qualify for the Champions League – beaten 3-0 by FC Porto on aggregate – but the Europa League offers Lopes with a competitive tournament, and a platform to show his ability.
He has already started the season well, scoring his first goal in the weekend’s 2-0 victory over FC Nantes; in fact it was Lopes that changed the game in his sides favour.
After a very boring and mind-numbing first half, Lille coach Rene Girard decided to take off his €9 million playmaker, Marvin Martin, and bring on the teenage loanee. Instantly, Lopes did more in five minutes than Martin has done all season.
His introduction sparked Lille into life, Liverpool’s Divock Origi got the opener just after kick-off, and then Lopes latched onto Origi’s through ball, before tucking it past the helpless Maxime Dupe in the Nantes goal.
Lopes has already had impressive showing against Lorient and Monaco this season and he should be included from the start on Thursday, and help Lille take down the Russian side.
Girard has been far too reserved with some of his choices this season. He needs to let players like Lopes and Origi off the leash. They are both good enough to run this Lille side, and together they could become a deadly combination.
Lille need a win at home to kick start their Europa League campaign, with harder sides to follow. Rony Lopes is the key to opening the doors this season and if Girard gives him the opportunity, he could become a huge star on the European stage this season.
Lille v Krasnodar kicks off at 21:05 CET at the Stade Pierre Mauroy