By Robin Bairner
All the fanfare in Ligue 1 over the summer surrounded the signing of Edinson Cavani at Paris Saint-Germain and the glut of multi-million Euro additions to Monaco. However, in Lille, another new face has impressed quietly on his arrival in France.
Simon Kjaer has already established himself as the kingpin of the Lille side mounting a challenge for Europe after a difficult summer that saw head coach Rudi Garcia replaced by the more defensively-orientated Rene Girard.
Based around a robust back four that has kept a formidable six shut-outs in eight matches, LOSC have surpassed expectations by climbing into fourth in le Championnat.
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"I know we are early in the season, so a lot of things can happen, but no one can take away our good start. It was important for us in Lille to build the team’s defensive organisation quite quickly since we are building up a new team to compete for the top spots in Ligue 1. It’s much easier to build something when you get results and self-confidence - and we have done that. It’s definitely a very positive thing for us as a team and for us in defence to keep that many clean sheets."
The move to France seems to have reinvigorated the young Denmark international’s career after a difficult couple of seasons at Wolfsburg and Roma, but he is once again showing the kind of form that made him such a sought-after talent during his time with Palermo.
"Personally I am enjoying my game here in France, and the city of Lille has really been a great place to move to," he says. "The club is very well organised, and we have a top modern stadium with great supporters as well as top-class training facilities."
Kjaer has spoken highly of the standard of Ligue 1 in general and believes that the likes of Cavani and Radamel Falcao - who were high-profile signing coups for PSG and Monaco respectively in the summer - only adds to the level of competition.
"French football is so exciting, as it was already a very competitive league but even more so with a lot of great players coming here this summer," he states.
The next challenge for the Dane and his team-mates is a fixture against Ajaccio on Saturday but, after outplaying Olympique Lyonnais in a scoreless draw at the Stade Gerland last weekend, he is confident it is a match they will win.
"Lyon were the best team we’ve met this season, so the result in a difficult away game like that was good, but actually I felt, that we deserved to win it," he explains. "To me we were clearly the better team on the pitch, and it is beginning to look pretty great for us. We are working hard with a new young team and a new manager, and I see us improving week by week."
He may not have the profile of Cavani or Falcao, but Kjaer’s solid presence at the back is on course to lead Lille back into Europe next term and he may just well prove to be one of Ligue 1’s best transfer coups of the year.
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