Relatively few changes happened on the league table last weekend after a gameweek that produced late drama, derby entertainment, and promising signs for many a fan. The last weekly review before the international break in all its glory can be found below.
Union Titus Pétange 4-1 Käerjéng
Mondercange 3-3 Progrès Niedercorn
Hostert 0-1 Jeunesse Esch
Racing Union Luxembourg 0-1 Wiltz
UNA Strassen 2-2 Victoria Rosport
Etzella Ettelbrück 2-5 F91 Dudelange
Fola Esch 0-1 Swift Hesper
Differdange 2-1 Mondorf
Game of the Weekend #21:
If struggling teams were given an option to choose where to play their next away game in order to get back on the right track, there's a good chance several teams would pick Stade Émile Mayrisch. Fola's home used to be a fortress in recent seasons, but the relegation-battling club now find themselves falling to heavy defeats from time to time, even after a handful of promising-looking results and performances.
In this aspect, Swift Hesperange were given just the ideal circumstances to hold on to their lead atop the table, and complete the sort of a hard reset they needed after two winless games, having gone unbeaten in the first eighteen before. The highest scorers against the leakiest defence looked to be a game for neutrals looking for an entertaining afternoon programme.
As the teams ran out in front of the watching eyes of 232 supporters, Hesper made sure to waste no time to introduce themselves. Their first shot came in the second minute already, when Clément Couturier missed a shot from the edge of the area.
The theme was set for most of the game: the guests kept on attacking ruthlessly, exploiting every Fola mistake and trying to create chances almost constantly, while the hosts' defence had to be especially alert not to get caught out against a deadly attack comprising of Moussa Seydi, league top scorer and top assister Rayan Philippe, and French passing maestro Couturier. Although Fola stayed firm at the back (mostly due to outstanding saves from goalkeeper Emmanuel Cabral), one wondered just how long it would take until the floodgates would open, as had happened many times before to the Eschers.
Philippe, Couturier, captain Mehdi Terki and fellow defender Ricardo Delgado all had dangerous chances saved by the defence or Cabral, while Fola Esch were limited to one solitary chance for the first half, coming from attacker Jules Diallo after a counter, finished off inaccurately. But the scoreline stayed unchanged for the break, Hesper perhaps getting slightly frustrated by this point, on course to get two points from their last three games after sweeping the league aside earlier in the season.
Only ten minutes into the second half, Hesper brought on talented Torino loanee Lado Akhalaia in a bid to finish one of the endless supply of chances, and put the game beyond doubt. It isn't what ended up happening just yet though, as Fola managed to capitalise on Hesper's overly attacking mentality, and use long balls to good effect in their attempt to get goalscoring opportunities. But as we've seen so many times with this squad, they seemed to be lacking the technical quality to convert those chances. On the other hand, the guests didn't stop attacking either. Cabral was required to make a further few saves with incredible reflexes after shots from Couturier and winger Ken Corral.
In the last ten minutes, Fola supporters experienced the real emotional rollercoaster ride. First, they had to resort to all prayers as Fola's draw was constantly hanging by a thread under Hesper's attacking threat. In the 83rd minute, though, two quick chances came from practically nowhere, and had they not been wasted by Lucas Correia and Yanis Lahrach respectively, we might be talking about the biggest upset of the weekend in this column. But the ultimate punchline came five minutes later, when João Teixeira was able to find the winner in front of the other goal now.
All Fola's tactical discipline and resistance came to nothing in the end, as they narrowly missed out on a vital point at home to league leaders Hesper. The guests, on the other hand, can be relieved as their lead remains three points ahead of chasers F91 Dudelange.
Player of the Weekend #21
Emmanuel Cabral's heroics were well-detailed above, and his contributions almost got his team a miracle of a result alone. The dependence on the Luxembourgish goalkeeper was obvious, and he’s one of the only Player of the Week candidates in his position all season.
Another honourable mention is the brilliantly consistent Dejvid Sinani, who keeps flourishing in the league for the past several years, an output steady and convincing enough to earn him his first Red Lions cap last year, potentially to be followed in the upcoming international break. The attacking midfielder scored a hat-trick past Etzella Ettelbrück this time, effectively sealing the game for his team who managed to win by that three-goal margin. F91 were already three goals up by the 14th minute and they did end up holding onto their lead.
Goal of the Weekend #21
Sinani's direct free-kick goal from 18 yards out into the top corner was a wonderful sight, but it's only second best for me this week. The first place has to go to Guillaume Trani's acrobatic volley from a corner to give Differdange a two-goal lead against Mondorf. FCD ended up winning the game as well, maintaining their intact record under caretaker manager Hélder Dias after the sacking of previous manager Stéphane Léoni.
Storyline of the Weekend #21
Last week's column announced the departure of Marc Thomé from Käerjéng's managerial seat, and the board of directors promised to name his successor in time for the next game in April. This weekend's game was overseen by sporting director David Zenner, resulting in a humbling 1-4 derby loss to Union Titus Pétange. After the defeat, he was quick to announce the managerial change.
The man tasked with keeping newly-promoted UNK in the top flight beyond 2022/23 is 68-year old Frenchman Manuel Peixoto, who has worked in Luxembourg before, managing five clubs in a 12-year period between 2004 and 2017 (with the exception of one year). Since getting the sack at Grevenmacher six years ago, he has worked at different clubs in his homeland, and had been without a club since the start of this season. Peixoto has had fruitful periods at Luxembourgish clubs before, namely with CS Pétange or US Hostert, but his time at clubs usually doesn't extend past one season.