After a very mixed international break for Luxembourg, domestic sides were back in action on Sunday, where unbeaten and winless streaks were on the line among other highlights. All the Deadline Day signings finally had their first opportunities to impress after a full week of training. Let’s see who the big winners of the matchday were!
The only team without a loss after the first five games was FC Differdange. That likely came as no surprise to those who watched their Europa Conference League qualifiers, where they went out to Slovenian outfit Maribor to a 120+1st minute decider.
However, losing key players Érico Castro (to the aforementioned Maribor) and Amine Naïfi (on a loan deal to Saarbrücken) had the potential to hurt FCD’s attacking potential for the season, as the team's main goal-getter and creative maestro turned their back on them within one day.
The management made sure there was ultimately little to worry about for the fans. Three young signings in quick succession was the reaction from the board: Arlindo Barbosa returned to the club after a mostly unsuccessful spell at Pescara in Italy, Moussa Suso arrived as a free agent having been released by Ligue 1 side Strasbourg, while arguably the headline name for the last day of the transfer dealings was Kenny Nagera, former PSG academy talent who once replaced Kylian Mbappé at a French top flight game in 2021. He was also named in matchday squads in the Champions League and for U19 games at international level, but was an unused substitute each time.
Still only 21, Nagera’s case is very similar to that of Rayan Philippe: young talented French attackers, who were prolific enough in their age groups but fell just short when a breakthrough was needed to keep getting minutes at senior level. As we know, Philippe’s spell in Luxembourg is now history, as the Hesper striker found the net 32 times last season, assisting a further 26 goals on his route to become the player with the most goal contributions across European top divisions. Now, he is playing professionally again, after Eintracht Braunschweig in Germany decided to take a gamble on him.
With Hesper stumbling this season, it looks like Nagera picked the perfect team for himself to build his career back to where it should be, for a player with such immense pace and dribbling. Differdange had won four of the first five games but were facing a challenging away trip to much-improved Strassen.
The teams started the game quietly, wary of the threat both attacks posed. Joint top scorer Conrad Azong, supported by the experienced Nicolas Perez up front would be a handful for any defence in the league, while the guests still had Guillaume Trani and Nagera to help take the game to the opponents.
After Strassen dominated the first half, with Azong getting numerous goalscoring opportunities, FCD had to improve their focus and change the flow of the proceedings. And that is more or less exactly what happened, before the hosts could even settle back into the game. If the open-play chances were few and far between, there was another way to be found: dead-ball situations. In that regard, Guillaume Trani’s opener was as spectacular as it gets: the Frenchman scored straight from a corner, as the ball found its way between the dodging and hiding FCD defenders who made perfect decoy movements and essentially guided it in as if it was a curling stone.
Only four minutes later, a strikingly familiar scenario appeared: a tricky young attacker loses his marker in the left half-space, takes a few touches on the ball upon receiving it, before placing the perfect curved effort in the far corner, leaving all defenders in his wake. It looked every bit like an excerpt from a Rayan Philippe highlight reel, except this time it was… as you might have guessed it, Kenny Nagera, on his FCD debut.
Despite Azong missing a penalty only minutes later, Strassen still found a way back into the game. Former Luxembourg international Diogo Pimentel was the hero of the game in retrospect, for his contribution of a 30-yard screamer (goal of the week?), and getting fouled inside the box which led to a stoppage-time penalty to be converted by substitute Florik Shala.
In the end, Pimentel showed his class and Differdange had to settle for one point, but the unbeaten streak goes on and there is plenty of reason for excitement after Nagera’s sparkling debut.
Dudelange hit troubling low
Long gone are the glory days at Stade Jos Nosbaum, which used to be the venue of many a European upset over the decades of the team’s domestic dominance. Even the beginning of Jamath Shoffner’s reign at the club has started to fade into the abyss, since so much has changed since the American coach started the first managerial position of his career back in July. The early signs were promising, after they saw off Irish opponents St. Patrick’s Athletic in the Europa Conference League via an impressive marksman performance from Oege-Sietse van Lingen.
Whether the above performances were to be attributed to the “new manager bounce” phenomenon, or whether the crushing exit from Europe at the hands of Maltese Gzira United was a turning point remains to be seen. If the unfortunate Gzira results merely started a blip they have not yet found a way out of it, although things might be on the up soon. But if Shoffner’s football peaks at its current iteration, F91 are in for a tough time in 2023/24.
The first five matches in Dudelange showed a pattern of win-loss-win-loss-win, maybe leaving some F91 fans concerned about their following appearance in Mondorf-les-Bains already. Perhaps a glimmer of hope to cling onto was Mondorf’s own early-season form, which had so far resembled nothing of the team that finished in a historical high 6th place in 2022/23.
To sum it up shortly, the Angry Goats’ worries were overcome only minutes after kick-off, as it was soon all but confirmed they would be having a field day. Centre-back Costinha opened the floodgates only 4 minutes in from a towering header after a free-kick. Eight minutes later, the 6’6” French giant Jean-Paul Kumbi doubled the lead against a Dudelange team painfully susceptible to counter-attacks.
In the 26th minute, Kumbi was once again in the centre of attention, as he was too much to handle for Denis Stumpf, who conceded a penalty. Sofiane Bekkouche won the battle of nerves and made it 3-0 before the half-hour mark.
Luckily for everyone, the demolition job did not continue at the same rate, Mondorf settling for the three-goal lead after minor injuries to Costinha and goalkeeper Machado, while Dudelange also sat slightly deeper to prevent the same issues from reoccurring.
In the second half, F91 clearly showed some signs of life, but it had no use or result at 3-0 down. Six minutes before the end, Marwane Benamra put the last nail in the coffin, putting F91 to sword again for one last time. After a disappointing 0-4 defeat, F91 might have to readjust their goals for the year ahead.
Shoffner last said that even a place in the top 4 is far from guaranteed, and his team keep proving him right in many separate ways as they continue to fall to defeats every time they leave their own ground.
Local hero inspires underdog story
After a sombre start of two defeats in two games, some Luxembourgish football followers might have started pointing at Marisca Mersch’s envisioned struggles in the division, after a very laid-back approach in the transfer market, where they could mostly only afford second-division reinforcements.
A key difference to many bigger clubs and one that often gets overlooked in comparison is how Marisca were, on the other hand, able to convince their existing key players to stay. In a league where the majority of the clubs operate as de facto revolving doors in the summers, Marisca were one of the few who planned on continuity. The key was, with one of the most overused clichés of modern football terminology, to ‘trust the process’. And so many times, when the people stand behind said project and pull in the same direction, things (not so) magically start picking up.
Its newest example is clear for all to see in the BGL Ligue now. Unbeaten for four games now, the newly-promoted side from Mersch have now climbed to mid-table, defeating a particularly threatening-looking Mondercange 2-1 on Sunday.
And when it comes to those important goals that, scored in the right moments, can shift the balance of games within the blink of an eye, who would be better positioned to carry the weight than Benny Bresch?
Bresch, 27, finished as his team’s top scorer last season as the Blue-Yellows got promoted from the Éierepromotioun in second place behind Schifflange. A striker with a natural instinct of getting in the most dangerous places, and a knack of converting chances, he was coveted by some of the ‘big guns’ in the top flight. However, Bresch stayed resilient. He remained loyal to the club that took him on two years ago from the German regional leagues, after it was confirmed manager Mikhail Zaritski and his assistant, Taras Senkiv were also staying for the club’s historic maiden BGL Ligue season.
Bresch stayed around to write a name for himself within the Mersch fanbase, at a club where regular game time is guaranteed. And if he keeps scoring at this rate, one wonders if a Luxembourg call-up is on the cards soon, as the country have been notoriously lacking a striker of his calibre for a long time.
He sure did make the most of this latest chance to impress, scoring a brace to turn the game around in Mondercange. If there was anyone still unbothered by Marisca’s fantastic story unfolding in front of their eyes, we can now add Benny Bresch’s own personal quest to the equation and it will no doubt garner attention from a wider Luxembourgish fanbase.
Around the country
Martin Forkel’s high-flying Rosport, inspired by German signing André Redekop, held Niedercorn to a draw, while Käerjéng, still winless, got their first point against wasteful Jeunesse.
RFCUL broke Schifflange’s momentum while Union Titus Pétange are still experiencing early-season struggles.
And Ryad Habbas’ name is officially off Hesper’s roster as the forward signed for French 5th-tier Thionville, but Swift manage to win regardless and are now in the top half.
As always, the games’ live commentaries, highlights and full video footage are all available on RTL.lu’s Live Arena hub.
Full results from Matchday Six