© Val Wagner
The 16 teams returned from the last international break of the year, to play their three remaining games before the league goes on its annual three-month standstill, leaving all clubs motivated to finish off their autumn seasons on a high.
Some teams were arguably more successful at accomplishing their targets, extending their lengthy unbeaten runs or putting an end to a miserable run of form.
The two promoted sides earned the early-afternoon game slot, and therefore presumably a somewhat increased audience, who tuned in to watch two teams who had not won a game this month, due to the lack of real alternatives.
Schifflange hosted Marisca Mersch in their bid to put an end to the joint-longest winless streak in the league – Miralem Pjanić’s boyhood club hadn’t won a game since the early September dismantling of Fola Esch. Marisca seemed just the right opponents for the occasion, last season’s cup finalists having finished behind Schifflange last year in a campaign that brought promotion for both sides eventually.
Joel Rodrigues took the lead for Marisca early in the second half, to compromise for his wasteful finishing early on in the game. As the clock ticked, Schifflange tried increasing the pressure, and the experience and quality added to their squad during a busy summer transfer window did shine through and show its worth. Eight minutes were enough for the hosts to turn the game on its head, courtesy of a magnificently placed header from veteran former Racing FCUL and Swift Hesper defensive midfielder, for the icing on the cake to be delivered by overlapping right-back Jonathan Hennetier, who himself has a handy 166 BGL Ligue appearances and 2 Coupes de Luxembourg to his name.
Marisca didn’t quite have the same rampant energy to their team late on to be able to muster another comeback. Their loss means they have now dropped into the relegation play-off spots, and their over-reliance on strikers Benny Bresch and Rodrigues needs to be addressed in the winter if they are to extend their first-ever top-flight stay.
Schifflange are back in a packed mid-table after their win, but challenging encounters against Strassen and Hesper before the winter break make for a tough period and a desperate attempt to avoid being dragged back in peril.
Revitalised Dudelange are standing the test of time
Jamath Shoffner’s arrival at perennial European qualifier and title contender F91 Dudelange brought with it a minor renaissance, given the huge number of departing key players, the withdrawal of funding from long-term investor Flavio Becca, and a rookie head coach trying to imprint his philosophy on a team that had just gone through a major squad overhaul.
They experienced a rocky start, losing to Maltese Gzira United in the Europa Conference League’s early qualifying stages, and continuing with some blips and blunders, such as being one of only two teams to lose to bottom-placed Fola Esch (the other was Racing FCUL).
However, since the beginning of October, they have been playing with a newfound warrior mentality that gets the best out of the current crop of players. Departures were replaced by integrating youth players Iván Englaro and Miguel Gonçalves, and giving more opportunities to players previously on the fringes of the first team, such as Herman Moussaki and Edis Agović.
The result? A resilience unmatched by any of the other teams in the division. 436 minutes without conceding a single goal is by far the longest streak in the country, and the most impressive thing is that they have won all of those games, climbing up to second place in the progress.
What many F91 fans feared was for the team to lose their clear identity after the departure of charismatic and popular manager Carlos Fangueiro. Shoffner was able to erase all these doubts in any fan, as the team’s image on the pitch is so easily noticeable one would clearly recognise Dudelange on the field even on a black-and-white footage by now. There aren’t many bigger praises a manager can get.
According to Wyscout data, Dudelange have the third-best PPDA (passes per defensive action) stat, which measures the amount of passes an opponent can take before F91’s defence intervenes with a tackle, interception or pressure. It is the most commonly used metric to determine a team’s pressing intensity.
In attack, Dudelange operate with the most crosses of any team in the league over 2023/24, with an average of 17.8 per 90 minutes. This results in the second-best record of progressive passes (73.55, only behind Swift Hesper’s 73.93) and an above-average frequency of long passes and passes into the final third.
The direct approach works – and it has once again proven effective last week, when Union Titus Pétange joined the lengthy list of the victims of F91’s success. Samir Hadji’s goal tipped the balance in his team’s favour now, the journeyman striker proving to be incredibly useful well above the age of 30 with his aerial ability and goalscoring instincts.
The three points retain Dudelange’s second place on the table, and ending the autumn period on top after such chaotic circumstances in the summer would be the perfect response to silence the doubters.
Are draws still enough for Fola (and Käerjéng)?
After the first couple of games played in the season, not many conclusions could be drawn. Any of the best 4-5 teams could well be champions, several teams looked ambitious to switch their lower mid-table positions for European spots, but two of the teams stood out: Fola Esch and Käerjéng, at the foot of the table.
This month has seen an uplift in the performances of both teams. Fola, continually bruised by some goalkeeping errors, red cards and sloppy defensive performances, picked up 5 points in their last 3 games. Käerjéng went even further, with 8 points in their last 5 and 7 out of a possible 9 this month.
Last week, both sides drew their games, once again avoiding defeat and gaining potentially valuable points. UNK held Wiltz to one goal only, while table-trailers Fola can thank their late comeback for the 2-2 draw against 10-man Mondercange.
Stefano Bensi’s team now has 8 points after 13 games – that is four points off the next-worst team Mondorf, who have a game in hand, too. The next two weeks will see the current 3 bottom-ranked teams – Käerjéng, Mondorf and Fola – all get chances to gain the upper hand, with Fola playing both those teams before the break.
The situation, from Fola’s point of view, appears simple. Win both, and they are in with a chance of repeating last year’s heroics, when they escaped relegation in the last minute of extra time. Lose at least one, and the already barely surmountable gap will widen further, all but closing a door on any fairytale story in the spring.
In the past weeks, Fola seemed content drawing games, salvaging every point they can. That, however, will only achieve as much as keeping their dignity. As teams above them started winning games, and picking up points at a steadier rate, they cannot afford to sustain the tempo and wait for an end-of-season miracle run.
A squad with the youngest average age in the league (23.1, a whole year and a half younger than second-youngest Racing), the least experience and some utterly dispiriting stats (most shots against, most red cards, worst shot conversion rate, and an average of just above 10 touches in the penalty area per game), Fola have to grab every opportunity to grab all three points in the matches against their direct rivals.
BGL Ligue will continue with previously postponed matches being played on Wednesday evening between Marisca Mersch and Jeunesse Esch, and Mondorf and Victoria Rosport respectively.
As always, the games’ live commentaries, highlights and full video footage are all available on RTL.lu’s Live Arena hub.