Free-flowing Lille show they can win ugly

PARIS - Lille have been wowing France and European talent scouts with their flowing football this term but the Ligue 1 leaders have also shown they can win ugly so Sunday's opponents Montpellier HSC had best beware.

Last weekend's scrappy 2-0 win at home to Toulouse, on a boggy pitch which may have to be re-laid, was the result of champions in waiting as they seek their first title since 1954.

"The season still has a very long way to go and we'll definitely drop some points and then gain some on our opponents," goalkeeper Mickael Landreau, who made his 500th Ligue 1 appearance against Toulouse, told reporters.

"A five-point lead can be wiped out in two matches, but that doesn't mean we are not happy to be where we are."

Lille's success this term has surprised many European pundits and bigger names such as Olympique Lyon, Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain have struggled to keep pace.

While the prospect of an unfashionable club winning the league in England and Spain is now long gone, VfL Wolfsburg and Twente Enschede have recently shown it is possible in Germany and the Netherlands with Lille out to prove it in France too.

Those in the know could tell Lille were going places last season when a fourth-placed finish suggested better times were on the horizon while plans to move to a new stadium next year underline their ambition and will sort out their pitch problem.

Belgian winger Eden Hazard is one of the most talked about young wingers in Europe and could be destined for a big club.

Hosts Montpellier sit seventh, just outside the European places but in striking distance of the second Champions League spot if they put on a good run in the last three months of the campaign.

They will be tricky customers for the leaders, especially with Lille defender Adil Rami suffering with an ankle injury.

Lyon, seven adrift of Lille in joint fourth, host Nancy on Friday after being allowed to bring the kick-off forward by a day to give them more time to prepare for Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first leg at home to Real Madrid.

Champions Marseille in third welcome Saint Etienne on Saturday hoping not to take their eye off the ball and think too early about Wednesday's meeting with Manchester United.