Lucas Chevalier: Lille Goalkeeper Ready to Challenge for Starting XI

Lucas Chevalier

In 2021, French side LOSC Lille stunned the world. The club, located in northern France, had gone a decade since their last league title — stuck behind heavyweights PSG and Monaco. This changed two seasons ago — Lille’s smart recruiting saw them finish first in the league, beating PSG and clinching Champions League football. However, Lille were brought back to earth last season.

They never got close to the league title, finishing a distant tenth place. In the Champions League, Lille exited in the Round of 16. The Coupe de France was no better — they lost in the second round to rivals Lens on penalties.

There were many reasons that Lille failed to retain their title. Manager Christophe Galtier left the club to take over with OGC Nice. Multiple players left, partially due to financial issues. Fixture congestion increased due to Champions League participation. In my opinion, though, the biggest problem was goalkeeper.

In 2021, Lille had one of the league’s best goalkeepers in Mike Maignan. Maignan left amidst the post-title exodus, though, leaving Lille with limited options. Ivo Grbic and Léo Jardim both featured during the season, neither playing convincingly. Grbic is gone this season, as is backup Orestis Karnezis. Jardim is the current starter but remains unimpressive. However, Lille have the new Maignan waiting on the bench: 20-year-old Lucas Chevalier.

Chevalier’s Career Path

Chevalier has stayed local his entire career. He was born in Calais, roughly an hour away from Lille’s current stadium. His first two youth clubs were also located in or near Calais before he joined Lille in 2014 at the age of 13. Since then, Chevalier hasn’t left the club, except for his loan last season to Valenciennes (another local club).

Chevalier joined the Ligue 2 club fresh off of a season where they finished 11th. The Frenchman allowed just 35 goals in 30 games in his debut season, 24 fewer goals than Valenciennes had conceded the year prior. Unfortunately, defense was the least of the team’s problems — they scored a dreadful 34 goals all season, fewer than one a match. Thanks to Chevalier, Valenciennes avoided relegation but finished in 16th place.

Chevalier has played for France at multiple youth levels, most recently in 2021 with the France U20 team in a friendly against Germany.

Statistics and Comparisons

The young Frenchman finished last year as one of Ligue 2’s best goalkeepers. He finished with the league’s seventh-best save percentage (73.5), tenth-most saves (83), and the tenth-fewest goals against/goals against per 90 (35 and 1.17), per FBref.com. In addition, the club performed significantly better with Chevalier on the field — he had one of the league’s best records for a goalkeeper, with a net average of 0.7 more goals when he played.

The player I statistically compared Lucas Chevalier with is Edouard Mendy. The now-Chelsea goalkeeper first made headlines by helping Stade Reims earn promotion from France’s second tier in 2017/18. After that, Mendy moved to Stade Rennais and then the Premier League. But how do his second-tier stats compare to Chevalier’s?

Mendy has the edge in most categories — but not by much. He has more saves (87 to 83), a better save percentage (84.1 to 73.5), goals against per 90 (0.9 to 1.17), more clean sheets (16 to 9), and fewer goals conceded (20 to 35). To be fair, Mendy played 289 more minutes on a significantly better team.

Overall, Chevalier compares reasonably well to Mendy, who has gone to win AFCON and the Champions League.

Chevalier’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Chevalier has a lot of traits that teams look for in a goalkeeper. He has quick reflexes, strong ball distribution, is a good puncher of the ball, claims the ball well, challenges opponents, and has steady hands. He’s also physically imposing, with ESPN listing him at 6’2″ and 172 pounds. Or, in other words, as tall as Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

There aren’t many clear weaknesses to Chevalier’s game. He occasionally makes risky decisions and challenges a bit aggressively, but his strengths mean Chevalier rarely ends up paying for it.

Conclusion

With Lille less than certain at goalkeeper, there’s a great chance Lucas Chevalier can become a starter by the end of the season. Lille’s opener last weekend saw Léo Jardim start, saving one of two shots he faced as Lille won. However, with a long season and potential for a Coupe de France run means Chevalier will get plenty of chances.

If he doesn’t see that happening this season, he could always go on loan again, to either a Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 club. Lille surely won’t want to let him go, but he also can’t waste time sitting on the bench.

Image Courtesy of C. LEFEBVRE, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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