If there is a coach who has benefited from the Coronavirus crisis, then it is the current coach of Lens, Franck Haise. HE was appointed last February as coach of the first team, after he was a coach for the second team.
Lens were at the time in third place and then football stopped in France, and Lens were promoted to the Ligue 1 after an absence of five years.
Haise continued his brilliance in the Ligue 1, where he lost only two matches in seven matches he played, also beating the league champions Paris Saint-Germain. This made Haise’s team rank seventh in the league standings.
Excellent strategies for creating 1v1 situations
Haise’s favourite formation is 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2, which makes Lens play with eight deep players, but the club does not have much control of the ball, as Lens possession rate per match reached only 47.62%.
Moreover, Lens do not attack from the centre, as you can see in this picture, most of the Lens attacks in the last three matches have been from both sides, even though he has only one player on each side.
This picture confirms that most of the opportunities that Lens creates come from the sides. We can see in this picture that most of the dribbling and through passes that Lens makes were down the wings
Coach Haise devised a set of tactics to create 1v1 situations on both sides, relying on midfielders and attackers, as he provides them with some instructions to fix the opponents’ players and create wide spaces in the sides.
For example, in this picture, Yannick Cahuzac and Gaël Kakuta are moving forward and drags the opponent’s pivots with them, in this way Cheick Doucouré has a large space in which he can receive the ball, and then turn it to the side.
If one of the opponent’s pivot advances to press the free player, the opposing winger will be forced to go deep, in this way the wing-back will be in 1v1 situation.
When you watch Lens play, you will see that sometimes the midfield trio is advancing, especially against teams that play 4-4-2, because this forces the opponent’s players to position narrowly. In this way, the wings will go more in-depth, and the wing-backs have a wide area on the sides.
For example, in this picture, the midfield trio goes deeper; this forces the opponent to place his block narrowly. And since Lens play with three centre-backs, this enables them to bypass the opponent’s first pressure line and pass to the sides.
The movements of the attackers are significant to create spaces on the sides and take advantage of these spaces. For example, in this image, the attacking duo moves towards the right side and drags the opponent’s centre-backs with it.
Flexibility and the role of Sotoca
Haise prefers his attacks to be fast, so he needs a lot of flexibility in his team, to be able to create spaces and take advantage of these spaces.
This is the strength of RC Lens. The midfielders and forwards have a lot of positional awareness, and they interact with each other nicely. This enables Frey to create and utilise spaces quickly.
For example, in this picture, Cahuzac moves to the side and drags Lamine Fomba with him, at the same time Kakuta slides back and can receive the ball in the empty space.
Here’s a similar example, Cahuzac and Doucouré fix Saint-Etienne pivots, at the same time Kakuta, the former Chelsea player posing behind them without a marker, that way Lens can transfer the ball to the opponent’s half.
These moves and the exchange of positions benefit the team in the final third as well, and help it create dangerous opportunities. In this picture, Cahuzac drags Fomba, this creates a space in the depth, in which Florian Sotoca is poised to receive the ball.
Sotoca is a significant player for Lens team; although he does not score many goals, he is considered an essential piece in coach Haise’ philosophy.
One of this reasons is that Nice plays with five men in the backline, this forces the opponents to push one of their pivots forward to press, in this way one of the midfielders Lens will be freed from the mark.
Here Sotoca is essential, the French player is physically strong and is excellent in aerial duels, as he gets into 9.81 aerial duels in every match with a success rate of 48.4%.
Haise tries to use his strength in air duels, to win the long balls and turn them into the free midfielder.
For example, in this picture, the goalkeeper played a long ball towards Sotoca, after which he switched the ball to Kakuta in the deep.
Lens often does not press in high areas, as he usually tries to play with medium block and protect the depth. It’s the traditional way. Midfielders’ positions can change depending on the opponent’s position. There can be two players in the front and a player in the back.
This is the defensive structure of Lens, where the attackers and midfielders form a square shape, they can lock all the passing options at the deep.
If the opponent moves the ball to the sides, the wing-back will advance to press and prevent the ball carrier from making a forward pass.
For example, in this picture, Jonathan Clauss moves quickly to press Birger Meling; in this way, the ball holder is forced to play a lateral pass.
If the full-back prefers to play a long ball, the centre-back can mark the wing, while the wing-back and a midfield player retreat to win the second ball.
If the ball reaches the sides, the block will move towards the side the ball is on, after which they will try to press the ball carrier and block nearby passing channels, like in this picture.
Lens are not perfect in the defensive stage, as they conceded 10 goals in seven games. This indicates that its defensive structure has some gaps. Let’s find out.
As I mentioned above, RC Lens try to protect the deep, and forces the opponent to move the ball towards the sides, then the wing-back advances to pressure the full-back and prevent him from playing a forward pass.
But here there is a loophole, whereby if the opponent moves the ball from right to left faster, the wing-back of Lens’ team will not arrive in time, and the midfielder who marks the opponent players who are positioned between the lines, will not arrive in time for coverage. In this way, the opponent will be able to break the defensive structure.
Thomas Tuchel, in his team’s match against Lens, provided many tactics that helped his team break Lens’ block.
One of the most important of these ideas was to prevent the wing-back from advancing and pressing when PSG moved the ball to the sides. The idea was to put the full-back forward that way he could fix Issiaga Sylla. Then former Manchester United player Ander Herrera can pull back and receive the ball without pressure.
Tuchel also managed to create an additional free player in the middle of the field, which made Paris Saint-Germain able to transfer the ball to half of Lens easily, so Tuchel’s team were able to create dangerous opportunities as well.
For example, in this picture, Marco Verratti, Herrera and Idrissa Gueye were positioned in the deep and fix Lens midline trio. Kays Ruiz-Atil went deep and received the ball without problems.
Bernat then drags the opponent’s wing-back, and Kalimuendo Muinga moves quickly in the half-spaces to receive the ball.
Tuchel helped the centre-backs advance the ball to half of the opponent’s court. Where he was asking Gueye to position between the defenders to create numerical superiority, and Ruiz went deeper next to Verratti and Herrera to fix Lens’ midfielders. That way, Presnel Kimpembe can advance the ball.
Then the same thing happens, Bernat pulls the wing-back and Kimpembe plays a pass into the half-spaces.
Verratti turned into a full-back, giving Paris Saint-Germain a lot of options; for example, in this picture, Verratti can pass in the empty space on the side or towards the deep.
In conclusion, Franck Haise has improved his team’s performance, as RC Lens have had a strong start, but he’s had some defensive problems. However, they need to find a solution to the defence problems we mentioned for their joys to continue.