As the Ligue 1 season 2019/20 has come to an early end, every team has been assigned their destiny. A points-per-game system was used by the French Professional Football League, in order to decide the league’s final standings. This system takes into account the performance of clubs in the matches already played.
This conclusion crowned Paris Saint Germain Ligue 1 champions for the seventh time in eight years. On the other hand, there were also some disappointed teams which missed out on Champions League and Europa League spots. Two teams which were in a battle for the Champions League places were LOSC Lille and Olympique Marseille. With this in mind, the game on Matchday 25 between both teams promised to be an interesting battle.
Christophe Galtier set out his Lille side in his favoured 4-4-2, a system that becomes very narrow and compact when out of possession. In possession, his side changes to a more attacking variant in the form of a 3-1-6. Mike Maignan started in goal, with a back four made up of Reinildo Mandava, Thiago Djaló, José Fonte and Zeki Çelik. Jean Onana and Renato Sanches were the two central midfielders, with Jonathan Bamba playing on the left and Jonathan Ikoné on the right. Their two strikers were Victor Osimhen and Loic Remy.
The Marseille manager André Villas-Boas mostly prefers to line his team up in a 4-1-4-1 system. He chose this is the system to face Lille. Steve Mandanda started in goal, with Hiroki Sakai, Álvaro González, Duje Ćaleta-Car and Jordan Amavi making up the defence. Marseille’s midfield triangle consisted of Morgan Sanson, Boubacar Kamara and Valentin Rongier. The flanks were occupied by Valère Germain and Bouna Sarr. Dario Benedetto led the line for Marseille.
Lille’s dominant start
From the moment the whistle went to kick-off the first half, Lille looked to dominate possession. As a result, the first half possession percentage was in favour of the home side. Lille held the ball for 61 per cent of the first half.
This heavy domination of possession mainly comes from the system Lille use. The 3-1-6 system allows them to build with numerical superiority against Marseille’s first line press. Also the three defenders and one midfielder form a diamond shape which opens up lots of passing options.
During the build-up phase, Onana makes himself available next to the two centre-backs. This forms a back three, while Sanches stays in front of the newly formed back three. The structure aims to stretch the first line of the press and force the second line to engage. To make sure the second line pressure commits to a pressing moment, the outside centre-backs take up a higher position. This makes them more playmaking centre-backs.
This allows the full-backs to push up higher and stretch the opponents back-line. In the case below the outside centre-backs stay deep to keep connection with Sanches and the central centre-back Fonté. Although this movement of the centre-backs, the second line of Marseille aren’t yet committing men forward. As a consequence Lille’s full-backs stay more deep to stretch Marseille’s midfield line.
Although Lille had such an organised structure to break down Marseille, it wasn’t easy for them. In the first half Marseille only conceded two shots on target. This was largely due to Marseille’s compact block. Lining up in a staggered 4-1-4-1 formation, they would fall back into a medium block allowing no space between the lines and wait to engage a press until Lille would make a mistake.
This is also shown in their PPDA. Marseille’s PPDA during this game was a total of 22.9. The higher the PPDA value, the less defensive actions per opposition passes. This indicates a less intense press. And explains that indeed Marseille was more defensively passive in this game.
Villas Boas’s men would allow the opponents centre-backs as much time as they want on the ball. But once the ball was passed to the side, Marseille press with intensity to recover the ball.
As the sideline is described as the best defender by Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola. What he actually is saying is that the pressing team can recover the ball more easily because the sideline traps the opposition when pressed rightly.
Below it is shown Marseille press to the side. They try to move their block to the ball side and create a numerical superiority on that side, shutting all options for the ball carrier except the back pass.
In contrary to Marsseile’s more passive press, Lille’s PPDA during this game was a lot lower at a value of 12.2.
In the below image is one of the situations where Lille pressed high. This happens in a four-diamond-two shape. Osihmen will cover shadow the opponents’ number six as Ikoné drifts inside from the right to act as a second striker. The pass to the side is allowed by Galtier’s men. But once played to the side, just like Marseille, Lille press with intensity to win the ball back. The only difference with Marseille is that Lille prefers to win the ball back higher on the pitch.
Also, note the possession percentage in the image below. After the 16th minutes, although quite early, Lille dominated the possession with 75 per cent which is another indication of Lille’s aggressive start to the game. This continued throughout the first half.
Lille overloading the half-spaces
As stated above Lille were the aggressors in the first half. In possession, Lille use creative tactics and against Marseille, there was no difference. This time Galtier chose to overload the half-spaces against Marseille. This means that Bamba and Remy occupied them during the attacking phase and the same goes for Osihmen and Ikoné.
In the below image the average positions of the Lille players in the game against Marseille. When we look closely we can see number seven (Osihmen) and number ten (Ikoné) taking up nearly identical positions. The same for number nine (Remy) and number 14 (Bamba). This map clarifies Lille’s tactical intentions.
At first sight, this would not seem like an intelligent tactic because the deeper player in the half-space is blocking the passing line of the striker. But this tactic had a big impact on the game.
Once a supportive player around the attackers has the ball, the striker moves to the flank. This gives the deeper player/winger time to receive because the central defender tries to follow the striker. At the same time, the striker arrives behind the full-back which gives him also a decision to make to stay or press. This is an obvious example of positional superiority as the opposing full-back and centre-back have a decision to make.
As a consequence gaps open up in the last line of the opponent. Most notably a central gap between both centre-backs. If Lille wants to make most of this situation in the future. A penetrating midfielder in the central gap will open up goal-scoring opportunities.
Second half changes
As Lille dominated the first half, the second was completely different. Lille took their foot off the gas and this affected their performance.
The home side gave the initiative to the away side. This saw Lille fall back in a medium block. The idea was to wait until Marseille would make a mistake. By falling back in their 4-4-2 formation, Lille didn’t allow the opposition any space between the lines. As a result of this medium shape, Lille was able to score. Marseille was able to build without pressure. But when the centre-back made a wrong pass Lille were ready to pounce.
As the home side let Marseille build without pressure and think they are in control. But this was a trap. Because both teams are in the middle third of the pitch. There is some space to exploit in behind both teams. It’s more difficult to exploit for Marseille because of Lille’s narrow shape without the ball. But for Lille, once they win the ball back, there is a lot of space in behind.
The goal Lille scored shows how they win the ball back in a medium shape. What follows is the strikers running in behind and covering the central lane and both half-spaces. With clever movements, they try to confuse the defenders which resulted in their opening goal.
So as a result of the more defensive approach of Lille during the start of the second half, Marseille took the initiative. And surely after going one down, Marseille had to force the play.
As Lille tried to provoke Marseille with their medium block and waited for a mistake from Marseille. Marseille were looking to provoke Lille during the second half. With this in mind, L’OM tried to play more out from the back instead of using the long ball.
This explains the image below. Marseille would try to attract as many Lille players as they could by dropping deep. This creates space in behind of the Lille defenders.
The image also shows the intention of Marseille. Mandanda plays the ball to the flank, which Sakai thumps forward to exploit the space in behind.
Marseille attract as many Lille players as they can to their own goal. This creates a 3v2 at the backline in favour of Lille. Although this is numerical inferiority for Marseille, they try to use runs from deep, behind the fullback stepping out who is following through on the winger. In the below image this situation is visualised.
Marseille using Lille’s tactics against them
Since Villas-Boas’s men were trailing after Lille’s opening goal. The roles reversed. Now Marseille had to be the more dominant team in possession to break down the home side’s block.
Villas-Boas opted to copy Lille’s attacking structure in order to create goalscoring opportunities. But the difference with Lille’s 3-1-6 was that it was a more flexible system that changed to 3-2-5 at times. All front players occupy one vertical lane. With exception of one midfielder who tries to manipulate the second line. The midfielder floats between the lines. This movement often opened up passing lines to the front players without creating an overload centrally.
Often one player opening up vertical passing lanes wouldn’t be enough to break down Lille’s block. So the solution for the Marseille defenders was to play diagonal passes to the high positioned wing-backs.
From here Marseille looked to overload the sides in a 2v1 situations against Lille’s full-back. When the ball was on the outside, the Marseille attacker in the half-space penetrated in depth.
This could be done without pressure because Bamba and Ikoné were always too late to trackback. And the centre-backs weren’t keen on stepping out so this gave Marseille a free chance to cross the ball.
Reinildo opened the score for Marseille through an own goal on a corner kick. But prior to the corner, Marseille used this tactic to win the corner.
Lastly just to show how effective their second-half turnaround was, the image below was taken just before Marseille score their second goal.
In this case, Marseille occupy again all vertical lanes and the central lane is double occupied with their six attackers. They try again to overload the outside lane with Sanson trying to penetrate between the centre-back and full-back.
This time Bamba covers the underlap but it gives Amavi, on the left, the opportunity to cut inside and switch the play. From this switch, Lille’s defenders have te reposition themselves, as the cross comes in from the right. And because of the various options that arrive in the box, Benedetto can put his name on the score sheet.
The game ended with Marseille scoring two goals to one with a game full of tactical twists and turns. Marseille finished the campaign in second place and will play in the UEFA Champions League next season. For Lille, it is a little disappointing as they miss out on Champions League football by one point. This tactical analysis showed that Marseille are tactically flexible. Lille showed creativity but Marseille used their tactics against them and won the match.