As the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season 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 where also teams with other objectives. With Lille and Montpellier competing for Europa and Champions League places, the game between both teams made for 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 Domagoj Bradarić, Gabriel, José Fonte, and Zeki Çelik. Boubakary Soumaré and Benjamin André were the two central midfielders, with Jonathan Bamba playing on the left and Renato Sanches on the right. Their two strikers were Victor Osimhen and Jonathan Ikoné, the latter of whom is reportedly targeted by Borussia Dortmund as a replacement for Jadon Sancho.
The Montpellier manager Michel Der Zakarian mostly prefers to line his team up in a 5-3-2 system and this was the system chosen to face Lille. Gerónimo Rulli started in goal, with Hilton, Damien Le Tallec, Daniel Congré, Ambroise Oyongo, and Arnaud Souquet making up the defence. Montpellier’s midfield triangle consisted of Florent Mollet, Téji Savanier, and Joris Chotard. Up top, the trusted striker duo of Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde started.
Lille’s offensive gameplan
Lille finished this game with attempting 14 shots – double as much as Montpellier. This was mostly due to their attacking system as the 3-1-6 system allows them to build with numerical superiority against Montpellier’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, one of the midfielders makes themselves available next to the two centre-backs. This forms a back three, while one midfielder 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 wide centre-backs take up a higher position. This allows the full-backs to push up higher and stretch the opponents’ back-line.
In the case below the wide centre-backs stay a little higher to keep the connection with the pivot and the central centre-back Fonté. Consequently, there are six attacking players occupying the space between the lines of Montpellier higher up the field. In theory, once the ball is played between the lines, it creates a 6 v 4 advantage to Lille.
This structure allowed Lille to control their attacking play with ease because of the clear numerical superiorities against Montpellier’s last line. These numerical superiorities were mostly formed on the sides of the pitch in the form of triangles. The triangle would consist of a full-back, a midfielder, and a forward. In order to find space, these triangles have to be dynamic. This dynamism comes from vertical movement and positional exchanges.
In the example below André drops from the half-space and consequently drags his marker with him. Celik notices the space created behind André’s marker and runs into it. What follows is a pass from Sanches into depth to Celik completing the effectiveness of the triangle.
We have another example below of a wide triangle and vertical movement. In this case, Ikoné drops deep to create space behind him, which Bradaric smartly exploits. Here the triangular shape and vertical movements are as important as the diagonal passing. The three players forming the triangle keep a staggered position in regard to each other which opens up diagonal passing lanes and makes it possible to find options to pass to.
In the image below shows the average positions of the Lille players and the combinations with more than 3 passes in one direction. The dot size corresponds to the number of touches and the line thickness corresponds to the number of passes between each player that was played. The image points out that the most passes were played between the wide players. It confirms Lille’s wide attacking strategy.
Montpellier’s direct play
On the other hand, Montpellier’s gameplan was totally different than that of Lille’s. As they lined up in 5-3-2 formation, their main focus was to use their two strikers effectively. The key was their positioning in regards to Lille defensive organisation.
By placing the strikers in the gaps between the centre-backs and full-backs, Delort and Laborde pinned all four defenders in the Lille backline. These positions of the strikers cause hesitation for the opposition when stepping out because if they do step out, it creates space behind the last line for Laborde and Delort to run in. As a result, the midfielders have more space between the lines to exploit and then can receive the ball without worrying about someone pressing from their blindside. The width was provided by the two full-backs who pushed up.
Another reason why Der Zakarian likes to play with two strikers is because of the direct way of play his team can play with strikers like Delort and Laborde. In the image below, the centre-back Le Tallec possesses the ball. The three centre-backs are fairly far from each other. As a result, more diagonal passing lanes are created. But the main diagonal that the wide centre-backs look for is the one to one of the two strikers. Only in this game, Montpellier attempted 67 long passes, of which 54% were accurate.
After a long ball is played, Montpellier try to secure the second ball by having players around the player who is about to receive the long ball. In the image below Delort is ready to run in behind if Laborde heads it in the space behind Lille’s last line. In front of Laborde is Mollet, who is also looking to receive the ball from a knockdown. Montpellier obviously look to create a numerical superiority around the player who receives the long ball.
The strikers are pivotal
Above we clarified that Montpellier’s gameplan is built around their two strikers. Mostly through long passes, their strikers play a huge part in progressing up the field. But as stated above, long passes are mostly 50/50 passes. This is the reason Montpellier also try to progress in different ways.
Another way is through inside-outside passing. The image below clarifies this concept. Firstly, let’s look at the position of the players playing part in this concept.
The wide centre-back with the ball, starting the attack, positions himself in the half-space to stay connected with the other centre-backs and pivot. The pivot positions himself in the blindside of the opponent’s striker. This to create an illusion of control that the opponent’s striker is marking the pivot correctly. But once he uses a timed run, he is free. Lastly, the full-back takes up a higher position to create a 1 v 1 situation on the side as Lille’s winger is pulled out to press the wide centre-back. This short combination play looks to find the 1 v 1 on the side.
Once the ball is played to the full-back, he has the chance to drive at the opposing full-back with the ball or deliver a cross. Below, the full-back finds himself in a lot of space. This gives him the chance to attempt a cross into the box. Again, because of the physical presence and aerial ability, the strikers are a threat with high balls. From this cross, Montpellier score the equaliser, before conceding again minutes later.
Although Lille won this game, Montpellier didn’t make it easy for them. Lille struggled the whole game with Montpellier’s direct approach. But in the end, Lille attacking positional play got them over the line.
In terms of the Ligue 1 rankings, they had a disappointing end to the season as they missed out on Champions League football by one point. Still, we should applaud Galtier’s side because of the low investments they made to achieve what they did over the years under his guidance. On the other hand, Montpellier ended the season mid-table, hoping for better things next season.