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 as 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 unfortunately had to be relegated to the second division. One of the teams which were in a battle for the Champions League places was Lille. On the other hand, Toulouse were battling for survival in Ligue 1. With this in mind, the game on Matchday 26 between both teams promised to be an interesting battle.
Formations and lineups
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 or a 2-3-5. Mike Maignan started in goal, with a back four made up of Domagoj Bradarić, Gabriel, José Fonte, and Zeki Çelik. Benjamin André 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 Toulouse manager Denis Zanko prefers to line his team up in a 4-1-4-1 system and he chose this system to face Lille. Mauro Goicoechea started in goal with Issiaga Sylla, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Agustin Rogel, and Bafodé Diakité making up the defence. Toulouse’s midfield triangle consisted of Ibrahim Sangaré, William Vainqueur, and Kouadio Koné. The flanks were occupied by Max Gradel and Wesley Saïd while Aaron Leya Iseka led the line for Toulouse.
Lille’s patient gameplan
Lille came into this game as the favourites, but that didn’t mean the game was already won. Galtier was aware of Toulouse’s qualities and they were surely not going to underestimate the away team. His gameplan was clear: build patiently and look for the right moment to play forward.
The image below confirms his game plan. It 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. The image also clarifies that the most passes were between the two centre-backs and from the right-sided centre-back to Çelik. We can conclude that Lille took a rather sideways approach to the game.
The stats also confirm Lille’s sideways playing style for this game. Lille completed 262 lateral passes – more than any other sort of pass. The lateral passes look to provoke the opponent to press and consequently open up space between the lines of the opponent. It was their patience in that matter that saw them win the game.
To combat Lille’s offensive gameplan, Toulouse set up in 4-1-4-1 shape. The idea was to fall back into a medium shape and keep a compact block. On paper, this system could potentially look to nullify the movements of Lille’s forwards, because of its staggered shape. But on the field, there was a need for more than only the staggered 4-1-4-1 shape to keep Lille away from scoring.
In the below image we can see the centre-back Gabriel is driving forward without pressure, engaging the opponent’s second line and playing a pass to Sanches. This was possible because Toulouse’s first line press was very passive and they didn’t decide to press when one of Lille’s centre-backs were on the ball.
As a consequence, wide overloads are easily created with one of the centre midfielders dropping to the side. In the case below, Sanches drops wide in a deep position.
Not only was Toulouse’s first line pressing passively but the whole team lacked intensity. The statistics show that their PPDA was rather low in the first half at 24.2. This means that Toulouse’s pressing intensity was lacking and opened up opportunities for Les Dogues. Especially when Lille switched the play, Toulouse shifted their block at a low pace. As a result, the isolated Lille player, who provides width for the team, finds himself in a 1 v 1 situation or potentially even in free space to penetrate in.
As stated above, the lack of pressing created space on the wings for Lille to exploit. This space on the wings meant Lille could often cross the ball into the box with minimal pressure or even without pressure. This caused huge problems for the Toulouse backline.
Another painful connotation when the cross was delivered, was the lack of communication in the box.
In the image below, we can see a great example of the lack of communication between the Toulouse defenders once the cross comes in. As the cross comes from the left, Diakité tries to prevent it from going into the box. The pivot, Sangaré covers him in case he gets caught out. But then with just one run, Osimhen distracts the two Toulouse centre-backs at the first post. Now Sylla has to drop to prevent a cut-back opportunity. Consequently, Ikoné arrives in a whole lot of space on the ball far side.
Also, note how Lille still manage to find a free man in a 3 v 5 situation in the box when the cross arrives. Due to the clever movement of the strikers, Lille still manage to find free space although being in numerical inferiority.
In the above image, only three attackers entered the box in numerical inferiority, but the idea throughout the game was to overload the Toulouse backline. The idea was to create a 5 v 4 situation by occupying all vertical lanes.
In the below image, the full-backs push up to stretch the opponent’s backline. Then Bamba moves inside and Remy moves from the centre to the half-space, so both half-spaces are occupied. Ikoné stays wide and lastly, Osimhen stays central. Once the ball is played between the lines, Lille can run at the opponent’s backline with numerical superiority. This is exactly how the second goal came about.
Lille’s wide dynamics
Lille’s first thought was to isolate the wings to then cross the ball and create goal-scoring opportunities. But when the switches of play from one side to the other took too much time, Toulouse had time to shift their block to the ball side in time to press to the side. Consequently, Lille were forced to find a different solution.
The image below illustrates how they found a solution down the flanks. By creating a numerical superiority down the flanks, Lille found space behind Toulouse’s last line. A 3 v 2 situation is created when Sanches drops to the half-space, Bamba cuts inside and Bradarić stays wide. As Toulouse didn’t press intensively, passing lanes were easily found and the channel between the full-back and centre-back of Toulouse was easily exposed by Lille. And even if Toulouse tried to create numerical equality with a 3 v 3 situation, Lille would have the positional superiority, as the ball carrier always has time on the ball.
But when the pressing was intensive to the ball side, spaces were compact and this favoured Toulouse. Consequently, Remy dropped into midfield to create a diamond connection to combine and overload the wing.
This would be effective because Osimhen pins the backline. So when Remy drops into midfield, the backline defenders cannot follow him because of the pinned backline. Also, Remy comes from the blindside of the midfielders which allows him to receive the ball without pressure.
Another advantage the overload and the dropping striker brings is that the ball side is packed with players. Once Lille lose the ball, the chances of winning the ball back further up the field became a lot higher.
Below is shown a situation where Lille lose the ball on the left but because of the overload, they created in possession they can win the ball back easily with players instantly running back and in this case, André is controlling the space behind the pressing players by positioning himself between two attacking players in order to cut out any passes. The stats confirm Lille’s high pressing mentality as they had a PPDA of 8.2 during this game.
Toulouse trying to play their way through
Although Lille played with high pressing tactics, Toulouse weren’t scared to build their attacks from the back. This shows how brave were Zanko’s team.
When building from the back, the centre-backs split and the full-backs push higher up the field. The pivot positions himself between the centre-backs to create a triangle with them. The front players stay high to push back the opponent’s backline. This on its own isn’t a bad structure to build from the back as it creates a lot of diagonal passing lines and triangles.
But against Lille’s man orientated high press, Toulouse needed more movement into space as all of their players were man-marked. Especially because Lille had a 4-4-2 shape without possession, it made it easy for them to man-mark Toulouse’s building from the back structure.
When we look at the statistics, building from the back didn’t help Toulouse. A very remarkable stat was that of Toulouse’s possessions that reached opponent’s half – only 42% of their possession reached Lille’s half of the pitch. This highlights Lille’s effective high pressing strategy, but also the incapableness of Toulouse to find free space. An even worse stat was that only 5% of Toulouse’s possessions reached Lille’s penalty area. Consequently, the away team didn’t have a shot on target throughout the whole game.
Below you can see another image of Toulouse building up from the back. The structure is the same but the distances are a little short. This allows Lille to stay compact and press high up the field. As a result, the goalkeeper plays a risky pass forward to the pivot and Osimhen intercepts to set up the third and final goal.
To conclude this tactical analysis, we can say that Lille outplayed Toulouse by winning the game 3-0. Although Lille won this game, they had a disappointing end to the season as they missed out on Champions League football by one point. But 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.
As for Toulouse, they will play their football in Ligue 2 after a last-place finish this season. They gave it a good go this season and definitely tried to play a possession-based style of football. A lot of purists applauded their brave attacking approach to the game this season. But perhaps Jose Mourinho was right after all: ‘There are lots of poets in football, but poets don’t win titles’.